Other than two years in London, I’ve spent every Christmas Eve with my mother, Louise Maria Zeppetella Martin. And this woman “brought it. Every year. The (Italian) spirit of Christmas. Old world tradition. The seafood that Uncle Phillip and her would go find in Santa Monica at 5:00 a.m. because, apparently, it was the freshest.
I remember those years of listening to Nonno and Nonna and Uncle Tony and Uncle Phil and Mom all yelling. “The clam-ee look-uh good… but-uh-the squid-ee, they look-uh too small. What are you going to do?” Hours of near obsession over the color of the octopus and shrimp and eel and hovering around the sauce and sampling the salt and consistency and they’d argue about it and you’d hear things like sta ‘zitto here and there.
Oh, and the pasta was hand made. From duck eggs.
You’re supposed to have ham and turkey and prime rib. All my friends did.
And our family doesn’t even get normal pasta and red sauce. Ours is made from duck eggs—of course fresh duck eggs—with clams and octopus—of course fresh clams and octopus—smothered in red sauce—of course fresh red sauce made with fresh tomatoes.
Every Christmas Eve for my entire life except the time in London—every one full of the chaos of gifts and baking and seafood runs and preparation and I never really thought much of Mom during it all and just how much her culture and traditions meant.
Oh, and those waffle cookie things with powdered sugar. And those long fried cookie things. And that real dark hard cake thing with walnuts, and lots of pepper. Why would anyone put pepper in a cake?
She always–ALWAYS–wanted me to eat the things I didn’t like, as a child, as a grown man.
Last year, keeping with the tradition, she made me eat that detestable pepper walnut thing.
This year she won’t
Thank God, Mom is alive. Recovering from the massive stroke she had in August. Now talking and laughing. And as witty and as sarcastic as ever. And she flirts with the male nurses and it’s hilarious.
But, this year at least, she’s not in a place to remember all those wonderful traditions that I took for granted.
She’s here. And she’s gone.
On and on and on, the paradoxes of life.
Sometimes only loss allows us to appreciate what we have.
Or, what we had.
I often write about how I don’t have a wife. I do this for a reason. If you’re married, there’s no way for you to understand how much your spouse helps you. Only when you’re alone again can you understand. I want to help married people count their blessing. Before my divorce, I never thought too much about all my wife did. She did a bunch, especially during the holidays.
Now I do it all on my own. All on my own. And it’s not easy.
And with work and commuting and doctor appointments and shopping and cleaning and taking the car to get the flat tire fixed and the dry cleaning and helping with homework and helping with college applications and driving and driving and all the driving and buying Ed contact lenses and visiting Mom and “quality one-on-one time” and “all this running around” as Tale Impala says in Let It Happen…
All this running around
Trying to cover my shadow
An ocean growing inside
All the others seem shallow
All this running around
Bearing down on my shoulders
I can hear an alarm
Must be morning…
I’VE FORGOTTEN IT’S CHRISTMAS.
IN FIVE DAYS!
So, as I procrastinate, even now as I write this post, I will soon begin, within the hour, the festivities.
Without a wife, I will make the best of this procrastinated Christmas.
Set up the manger, the one I made in 2010. The one with the sticks and pine needles we gathered from North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, the place we camped every summer for 10 straight years. The one with the wood from old grape crates from when dad used to make wine. The one with the Italian figures that I searched for on eBay, because those were the ones I have the fondest memories growing-up, just a toddler, then an 8 year old, then a 16 year old, and they would mesmerize me, and they will this afternoon.
Lecture them about how, in ancient times, all homes had mangers. The animals stayed in the home, in a separate room. That it wasn’t some random stand-alone stable like today.
“Dad, you tell us this every year!”
Set up the Lionel train—the one I had as a kid, and the transformer thing probably won’t work, again.
Buy the tree. All three kids must come because if we’ve been able to hold to any tradition over the years it’s the one of them playing hide-n-seek in the Home Depot tree lot. And today they still will play, competitively, even though the boys would deny it to their friends.
Heat the Trader Joe’s spicy apple cider and we all drink it out of English tea cups while listening to Vince Geraldi (did I spell that correctly?) while we decorate the tree. Sift through a bunch of very tired and random and insignificant ornaments and tell myself I’m going to get rid of them this year.
“Getting organized” is the single best thing to procrastinate.
Bake. Christmas is better when baking is going on in the house. But it takes a long time.
Insist we all put on pajamas.
Light some candles that smell like cinnamon.
Try for another year to read aloud Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (like I try to every year but all the boys do is make jokes).
