In 2001, my friend Linda sent me an Ikea Christmas tree for the holidays. No, it wasn’t a leafy, green traditional tree. It was green, twisted wires with LED lights on them, attached to a gray metal base – a tree only in the abstract. It was the kind of tree that would have made Charlie Brown scratch his head and mutter, “WTF?” But I loved it. Linda and I had been exchanging crazy gifts since we met at work in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1980. The tree was perfect. With the addition of two AA batteries in the base, the tree’s lights would blink or stay lit depending on the push of a button. It turned out to be a great tree for my tiny apartment, one that did not interest my two cats, Smokey and Ozzy. Whenever I got green artificial trees, one of them would think the leaves were real and I would inevitably find green plastic pieces in the litter box. At night, I put my Ikea tree on my dresser and turned on the lights. In spite of my severe nearsightedness, I could always discern the blinking colors from across the dark room. The displaying of the Ikea tree became part of my annual Christmas ritual, like setting up the Christmas pigs (collected because of my last name) and putting the electric candle in my window.
In December 2011, I was going to be evicted from my Sacramento apartment a week before Christmas. I gave or threw away most of my belongings and put what remained in a small storage unit. I was planning to stay for a few weeks with a friend in Berkeley, who did not celebrate Christmas. Even though it was going to be the worse Christmas of my life, I wanted to take something to commemorate the season. I had put most of my holiday decorations in storage, except for my holiday CDs, one little Christmas pig, and my ten-year-old Ikea tree.
My friend’s house was not how I imagined it would be, and neither was my friend, who had only made the offer in hopes of monetary gain. As soon as I settled into her spare room that night, I was given flimsy, dirty blankets to wrap around me as I slept on the cold wooden floor in the unheated room. I thought about the blankets and comforters I had thrown into the dumpster that morning because they were too bulky to transport or store. But I wrapped the blankets around me, put a Christmas CD in my boom box, and turned on my Ikea tree. Every night for the next week, I would turn on my Ikea tree and find comfort in its festive wire branches.
Five years later, I am living in my own apartment again. It’s a lot smaller than my former home of ten years. But my blankets are clean and my bed is warm. Smokey and Ozzy have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. My new apartment doesn’t allow cats and I miss having a furry companion to share the holiday with me. But it’s Christmas time and my Ikea Christmas tree shines and blinks for another year. After fifteen years of change and challenge, it’s the only tree I need. It is a reminder of home, no matter where I lay my head. It’s a reminder of the hope and magic of the season. And it is a celebration of my survival.
It amazes me that I have kept a diary for 45 years. I’ve never had a romantic relationship that lasted longer than five years or a job that lasted longer than seven years, but somehow I have been disciplined enough to chronicle my life for over four decades. Most of the diaries are the little rectangular books with tiny locks, but for the last five years, I used a letter-sized journal. Next year, I will return to a smaller format, with a 6 ½ by 3 ½ bound book that cost $25. I also hope to be able to splurge on a fireproof box to store them in, as by now, they are the only connections I have to my former self.
I always joke that the diaries will be enjoyable fiction if I develop dementia or Alzheimer’s someday. But even now, they are a fascinating narrative of who I used to be, the people I used to know, and my changing priorities and interests. They can be fun reading or they can make me cry. Sometimes I have both reactions, when I read about good times and realize that all of the people who shared those times are gone or out of my life. But as long as I am lucid, I will continue to record the day’s events in five lines.
Sometimes, I like to pick out a date and review what happened on that date. I will check out today, New Year’s Eve. I dig into the back of the closet for the metal box that contains my stories. I’ll select five entries, one for each decade.
December 31, 1975 – Cousin Mag, Cousin Rose, Cousin Joe, Bobby, Dickie, and Carolyn came for the funeral and left. It rained practically all day.
My father’s funeral was on this date. A few hours after the funeral, everyone left. My cousins from Kentucky, North Carolina, Maryland and Harrisburg wanted to get back to their homes before the New Year. As I sat alone waiting for 1976 to begin, I remembered the year before, when my father said that I might be at a party this year. But instead, Daddy was gone and I was an orphan. I wondered if the loneliness that I felt would ever dissipate.
December 31, 1987 – I got two Christmas cards from Linda. I called Mary and she is going to see Whitesnake and Great White on February 3. I got another tape player. Get it straight in ’88!
