Saturday, December 21, 2019

Bah, Humbug

Christmas time is here. Time to be jolly…to revel in the dancing of sugar plumb fairies, to decorate mangers with all the suitable animals and other symbols appropriate to the winter solstice … or… not. Invariably I chose the latter. I have never liked Christmas, but please, do not assume (because of my sir name or whatever you’ve read on the subject) that it all has to do with my being Jewish.

The household in which I was raised, and the young couple what done that, were not yet 20 years of age when they were married in the mid-1930s. They were a liberal pair and when, some years later, my father opted to agree with his soon- to-be-13-year-old son that “the rabbi was a schmuck,” all studying for the traditional bar mitzvah came to an end. It was left to my father to explain all this to his mother while it was left to me to face grandma some months later and define the decorated fir tree in our living room as a Hanukkah bush.

I don’t like Hanukkah much either… especially this year. You see, my birthday is the 23rd of December and it has always been bad enough that I have to compete with baby Jesus, but this year the first day of Hanukkah falls directly on the 23rd, and I find myself all but totally eclipsed.

As a kid I never had a birthday party. My folks would always split the difference between the 23rd and the 25th and celebrate December 24. That’s when we would gather around our Hanukkah bush and open presents… and get this… everyone got one. Their birthdays fell in January, September and November and, as I recall those days in those different months were NOT forgotten. Then December would roll around and I always felt short changed.

It was more than that. There was the time all I wanted was one of those toy airplanes a five-year-old could sit in and propel around the sidewalk with pedals not unlike those on a bicycle. My parents told me Santa was coming… on the 24th, of course… but this time he would be in a truck from Sears Roebuck. I waited at the curb of our corner house all day and into early evening vaguely aware of the panicked phone calls my parents made from inside. Neither Santa or Sears showed, undoubtedly overwhelmed by the Christmas rush, and my Mom and Dad never again set foot in a Sears Roebuck.

I think my parents took it as a sign. In our neighborhood there was always too much month at the end of the money and in December that was particularly true. I don’t remember ever having that much expectation of anything regarding my birthday again. 45 years later I shared that story with my wife. I had seen the airplane of my youth in the window of a Beverly Hills specialty shop. The price tag was many multiples over what my folks tried to pay Sears in the long ago. The plane magically appeared a few days later with a note from my loving spouse, “If you wait long enough, all your dreams will come true.” They pretty much have too.

Still, it doesn’t get Christmas off the hook. My first wife wanted to end the negative spell during my senior year at the University of Southern California. I was to turn 21 just before we were to get married and she invited all my friends from college to attend the celebration of my natal day. They might have come, too, if only it hadn’t been Christmas break.

The wife of my dreams… the beautiful Sharon Gless…has come the closest to breaking the curse. No one turns down an invite to a Gless party… no matter the date. Everyone knows it will be one of excess and success. Plenty of stone crabs and loads of cup cakes and ice cream, plus all that goes on in between. She does a great job, but I still scowl about the amount of money that goes into lighting our Florida palm tree, outlining the living room in Poinsettias and stuffing envelopes full of cash for all the service people who populate our tiny island paradise. Underneath it all it seems I am still that lower middle-class kid from East LA waiting for that truck to arrive.

I have been thinking of changing the date of my birth to June 23…. Even if I didn’t move it forward but agreed to moving it back, it would only age me 6 months and, at 82, how much difference does that make?

Barney Rosenzweig, December 21, 2019

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