December 25, 2019
December 25, 2019
The XMass Conundrum
My relationship with Christmas and the Holidays is and always has been fractured. Christmases of my own youth were a contentious mess of anti-family-values punctuated with parental dysfunction, angry altercations, and stress levels that left me permanently scared and scarred. One of the results is that in over the 28 years of my own marriage we have never “celebrated” the holidays.
Thankfully I found a husband who, like me but for different reasons, feels no need whatsoever to crank up the XMass machine (now beginning in October!) and carry on, stressfully, throughout the remainder of the year. We have never had a tree. He jokes that we tried lighting the house one year but he ran out of lights after “BAH…HUM…”. This being said we are not at all opposed to great holiday parties; they are often the one real time in the year where we get to see some of our disparate group of friends and we quite enjoy catching up and making the rounds.
We moved to a new city several years back, a quintessentially palm-treed paradise in southern California teeming with other retirees and, this time of year, snow-birds and merriment seekers galore on holiday. Our particular community, comprised of about 1,000 households, is literally and figuratively stacked up a mountainside into a large, glacially carved cove. It is a microcosm of society itself; a perfect metaphor for the world we live in.
The lower boundary of our cove is the bisecting line of the major highway that runs through the center of our city. As such, it is peppered with gas stations, light industry, small strip malls of retail and food, and on one side, our city hall complex. A failed redevelopment plan some two decades ago left the rest of this downtown corridor bulldozed flat and empty awaiting the proposed influx that, due to our fickle economy, did not come.
As with all housing, those with the view garner the most attention, sell for the most money, and attract those that can afford the niceties that elevation offers. The rest, those on the lowest end of the geography, remain what they have almost always been; havens for small business that manage to survive the economy (tire emporiums and auto dealers) and a small layers of affordable housing where the people who work in these critical bits of infrastructure can afford to live and raise their families. Mostly a jumble of fifties-era apartment houses and forties-vintage wayside motel conversions, these critical housing complexes can sometimes seem forlorn outposts to those who pass through them on their journeys to higher ground. They really are the ersatz “gatehouses” for their more uphill neighbors.
I drive past them many times a day and often pause to consider what life is like for the families that gather within them. I think back to the times and the places exactly like these that I have had to make my own home over the years; those struggling eras of career building, early nesting, and limited choices. I am thankful that I had that hideous flat in that dark alley, that room in that compound where I could nestle in and rest after the multiple jobs I worked to keep that meager dwelling intact and over my head. I think on my gratitude for everything and everyone who has come after and now sustains me and my comforts at this later stage in my life.
But really, on this one day especially, there is one apartment building that brings actual joy to my jaded soul. It nestles on the lowest rung of the cove, almost on the highway but not quite; the views from the rear windows overlooking the flat back wall of a strip mall and parking lot. But out front, in the courtyard that contains the small pool in what was almost certainly an old motel at some point, there springs with perfect regularity, a riot of color, lights, action and…..simply….joy. It is Xmass now but coming soon, Easter, Halloween and every holiday they can conjure decorations for.
Today it is Santa, Snowmen, tinsel, and garland. It begins to take shape each year as December comes into its own; growing a little more every day and every week until it culminates in a profoundly proud display of joyous abandon. Every small pool-side table has a XMass cloth, a poinsettia, a candle, something. The ubiquitous fichus trees are hung with jewel-like balls and garlands and each evening the glowing, air-filled characters of XMass bob and weave as if this party is by and for them alone.
But here is what brings me my joy of the season. I imagine the children who live in these cramped apartments eagerly watching as their moms and dads bring this private festival of lights to life for them. I smile in that, unlike my fractured fairy tales of holidays past, these kids will grow up with the most joyous memories of what their Xmasses were like…..every year. Maybe their parents work at the local market or serve us food at our local taco house (that simple thought makes me tip generously throughout the year), whatever they do to provide for their families, this small group of parents, in this one small apartment complex, make sure that their children will move forward into their lives with the best memories that they can provide for them. They give this Grinch back all the XMasses that were “stolen” from him!
And the VERY best part of all? They do this for EVERY holiday! Easter is extravagant. Hallween…..over the top. On the Fourth of July, all their friends from school are splashing in the pool while the smell of grilling flavors the air for everyone. This place is simply joyous; to behold as mere passers-by but more-so to actually live and look forward to as youngsters, growing up the best way their folks can manage to let them.
Happy Holidays, All