I spent New Years Eve in a flatlet in the Victoria section of London. At midnight, someone on the other side of Eccleston Square serenaded the New Year with a saxophone solo. I had no home, just a return ticket to Pittsburgh and a round trip ticket to San Francisco, where I would start a new life on February 2. The New Year held unlimited promises.
December 31, 1999 – I watched the Year 2000 celebrations from around the world. Lorraine called. Mary called also. I got a birthday card from Brenda. Be a hero in ’00!
Of course, everyone over the age of around seventeen probably remembers the changing of the millennium, even though technically it didn’t start until a year later. But like everyone, I wondered if my computer would continue to work or if some global catastrophe would happen. I had a good life. I had a job that I enjoyed, where I got the week between Christmas and New Year’s off with pay, a two-bedroom condo, a funky 1988 Toyota MR2, and two loving cats that hid when I threw confetti later that night.
December 31, 2007 – I went to Loehmann’s and got a leopard knit jacket for $15. I got a pizza. Mary Lou sent me a birthday card and $30. Cindy called and we talked about an hour. Get a date in 2008!
Little did I suspect that this NYE would be my last one as a full-time employee. Changes would be occurring soon, but getting a date was not one of them. In four days, I would be flying to Las Vegas to meet a friend and celebrate my birthday. There was a big storm that day, the first of many upheavals to come.
December 31, 2010 – It cost $30 to get a taxi to the hotel. The show was good. Don looked good with long hair. I tried to get some pictures of him for Mary. Sean sat in with Y and T. Chuck Billy sang “Ace of Spades.” A member of the Y and T Forum died at the hotel of a heart attack after the show. Turn in up to 2011!
For the first time in my life, I went out for NYE, attending a benefit concert by Y and T for this bassist Phil Kennemore. A week later, he would lose his battle with cancer. But it was a wonderful night, in spite of the death after the show. A year later, I would be homeless, but on this night, I was surrounded by friends and enjoying the music that I loved.
I often wonder how I should dispose of my diaries. Would any of my friends want them? Is there some national archive of the lives of boring, regular people that would want to preserve them for future generations? I’m sure that who ever finds them after my demise will just throw them in the trash and it will be like I was never even here. But regardless, I’ll continue to write…tomorrow is a New Year, a new book, and the start of new adventures.
Happy New Year! Thank you for visiting Marvellaland!
There is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. I am neither a mother, father, grandparent nor sweetheart. There is Secretary’s Day and Boss’ Day. I am somewhere between those two positions. So where is my Holiday? Where are my presents and cards? I propose that a new holiday be added to the calendar, Single Woman’s Day.
Why Single Woman’s Day? Well, we unattached single women with no dependents deserve to be recognized just as much as any one else. It isn’t easy being an unattached single woman, no matter what the magazines and sitcoms may say. I say that we deserve a special day just for us.
This new day should be on a Saturday. Then people all over the world could treat their favorite Single Women to a great night out—dinner, a movie, dancing, the works. And they wouldn’t have to get up early to go to work the next morning (or at least a lot of us wouldn’t). Women that have to work on Saturdays should be given half of the day off, with pay.
This new day should also be in the summer, when it is warm and the days are long. August would be a good month, since not much is going on that month. Department stores could coincide the unveiling of the fall fashions with Single Woman Day sales. What would be better for a single woman than getting the hottest new shoes at a sale price? Instead of the traditional women’s gifts of candy, flowers and lingerie that are used for other holidays, the staples of Single Woman Day gift giving would be the things that women really want: shoes, designer handbags, and cash.
Single Woman’s Day should have some rules, though. It would be the one day of the year that we wouldn’t have anyone ask us, “Why isn’t a nice girl like you married yet?” or “Don’t you want children?” (Which means that no family reunions or class reunions could be held on this day.) It would be the one day of the year that no one said, “Shouldn’t you be watching your weight?” (Dessert would be mandatory on this day.)
It would be the one day of the year that all salespersons would be helpful and everything would be available in your size. Single Woman’s Day cards would all say, “We love you just the way that you are!” There would be contests where people could nominate their favorite Single Woman for trips to exotic locations. All television networks, not just Lifetime, would feature programming that extolled the virtues of unattached Single Women. There would be marathon showings of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and the few other shows that depict unattached single women as being interested in more than getting a man and starting a family.
So come on Hallmark, and all of you other card companies, get on the bandwagon! Lets designate a Saturday in August as Single Woman’s Day! Think of the additional card revenue! Come on Macy’s, Neiman’s, and Bloomie’s, think of all of the shoes that could be sold! Restaurateurs, forget about dating couples: single women are your new meal ticket!
