For this week’s blog post, I invite you to take a peek inside my own Christmas preparations. I wrote a letter to my mother and other family members and friends back in America; this blog post will share the letter with you. It is filled with references to people, places, vocabulary, times, movies, and foods that are personal – hence, probably unknown to you, the blog readers. But I hope the love and images and happy memories shine through the cultural, language, and generational differences.
Maybe you should write a letter to your mother or grandmother, expressing your feelings as we approach the end of the Christmas season and begin preparing for the New Year.
Dear Mom (and everyone else receiving this message),
Merry Christmas! I guess that is the most important thing I will say so I will say it first – although, in my entire life, this is probably the least Christmasy Christmas of all. No special reason for my grinchiness (after that 1960s classic by Dr. Seuss “How The Grinch Stole Christmas“) but the whole Christmas season has been a non-event this year – for me, at least. In China, Christmas is just not a major holiday; it may be an opportunity for a sale or an excuse to have a party or performance but it simply doesn’t reach the levels of the holiday season in America. The stores have some decorations but never to the extent of the American seasonal madness. (I guess that I should qualify that statement. Since I haven’t lived in America for the past 15 Christmases, I have no way of knowing how things are done today.)
Your grandson, young Mr. Chester Sidney, would disagree, however. He seems to have a built-in Christmas radar. As we walk down the streets in our neighborhood, he is the first to point out every Christmas tree in the shops, the Santa Claus/reindeer/snow flake decorations on their doors and windows, and occasional Christmas music in the background.
That just inspired a blast from the past, complete with specifics. Going all the way back to the 1960s… My best friend, Mark, who lived at 27 Southbrook Drive, just a short block from the Hillcrest Shopping Center, used to dread Christmas. For Mark, it was the time when the stores at Hillcrest used to play their Christmas music loud enough that he could hear it all the way to his home. And, worst of all, in their 1960s simplicity, they played “Silver Bells” over and over, for – he claimed – 18 hours a day.
Where did that memory come from? I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It is like I have a brain full of memories, so full that they force their way to consciousness at the least provocation. Of course, I kinda pushed my own button last week when CS and I sat down at my computer and watched Jean Shepherd’s movie “A Christmas Story”. (Whoops. We interrupt this story for another Christmas flashback. I just had a memory pop up of Boone Prock’s peanut brittle which he made and distributed every year. And that, in turn, brought up the peanut butter and chocolate bonbons you and Dad made by the dozen every year, which I loved so much but never had except at Christmas. That brought up memories of the family Christmas dinners with all our favorite foods filling the tables and kitchen counters. Turkey and ham and green beans covered with those crunchy brown things (supposedly onions) from a can, and cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies, hot rolls, and on and on and on. I am typing this letter in the middle of the night so I am guessing that all these food memories are because I am hungry.
Thanks for all the wonderful meals you prepared over the years – still my stomach talking. But I really am grateful for everything you and Dad gave us back in those days. That reminds me of all the years when you and Dad went with Robert and Jewel King out to Zeno’s every weekend. Was it Friday or Saturday night? I can’t remember, but it seems like you did that every weekend for years. Maybe it just felt that way to me. We kids didn’t go with you but, on those rare occasions when I did get to Zeno’s, their steaks were regarded as the standard by which other restaurants were judged. Of course, those were small town experiences of teenagers who hadn’t been out into the world but I’ll bet that, even today, those steaks would compare favorably with our current favorite restaurants.
Christmas 2018 in Chongqing has been played out on a much smaller, much more modest scale. As I said, Chester has decorated his small (about five feet tall) Christmas tree and we have watched the Grinch movie and “A Christmas Story” on my computer. (Maybe by next year, he will be old enough for the best Christmas movie of them all, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. I’ve got them all on my computer.) Otherwise, it has been pretty quiet. On Friday of this week, my usual weekly meeting with the other retired foreigners, the “geezers”, took place. (Collectively, we have been kicked out of some of the best countries in Europe and North America, plus Scotland. We even allow Aussies and Kiwis.) As always, we met at Starbucks to regale each other with tales of past glories and epic failures – including my contribution of endless loops of “Silver Bells” from Hillcrest Shopping Center. We have coffee and complain about the excess noise, the brainless and ungrateful young people, and how technology is making everything too easy – yet too complicated to understand. Then we go downstairs to another level of the mall and have double whoppers and fries at Burger King. (Yes, they are exactly the same as at the Burger King in Rolla but, because they are so rare in Chongqing, they taste better.)
Guess I will sign this and get back to bed for some more sleep. Today is Sunday, the last Sunday before Christmas. As the Christmas galas hit their peak, here is my agenda for the final few days before Christmas Day: On Friday, meet with the geezers for burgers, flashbacks, and literary and movie reviews (alternated with complaints about CQ drivers). Saturday (yesterday), I went to an English Corner at the Chongqing Library where we had Christmas-themed games and songs. My contribution was to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This afternoon (Sunday), I will be a judge at an English speech contest for a number of local schools. (This particular contest was organized by one of Chester’s first kindergarten teachers in CQ.) Tomorrow (Monday) evening, CS and I will go to a Christmas party organized by the teacher of his drawing class – she also teaches calligraphy to older students – where we have been requested to sing Jingle Bells for his classmates. Simon and Garfunkel, we are not. Not even Flatt and Scruggs or Dolly and Buck. But, we will do our best to introduce that Christmas standard to his six-year-old Chinese classmates. That will be Christmas Eve. If we didn’t have Chester’s drawing class party to attend, we would go out to the geezer’s Christmas Eve dinner at a local hotel which puts out – reputedly – a pretty good spread of traditional Christmas fare. Maybe next year. Then, for Tuesday, Christmas Day… nothing is planned. Chester will get up and go to kindergarten. Sunny will get up and go to work. I will get up… and make coffee.
Merry Christmas, Mom and everyone. I really am grateful for this year and all the past years. They say that Nature has rigged our memories so that we forget the bad parts – or, at least, we don’t cringe so much – and enhance the good parts from our past. Well, at my age, I have a lot of memories to forget and many to enhance – and a lot of gratitude.