Read The Lion The Which And The Wardrobe because it reminds me of Christmas even though it really has nothing to do with Christmas and is much more appropriate for Easter.
Make a beef stew and add a little extra thyme and wonder for another year why stew is made with cheap beef and why you don’t make stew with porterhouse or filet mignon.
Watch It’s A Wonderful Life even though Edison never likes to because he says “it’s too emotional.”
(Every time I watch it I swear my life has such a parallel to George Bailey, primarily the part of feeling stuck in a boring town and wanting to dust this boring town off my skin forever [I would go write somewhere in Greece or Italy or Spain or Tunisia or anywhere along the Mediterranean].)
On a lighter note, to cheer my melancholy self up a bit, watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and argue with the kids. When they’re all goofing around during the rehearsal—which is the best dance? (Linus’s is the best. Hands down.)
Keep telling the kids to get off their iPhones while we’re watching (even though it’s, somehow, okay for me to keep checking mine).
Fall asleep with Bree cuddled up next to me and hear “Dad, are you sleeping?” from all three and keep lying to them and telling them that I’m not.
Stumble into bed. Fed. Warm.
I probably should start my Christmas shopping at some point but the process–of deciding and going to a mall and having to potentially buy meaningless items just for the sake of needing to give a gift because Christmas says you must–makes me procrastinate day after day after day.
Do we need to do this every year?
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the spirit of Christmas–the sounds and smells and tastes. I love the meaning of Christmas even more.
And giving feels good. You know, when you are actually giving the item, in that moment, when they are opening it and when they say “Oh, I love it, thank you so much.” (Thank goodness we are all so polite when we receive a meaningless item we don’t really want.)
Nothing feels much better than giving.
I don’t know if I despise the shopping itself, or the mental toil of having to think about what meaningful gift to buy for my loved ones. And, again, I don’t want to give a meaningless gift and that makes it hard.
Bree is 20. What to buy a 20 year old woman?
Edison is 17. Cash or a gift card would be fine with him, but, nothing special there. No thought behind the gift.
Elliot is 14, almost 15. He is always buying something on Amazon. But there are quite a few items on Amazon to choose from and I don’t know which one to get him
Mom is still recovering from her stroke and I’m not quite sure if she will even understand the idea behind giving. But I’ll get here something anyway because I’ll feel guilty if I don’t.
Dad has everything. I always get him a book or a Starbucks card and he seems happy enough with that so I’ll buy him a book or a Starbucks card.
My three sisters, Carla, Andrea, Teresa. More women to buy for.
Their three husbands, Tim, Derek, and Darin.
My nieces and nephews Isaiah, Dylan, Justis, Beatrix (she’s in France), Blake, Julia.
The default iTunes gift card seems so cold.
And certain friends and work colleagues, and I’m not sure if they’ll hand me something on Christmas Eve then I’ll feel like a chump cause I didn’t get them anything.
I have a week to go.
Giving is better than shopping.
“I’m never flying in an airplane because they sometimes crash.” That’s a phobia–a fear based on something entirely irrational.
In the case of Donald Trump, Muslims and Mexicans, those kinds of foreigners. They are the terrorists and rapists and drug dealers.
Over simplification. Blaming.
Small minds lap it up.
After the horrific events in San Bernadino, another oversimplification. Blame. Say inflammatory things. Ratings. Appear pissed off, the boss. You’re fired. Theatrics.
But THE REALITY is that since 911, of the 150,000 murders in the US, 50 of them have been committed by Muslims.
FIFTY OUT OF ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND.
Trump doesn’t assure the country of this fact. As Jeb Bush said, it’s a candidacy of chaos. Chaos sells.
Instead, to keep us all “safe,” blame 1.7 billion Muslims.
Then ban them.
If we’re going to be afraid of being shot, it’s not going to be a Muslim that’s going to shoot us.
Anyway, here are what a few powerful REPUBLICANS have said since Trump’s comment that we should ban all Muslims from entering the US.
Thank God these leaders spoke up. (If you are a Muslim, thank Allah they spoke up.)
“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for. You know how to make American great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” (Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and former Colonel United States Air Force)
“This is not conservatism.” (Republican Speaker Of The House Of Representatives Paul Ryan)
“I don’t agree… We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values.” (Republican Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee)
Heck, Trump’s comment even united Hilary Clinton and Dick Cheney, something few ever imagined possible.
“This is both a shameless and a dangerous idea.” (Hilary Clinton)
“This whole notion that we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” (Dick Cheney)
I agree with Senator Graham.