And Single Sisters out there! Think about it! One day of the year when the world would be your oyster, and you could have all of the desserts and presents that you wanted, without having to become a year older, wear a ugly white dress, or spend 48 hours in labor. One day out of the year when you would be celebrated for being the rare, special creature that you are, not ridiculed or pitied because you don’t fit society’s definition of what women should be or should want. And then maybe the world would realize that we are not lonely or weird or workaholics or bitches, just people like everyone else. So let me be the first to say it—Happy Single Woman’s Day!
At Christmastime, almost everyone is preoccupied with holiday gifts. Beginning even before Thanksgiving, newspaper and television ads are devoted to finding that perfect present. But in spite of all of this “gifting,” those of us born between the middle of December and the first week of January usually get gypped.
With all of the emphasis on Christmas gifts, holiday birthday celebrants often get shortchanged. It is worse when you are a child, as Christmas and birthdays are the main times that you get gifts and spend quality time with friends and family members. Kids with summer birthdays may get a birthday picnic or pool party. But for those of us with Yuletide birthdays, our party may be combined with a Christmas party and our presents are encased in Christmas wrapping paper. That is if we even get a birthday present. Many times, we get one gift that is for both Christmas and our birthday. But this compound gift is rarely the equivalent of two separate gifts.
It’s just not fair. Even if I weren’t overly materialistic, I would still rant about this injustice. It’s not our fault that our parents were frisky and fertile in March or April. We didn’t pick our holiday birthdays, so why do we get overlooked and undergifted?
I was born on January 4, ten days after Christmas. As a child, I got gypped in several ways. Many times, my birthday fell on the day that I returned to school after Christmas vacation. So of course, no one at school remembered that it was my birthday. The teacher hadn’t even put up the new year’s calendar yet, so my birthday wasn’t even designated with a star by its date. Also, I usually didn’t get any presents. I grew up in a Pennsylvania working-class coal-mining town. The refrain I got was, “I’m still broke. Your birthday is too close to Christmas.” As a child, I didn’t realize that most working grown-ups probably hadn’t even completed a post-Christmas pay period yet. Worse of all, it usually snowed on my birthday, not enough for a snow day off from school, but enough to ruin any birthday plans.
As an adult, I have tried to be more grown-up about this holiday birthday situation, but to no avail. Just as Christmas turns adults into wide-eyed children, getting gypped on my birthday turns me into a spoiled little brat. I love to get presents ― the bigger and more personal the better. The sight of a mound of boxes and cards all with my name on them is my idea of nirvana. In fact, the idea of two sets of presents is the only good reason that I can think of to get married. But since I have no husband, lover, or child, and nor am I a boss, Christmas and my birthday are the only opportunities that I have to satisfy my need for greed, I lament in my finest whine.
But I am not alone. For years, I have been querying friends, acquaintances and clients on this subject. Almost everyone who was born between December 15 and January 10 has a story to tell. And they ain’t pretty. They all remember getting upstaged by Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Ebenezer Scrooge. Bah, humbug!
So this year, create a happy ending for the holiday birthday boy or girl in your midst. Be generous. Buy that nice birthday wrapping paper, even if it isn’t on sale like the holiday paper is. Do not put a red or green bow on the box though, because we know where those come from. Most importantly, do not regift. We want our own personalized, well thought out present, not some gift that you didn’t like from the office gift exchange or from some hated relative. And last, but not least, do not forget us! Amid all of the holiday hubbub, please remember that it is our birthday, our special day, and treat it as such. Don’t gyp us any more.
This is an excerpt from “Merry Christmas, Baby,” a 4,500-word essay about Christmas in Hills Station. This is one of my favorite sections of the essay. Merry Christmas to Marvellaland followers and to everyone else who enjoys this essay! (Sorry it is so long!)
In the sixties, when I was growing up in Hills Station, Pennsylvania, I loved Christmas. Until I was five, we had a live Christmas tree. But after Daddy retired from Montour 4 mine, it was difficult for him to carry a real tree, as black lung disease made it hard for him to breathe. He went to Pete’s Dairy Bar, the local store that everyone called “Angeline’s,” and bought an artificial tree. Angeline, the owner of the store, could get anything and everything that her customers needed. If she didn’t have an item in stock, she was glad to make a special order, for a special price, of course. This included Christmas trees.
