Now that we enter the holiday season, I cannot help but remember the thrill and excitement of times gone by.
It seems like only yesterday that I sat waiting to see what Santa would bring: watching my mother, who seemed to never tire, get ready for Christmas day; watching my father, so meticulously building a rather impressive village complete with trains and snow. At 83 he still builds that village year after year, a tradition handed down from his father. I remember, as I got a little older, being able to sit with my father to watch the numerous versions of Scrooge on CBS.
Then came my early teen years when I was allowed to attend Midnight Mass in the local Catholic Church with my male and female cohorts. With a little luck, we would all see a white Christmas, and with a lot of luck, one of the girls would kiss me tenderly for the holiday. Oh well, at least it snowed.
We all worked for Marvin, a wonderful man with tremendous patience, in a local pharmacy. Being Brooklyn kids, we were rather unpolished, often saying the wrong things to customers and sometimes insulting them. Marvin “The Zuck” was a wonderful man who never fired anyone. Of course, you had to sit through the fifty-minute lecture and that was punishment enough. He taught us a lot about life, referred to all of us as his kids, and we all turned out pretty darn good.
As I started University training I met a lovely young lady of Italian descent and we eventually obtained the ultimate Brooklyn title of “going-steady”. How much fun and secure it was to know that you always had a date, someone to spend time with, study together, and share some intimate moments. I can remember how exciting it was, as I shopped for her presents. Usually it was a piece of jewelry, in this case an ankle bracelet, and some intimate under garment; unfortunately I only got to see the jewelry…story of my life. But the memories are vivid and emotional. I can see myself walking up the typical Brooklyn avenue, houses decorated with lights, Madonnas in the front yard with the steady stream of Christmas carols in the background. The fashion of the times was rather interesting: elephant bell-bottoms to the floor, patchwork boots, hair to the shoulders cut elegantly with layers and chops, a long overcoat, adorned with a even longer scarf, contrasting gloves, a wide brim hat and of course the obligatory flower in the lapel. Boy, I was cute. As I walked quickly towards her family’s apartment, armed with her presents and of course flowers for the mommy and a bottle of liquor for her father, Mr. C., I knew I was in for quite an evening. Christmas eve was very special among the Italian American community. We had the traditional seven fishes, followed by spaghetti in crab sauce and then filet mignon stuffed with lobster. It ended with 101 varieties of dessert and a rather tasty liquor and cappuccino. I mumbled out loud, “I’m sorry for those who are not Italian.” Sally sure could cook. With a little luck the company cleared out early, the mother and father went to bed, and the brother went out with his friends. Then the ultimate Christmas gift came: we got to make out. Birth control was very easy then; as we kissed, I thought of Mr. C. coming in with a baseball bat, the ultimate in safe sex! Time went on and naturally kids moved on. She married someone far taller and better looking then I…what could I say. But the wonderful memories are still there and I thank her parents as well as her for making those years safe, sound, emotional, intellectual and totally drug free. The family had a magnificent addition that year: my sister came home with a wonderful boyfriend who has been a member of our family ever since and we are all the better for having him around.
So on and on I went, meeting other girls, leaving them, being left - the list was endless. All right, I have a good imagination. Eventually I settled down with a loving, wonderful woman who continues to be warm, loving and understanding, giving me my ultimate gift - not a Christmas gift but a life gift of two wonderful children. Again, it seems like yesterday that they were born. How wonderful it has been to watch them grow and touch my heart as I never thought was humanly possible. Each Christmas I get to sit and watch them, now so grown, but I am blessed with the ability to see them appear at every age as I sit and remember. Now as I wait for my older one to return from his first semester in college, the excitement grows deeper and deeper. I get to see his friends again and my house will be filled with laughter, excitement, and the memories of five-year olds running through my basement. This year I get to relive the college search experience again as my daughter, an eleventh grader, begins to search through the many opportunities that lie ahead.
You know Santa, I get to interact with so many wonderful people at the local eatery. Each morning I go for breakfast and get to talk with a wonderful staff and I just sit and chat with whomever is nearby. Somehow, they don’t hide when they see me coming! I was able to make a wonderful friend and share both joy and happiness, although eventually losing her to another state when she moved away. But the memories and laughs are always present and I am most grateful for that friendship. I have been so rewarded by being part of a university faculty, trying to stretch the minds and hearts of my students, and continuing to receive such wonderful emails from them. I have been, and continue to be, able to exchange thoughts with someone who has simply been my life-mentor, who has given me what Paul Tillich referred to as the “Courage to Be”.
We will have our traditional Christmas party, sharing some wonderful moments with some wonderful neighbors. Christmas Eve will be spent with my special neighbors; we do that every year. They like my wife’s cooking…go figure. On Christmas Day my family will come but each year the number at the table lessens with the passage of time. I miss my uncle, sitting at the table making his outrageous remarks, and his wife, my paternal aunt, who has lost her memory but still aims some hilarious remarks at her brother. Of course, as with any family, the memories are not all good, but the good certainly outweighs the bad. My brother will come up from Florida with his family to help relive our early years; my youngest sister, a New York City police officer, will come with her new husband and my joy will be seeing her safe and sound. I will get to spend some time at various Christmas parties with a group of people that has so made me feel special.
So with all of this in my past and present, what, Santa, would I possibly want for Christmas?
Well, I could wish for a power hitter for the Dodgers.
Well, I could wish for a head of beautiful hair - that isn’t happening.
Well, I could wish to win the Lotto…bigger chance of waking up with the hair
Well, my kids are safe and happy; my wife gets younger looking every day; my friends are all well. I still enjoy the wonderful quality of being able to speak with strangers and have a wonderful exchange, thanks to a Brooklyn upbringing.
Well, Santa, if you could somehow tell all the wonderful people I have met, continue to meet, and hopefully will meet, THANKS FOR TOUCHING MY HEART then you have given me the Merriest Christmas of them all.
TO EACH AND EVERYONE OF YOU ALL GOOD THINGS IN THE NEW YEAR AND MAY IT BRING YOU PEACE, LOVE, AND JOY.
This is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, BABA, who taught me the true meaning of life…giving to others and making them smile. I miss you and think of you each and every day.