Wednesday, Dec. 01, 2004
Memory is an odd thing.
When I was in my early 30's a woman moved into this village from Montreal.
She had lived a very different life from mine. Ran away from home in her early teens, ended up in the big city doing the kind of dancing that involved poles and taking off your clothes for the pleasure of men.
And she did other things that involved taking off your clothes for the pleasure of men.
I'll never quite know how she ended up here in this very out of the way place, but she did, with a man old enough to be her father. Even though she was a decade younger than I was, she seemed older than I, more mature, more self aware. We had daughters the same age and our daughters were friends.
This woman was an extraordinary mother. Her commitment to her two daughters made my own stab at motherhood feel puny and indecisive. She did not have a formal education, but behind her native intelligence was a fierce desire that her daughters never, ever lack the things that had been missing in her life, especially the gift of self-esteem.
She read every book our local library had about childhood development. When she ran through those books, she had the library order books from the bibliographies of the books she'd read.
Her lack of formal education left her virtually unemployable unless she wanted to sell her flesh and beauty again, and she didn't. So she was on welfare.
Every penny had to be counted, clothes came from church rummage sales, the food portioned out for every meal was carefully measured. It was all very healthy food, but there were a lot more lentils and beans than there was meat.
Somehow she made sure her daughters got sorts of things that would stimulate their creativity—paints, crayons, home made play dough, and endless library books. But her kids could never hope to have the Hot Toy du Jour when Christmas rolled around because there just wasn't any money.
When my daughter was four she came home and told me this woman's daughter had told her there wasn't a Santa Claus. My daughter was confused and angry and confronted me. I wasn't ready to admit the Santa lie and somehow I weaseled out of the situation. Don't ask me what lie I told my daughter, but whatever it was, she bought it.
Later I asked this woman, who clearly loved books and stories, why she had taken the Santa myth away from her children.
She looked at me evenly and said that the whole deal with Santa is that he gives you things for being good. So if Santa doesn't give you a lot of stuff, or even the one special thing that you really, really have to have, then that must mean that you're not a worthwhile person, right? That you're less good somehow than the kid down the road who can barely get into the livingroom because the Christmas haul is so huge that it's sprawled way, way beyond the tree ...
She set her jaw and told me there was no way, no how, that anyone was ever going to make her daughters pin their self worth on what they did or did not own. Please don't think that they didn't celebrate Christmas, because they did. But it was more a holiday about fellowship than it was about the number of boxes under a tree.
And because of her, I have never been able to look at Christmas the same way since.
I feel a terrific ambivalence about Christmas.
As an agnostic, I don't celebrate the religious side of it at all. I love the old hymns and often tear up when I hear them, but that's completely about the people and memories from my childhood, from a time when I still had faith.
I love the fact that it brings our far flung family together. Somehow we manage to drop the petty squabbles that all families have, and as we sit around a table spilling over with good food made by own hands we are reminded of the good things about kin, clan, family.
But as I walk through malls in the lead up to Christmas, I think of the other side of the holiday, of living in a culture that encourages us to believe that he who dies with the best toys wins.
It's a complicated holiday, no question. Ah, but I'm rambling, aren't I?
When her daughters were old enough for school, the woman who came from the big city left this village and went back to the big city. While her daughters were in school, she began adult education, working towards a degree in early childhood education. I don't know how the story ends because the two of us drifted apart.
I haven't thought of this woman in many, many years. But today when I walked into my gym they had the Christmas decorations up and off in one corner jogging on a treadmill was a small, blonde, twenty something woman who looked startlingly like the woman who came to my village all those years ago.
I half wanted to go over to the jogger and tell her the story of her doppelganger, about how this woman completely changed the way I look at Christmas. But then I realized that for the jogger I would just be some crazy middle-aged woman she doesn't know pointlessly rambling on about someone she's never met.
So instead of pointlessly rambling on to just one person I don't know about someone they've never met, I came here and told the story to a whole bunch of people I've never met.
Nothing crazy about that, eh?
Oh man. This is going to be hard
Goal for 2004: 1,000 miles - 1609 kilometers
Want to delve into my sordid past?
She's mellllllllllllllting - Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 - Back off, Buble - Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 - Dispersed - Monday, Nov. 28, 2011 - Nothing comes for free - Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 - None of her business - Friday, Nov. 04, 2011 -
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