One December afternoon, Daddy came home with a large white box. On the front of the box was a picture of a Christmas tree.
“What’s in the box, Daddy?”
He smiled, showing the gold cap on one of his front teeth. “It’s our new Christmas tree. Now every year, we’ll just take this one out of the box and put it up, instead of going out lookin’ for a tree.”
I frowned, because that didn’t sound like a good idea to me. I liked live trees, with their pine scent filling the house. I kept staring at the box. It wasn’t a very big box. How could it hold a Christmas tree?
“Let’s set it up.” He headed toward my playroom, the room where we always placed the tree. “You carry the other box,” he added over his shoulder.
There was little white box on the floor. It read, “Amazing Color Wheel.” What was a color wheel? The picture on the box showed was a round wheel next to a tree. The box was lightweight and the contents rattled. Was it broke?
I picked up the box and gingerly carried it into the playroom. Daddy had already opened the tree box. It was filled with red paper tubes, which looked like giant versions of the tubes that Daddy rolled up change in. A piece of something silver stuck out from each tube. Daddy was twisting together two long wooden sticks that were painted silver. Each stick had lots of little holes in it. I didn’t see anything that looked like a tree. I put the box down and sat on the floor to watch Daddy. Momma stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips.
I picked up one of the tubes. It was even lighter than the color wheel box. “What are they?”
“Those are the branches of the Christmas tree. This is the trunk and those three metal things will be the base. Once I finish putting the base together, we’ll put on the branches.”
“But they’re silver. Christmas trees are supposed to be green.” I was worried that Angeline had taken advantage of my father and sold him a defective tree, just because she knew that he couldn’t read.
He looked up and nodded toward the little box. “That’s what the color wheel is for.”
Three lines formed on his forehead when he looked over at me. “The color wheel will turn the tree different colors. Just wait and see, you’ll like it.”
I looked up at Momma.
“Your Daddy knows what he is doing.” She turned toward the kitchen. “Let me know when it is all set up.”
I wanted to leave too, but I knew that Daddy expected me to help with this tree. We used to put lights and popcorn balls and even apples on the heavy branches of the big green trees that we used to get. What could we put on this flimsy thing?
Once Daddy had the trunk set up, he picked up one of the tubes and pulled off the wrapper. The branch in his hand looked liked cut-up pieces of aluminum foil attached to a metal stick. He stuck the branch in the hole at the top of the trunk. He stood back to look at it. “The branches go into those little holes.”
I assumed that was my cue to help. I picked up a tube and pulled. The branch was even thinner than aluminum foil. Would we be able to even put ornaments on this tree? I found a hole and inserted the metal stick at an angle.
I added the bottom branches while Daddy took care of the top ones. I could see my reflection multiplied in the tiny strips. It didn’t take long to fill the tiny holes with shiny bristles.
Daddy and I looked at the tree. “Don’t it look nice?”
I didn’t like it. It didn’t look like a real Christmas tree. It looked like something that I would have made in art class with pipe cleaners. But I nodded anyway. “Uh-huh.”
While Daddy went upstairs to get the ornaments, I sat on the floor looking at this contraption that would be my holiday tree from now on. I missed the smell of pine. This aluminum tree had no scent. It was cold, shiny, and foreign.
When Daddy returned, we started taking the ornaments out of the box and tying them onto the branches with string. The branches reflected the colors of the bulbs―gold, green, and red―turning them into rainbows.
Momma came back into the room to check on the progress. “It looks nice.”
Soon all of the branches were filled with ornaments. The tree looked pretty, but I still wasn’t convinced.
Daddy opened the color wheel box. Inside were four colored pieces of plastic that looked like sections of a pie with a bite taken out of the small end. Besides the plastic pieces, there was a round black lamp with a circle attached to its big round face. Daddy attached the pieces to the circle with metal clips, turning the pieces into a even larger circle. As he plugged in the lamp and switched it on, the circle started to rotate.
The room changed colors as each plastic piece passed in front of the light. Cool blue room. Now warm yellow room. Soothing green room. Hot red room. Entranced, I watched the tree as it changed colors too.
Daddy smiled. “See, I told you that it would be nice.”
I sat in a chair across from the tree so I could watch the display. I had to grudgingly admit that the color wheel was nice and the tree was okay.
Putting up the aluminum artificial tree became one of our Christmas rituals. After a few years, I could hardly remember ever having a real green tree. And I grew to love the color wheel.