Christmas 1958 – Longwood, Florida
The tree loomed in the back corner of the living room like a huge hunchback huddled beneath the low ceiling of our new suburban Florida home. Humidity condensation on the jalousie windows gave the impression of winter frost, but outside the lawn was the usual brown and pale green of the yet unseeded and unsightly crabgrass sprawl in front of the house; a lifeless shade of green that camouflaged our little moss colored Opel convertible standing alone and lonely on the long driveway until Chrysler could develop their swept-wing station wagons to a level of perfection that would satisfy Dad’s mechanic/pilot standards. No new car this Christmas! Inside, the wood paneled walls were covered in a brilliant tapestry of holiday icons – Santa Claus, St. Niclaus, Rudolph, the obese Styrofoam snowman, and so many of their jolly cohorts. A sprawling layer of flotsam covered the floor, refuse from the churning sea of crimson, green and gold wrapping paper Mom had tried so hard to keep in tact. There, under the longest bough of the tree, wedged between a red and white box lid and a pile of purple ribbon an arm protruded, the only visible evidence of the Betsy Wetsy doll callously abandoned by its 21-month old mother who had collapsed in exhaustion from the effort of disgorging goodies from their carefully wrapped containers. Her brother, approaching his fourth birthday, showed greater stamina and managed to stay awake though hardly alert as he methodically stacked his horde of booty in his own private pile. Somewhere in the house the baby was crying – at 8 weeks one can hardly be reproached for lacking the holiday spirit, but her wails did strike a discord with Johnny Mathis’s smooth crooning of Winter Wonderland. While my older barracaded himself in his corner of the room socking away his chocolate gold coins to horde like a pack rat till the chocolate turned white, I sat comfortably on a stack of discarded cardboard boxes doing my best to remember who had given me what.
Ah, the joys of Christmas past, of a time when excess was virtuous and greed ignored. The pungent smell of evergreen mixed with turkey, the prospects of spending the evening in my new red PJs watching the Christmas specials on all three channels – Dinah Shore, Andy Williams, Pat Boone and Bob Hope in Korea.
Ah, the joys of Christmas past – wallowing in the comforting absence of guilt at having indulged in so much hedonism on this Holy Day.