THINGS THAT ALWAYS MAKE ME THINK OF X-MAS
Chef Boyardee Raviolis: When I was a kid, I always used to get to pick whatever I wanted to eat on X-mas eve before we opened up presents. We always used to open presents up on X-mas eve, too . . . although later on, there was an inexplicable switch to X-mas morning, I’m not sure why. At any rate, I got to pick any dish of my choice . . . and I should probably mention that my mother is an extremely good cook . . . and I always picked my favorite, which was Chef Boyardee Raviolis. I still kind of like them to this day.
Shag Haircuts: I remember being downtown one X-mas eve, and my father bought my mother a wig, which was apparently something she’d been wanting for X-mas. It was the late 60’s, and she got a black pixie shag wig, a la Joey Heatherton. It came in this really great hot-pink vinyl box with groovy black designs and a black plastic strap on top. There was a gold twist-button clasp, and when that was undone, the front of the box swung smoothly open to reveal the wig sitting on its styrofoam head. My mother and I both enjoyed brushing the wig with the special wig brush. Years later, when I was in high school, I remember being mortified (because I was in high school, and easily mortified) when my father (who is bald) wore the wig to an English Department Halloween party. This was the same X-mas where my parents took me to see Santa Claus downtown. I remember sitting on Santa Claus’s lap, and spotting the barest smidge of adhesive which held his beard on. That wasn’t the real Santa Claus, I announced when we got home.
Roadrunners: Every other X-mas we would fly to Wickenburg, Arizona, to visit my American grandparents. They lived in a charming trailer park/retirement community, and sometimes I could see roadrunners come running by early in the morning. I was always surprised that they didn’t look like the roadrunner in the cartoon, nor did they yell “Beep! Beep!” I remember the smell of the gas stove in the morning when my grandpa got up and made me oatmeal, and sitting in my grandmother’s lap while she brushed my hair. I was startled one day by my grandmother’s false teeth in a glass in the bathroom. My parents told me not to mention it, though, so I wrote in my notebook, in the too-waxy red crayon given out by the airlines, My grandma wears false teeth! I loved going to the Wickenburg library to pick out books, and to the laundromat to do laundry, which seemed like a fabulously urbane place that people on T.V. went to. There were palm trees, and yucca plants, and saguaro cactus — brilliant desert colors and the Camelback Mountains in the horizon. My father went hunting with my grandfather in the desert during the day, and I remember the tiny bodies of quail, the smell of their blood, their iridiscent top knots and half-opened eyes. I remember the dinnertime clatter of BB pellets spit on my plate, and how delicate their ribcages were. Every day at 5:00 p.m. it was Happy Hour, and I got to eat Cheetos and drink Pepsi. I watched Sesame Street twice a day, at 10:00 and at 3:00 . . . our T.V. at home didn’t have strong enough reception to get PBS, so Sesame Street was an unheard of treat. During the X-mas season everyone put out luminaria . . . the simple lights in the small brown bags, lining the walkways . . . and it was beautiful. The X-mas after my American grandmother died, my grandfather, who didn’t know how to live alone, began courting an old family friend. My Dearest Darling H. all the letters began. I know because I peeked. Every day that X-mas I walked hand-in-hand with him down to the post-office to mail his love letters.
Solitaire: My American grandmother taught me how to play solitaire, and double solitaire. The cards were soft and worn. They came in a leather holder with a snap and had the pictures and names of famous race horses.
Checkers: I got a checkers set for X-mas one year, and my dad played checkers with me after dinner every night for most of that X-mas break. I usually seemed to have a chronic case of bronchitis, or tonsillitis, or sinusitis, and so when it was “cold drink time” and my parents would have a cold soda while watching T.V., my father would heat up my Diet Dr. Pepper for me in a pan on the stove, because cold liquids would always make my cough worse. Sometimes if I couldn’t sleep because I was coughing too much I would get to sit up on the living room couch with a heating pad on my chest and watch old movies with my dad. My favorites were the musicals. Particularly the ones with Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
Denver Stapleton Airport: I loved going to Denver Stapleton Airport when we flew to Arizona to visit my American grandparents for X-mas. I would spend hours going up and down the escalators, and I adored those cheesy little airport shops. These were the days when people still actually dressed up to travel, and it always seemed like a really big deal. My father looked quite dashing in his trench coat and fedora-style hat, and my mother would be wearing a dress or a nice pantsuit. I would have to wear a dress, tights, and patent-leather shoes. Dinner on the plane arrived with real linen and silverware, and wine was always served. One time there was a lengthy layover at the airport, and we actually took a cab to the Denver Zoo! The main thing I remember about the zoo was the hippopotamous, which was fascinating and revolting at the same time. It swam about in a small pool filled with big green turds. It smelled. I stared and stared. I coudn’t stop looking.