I just got back from the grocery store, and the first thing I noticed as I went inside was the absence of a bell ringer. You’d think I’d be thrilled about this, right? After all, when last I spoke, I was talking about going out of my way to avoid giving them money. And yet, their abrupt departure leaves me feeling a bit empty inside. It’s proof that the holiday season is over for another year (or in the retail world, seven months – but that still feels like an eternity). Though Christmas is rarely perfect, it’s always magical, and I hate to see it go. So yeah, I even miss the bell ringers.
This holiday had its ups and downs, as they always do. For one thing, Audrey and Rusty gave me an early gift last week: a stomach virus that hit me hard on Wednesday morning. I know the holidays are all about “sharing the joy,” but really, they could have kept that one for themselves and I’d have been just fine. With 48 hours to go before Christmas Eve I was a little worried I’d be under the weather, but they’d both gotten over their bugs in less than two days, and so despite an unpleasant afternoon spent in bed whining and moaning (because I’m a guy, and that’s what we’re programmed to do), by the 24th I was feeling much better. Good thing, too, as we’ve got this family tradition that entails traveling to my aunt’s house in Newberg, Oregon for a Russian feast on Christmas Eve. Why Russian? We just picked the culture at random! Nah, I kid. We’re half-Russian on that side of the family. Several years ago, my aunt and cousins started making pelmini and borscht on December 24th, and it’s become a tradition we’ve all grown fond of.
This year, I wanted to contribute something, so I decided to make piroshki. I’d never done them before, but I’ve eaten them, and they are delicious. They’re basically meat-filled turnovers, if you’re curious. I opened my big mouth and volunteered to cook them and bring them over…and then I proceeded to get sick. Luckily, I was better in time to whip up a couple of batches, and while I had issues with properly rising yeast, for the most part they turned out pretty good. There are things I can do to perfect them, and I have a feeling I’ll be making them again next year (because my aunt said I would be making them again next year), so I’ve got another 363 days to get ’em right. Dinner was great, and the kids and I were home by 8 PM – just in time to put on our final Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. As much as I love the film – and I do, it’s a true classic – I always marvel over the fact that, even though approximately 20 years passes in the course of the movie, nobody ever ages (except for young George Bailey in the opening scenes). Not Mary, or Mr. Potter, or Uncle Billy, or even old man Gower. Anyway, after the movie finished, Rusty and Audrey went to bed and I brought down presents and filled stockings while watching the Yule Log burn on PBS. Christmas morning, we were up at 7, my parents came over to cook us breakfast, and we opened our gifts. As we sat there, reveling in the moment while surrounded by discarded drifts of wrapping paper, I started thinking about my favorite presents over the years.
You know how Ralphie yearns for the Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story? I can relate to that sense of longing: in 1976, all I wanted was a Kenner 12″ Six Million Dollar Man action figure with a see-through eye and roll-up rubber skin that revealed a bionic arm. This was the coolest thing ever, and I was a big fan of the show; I’m pretty sure I wanted to grow up to be just like Steve Austin. What 7-year old boy doesn’t want to end up with super strength and robotic body parts?! I got what I wanted, and while it was a birthday gift instead of a Christmas present, I was ecstatic. This picture says it all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the hideously unfashionable furnishings that filled our home at the time. That couch was an eyesore! And about as comfortable to sit on as cement.
But as bad as that is…sigh…check out my clothes. Specifically, those pants. I have no idea why, but I loved them! I thought I looked so cool strutting around in ’em, and wore them all the time. (Mom, how could you let me??).
The point is, I loved that Six Million Dollar Man action figure. It was the greatest toy ever. And I really, really wish I still had it, because apparently they are worth a mint these days. Not that I could ever sell it.
This year, I got some nice presents, too. My favorite? Bruce Springsteen‘s The Promise – a boxed CD/DVD set with a remastered version of his 1978 classic Darkness On The Edge of Town. It includes two discs’ worth of bonus unreleased tracks, a making-of documentary, and two complete concerts. I’ve been a fan of The Boss since the early 80s, so this was like a modern-day version of my Steve Austin experience. I’ve even got a similar photo in which I am proudly holding up this gift. It’s like 1976 all over again (I even have a red shirt on), though thankfully I am not wearing those atrocious pants.
I guess this just proves that, even as we age, the perfect gift can still make us smile with joy.
- The Yule Log (time.com)