Like most children, I looked forward to the Christmas season. Deep in my memory is a tray of Kodak (pre-carousel) slides flashing vignettes on a white wall.
The first tray contains slides when my mother was still walking.
I see my dad taking pleasure and effort to make from found items, a giant arrangement of red candles in graduated sizes, each wired with a different colored light atop, and attached to a platform which was displayed in front of the house on the lawn outside my mother’s kitchen window. Something about a neighborhood decorating competition. Something about the wires occasionally shorting out. I found the whole thing fantastic.
I see him on a ladder, held by my eldest brother and being cautioned by my mother, taking care to hang lights under the eves. I remember the glow of the soft colors filling my bedroom as I fell asleep, and how magical that felt.
I have a flash of my mother trying to make potica, a Slovenian holiday bread my father grew up with, and her quiet mumbling as she struggled to get it right. I’m not sure if she ever did, but I wouldn’t have eaten it, being too picky to try unfamiliar foods like most little ones.
Then there was a year when my father had erected some tacky cardboard fireplace and mantle. I attribute this to his solution of pestering questions about how could Santa come down the chimney when we didn’t have one. None of the ranchers where I grew up had them because it rarely got cold enough. Some companion slides appear on the wall, and I see my parents, who seemed to entertain a lot, sitting around with a living room full of happy people on Christmas Eve after church, and I in my jammies wanting to wait up for Santa. I remember what I thought was a sonic boom, but, given the day and time of night was probably a quick, sharp earthquake jolt, and the adults telling me that the noise was Santa parking on the roof, and I’d better get to sleep or he wasn’t going to come inside. Snap. I woke up later and quietly padded into the living room (the squeaky parquet floor was a challenge) to find that Santa had left many presents, including a doll for me!
My next oldest brother convinced me to get back to bed before we got caught.
The milk and cookies we had left for Santa were gone!
There are slides of our family at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The creche scene behind the rail suddenly replaced by humans. I was told many times that I made my stage debut as the baby Jesus when I was twelve days old, and slept peacefully per the script. I can’t forget the well dressed man next to us who dripped some astounding green-red glop from his nose onto a crisp white hankie. I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old, yet I remember this fellow. He is stuck on that slide.
The fragrant tree so beautifully decorated. The ceramic creche underneath the spruce with which I entertained myself, rearranging the cattle and sheep. Moving Joseph around. Keeping the straw tidy and off the carpet for my mother.
Slides of the company- all the visitors. The endless trays and dishes full of food. The shock of seeing the rector in collar, sitting on a sofa with a cigarette and a glass of Scotch, and not having a clue as to how to deal with this contextual confusion.
It was a time of innocence which all children deserve. By the time I was five, my mother was no longer able to walk.
The second tray of slides sits quietly in my mind. The wall is blank. I don’t want to look at them.