Even though I was feeling sick on Christmas day, my parents and my family all went to church on Christmas day. The service was very interesting, the congregants were asked to share something with the congregation, which was very nice. I was asked to do a reading for a fellow church member; I was told that he could not read what he wanted to share with out getting very choked up. I agreed to do so even though my throat was full of phlegm and my voice seems to be on the verge of going.
I got the reading, it was titled Christmas at Aunt Ida's by Dick Feagler who is a long time columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I read the column twice before I read it aloud before the congregation. I was very moved by this piece, since I am so moved I would like to share this to the readers of this blog out there in the blogsphere.
Christmas at Aunt Ida's
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Plain Dealer Columnist
With a nod by Dick Feagler to the issues of today, we republish his Christmas column, which first appeared in The Plain Dealer in 1993.
On Christmas, when I was a kid, we all went over to my Aunt Ida's house -- an old house in the old neighborhood.
Just what did you think I was going to do today? Talk about politics? The chaos and uncertainties of Iraq? All of our fellow Americans who dream of a white Christmas but see one the color of sand? All of the fears and uncertainties that lie before us? Not today, my friend. No fears today. Not on the day when an angel once said, "Fear not!"
Let us rest our weary brains. Let us consider matters more lasting than the day's headlines. Let us turn our backs on all earthbound dramas and traumas. Let us ignore notorious tyrants made famous in headlines for their infamy. Let us visit some people whose names get into the newspaper only when they die. And even then, just in the tiny type of the death notices.
Let's go to my Aunt Ida's house. Come on. It'll only take a couple of minutes.
You'll be home in time for the 11 o'clock news, I promise you.
The house wasn't far from the steel mills, and the fallout from the mills made the dirt in Aunt Ida's yard black and rich. When the wind was wrong, the air in the neighborhood smelled like a chem lab. Breathing it might have been bad, but nobody knew that then. My Aunt Ida had great luck with flowers.
On Christmas, we'd all be there. The old folks, the young folks and the kids. The young folks were the young men and their wives still recovering from the great upheaval of World War II. The old folks could remember World War I.
The kids, like me, weren't old enough to remember much. We were busy collecting memories, and this is one of them.
There was no TV. The only one among us who had a TV was my cousin Stanley, who sold them. He hasn't yet sold one to any of the rest of the family, but he keeps trying. He knows it's only a matter of time. For, what isn't?
"I have a 10-inch screen," he tells us, a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth, a tall brown beer bottle at his elbow. He's sitting at the dining room table with the rest of the young men, playing pinochle. You'll notice that they have all, just for a little while, assumed the present tense. A Christmas present tense.
"They are never going to be able to make a screen bigger than 10 inches that will give you a decent picture," Cousin Stanley lectures. "According to the laws of electronics, 10 inches is as big as you can go."
The Army Air Corps gave Cousin Stanley a job fixing radios. That's where he got his electronic knowledge. So my Uncle Ziggy, who flushed out snipers on Okinawa, and my Cousin Melvin, who knocked out tanks in Italy, listen to Stanley with respect. Stanley - the trumpeter of the dawn of the age of television.
By now, the tiny type has recorded Stanley's name. And Ziggy's. Melvin's, too. And my Aunt Ida's. Time killed them. The tanks couldn't do it and the snipers couldn't do it. But Time? It does it every time.
Time erased my cousin Billy's name. He crossed the Rhine River in the bloody, final act of his war. He lived through obscene and notorious battlefields. He died at 85 cutting wood in his front yard in Parma.
Time is the inevitable eraser, but it does not erase cleanly. If you look hard enough, you can still see traces of them all, faintly. And if you look even harder - why they are right here!
The women are gathered in the living room, talking about babies and recipes and operations. Nylon stockings that have come back again, so you can throw the leg makeup away. Electric stoves that practically cook your meal for you. Jobs they can quit now - are expected to quit now - because the men have come back from the war.
Their woman talk would make a feminist despair. They talk of "female trouble" and permanent waves. And the Christmas crowds at Halle's and Taylor's and Bailey's. And the big Sterling-Lindner tree that looked even a little bigger this year. And Hough bake shop cookies. And trolley cars that turn on Public Square, showering the safety zones with a blizzard of sparks.
Jay Leno is not here. I told you, there is no television set, except the one Stanley is describing - sketching it in the air with the smoke from his cigar. Nobody has bothered to turn the radio on. There is just talk - endless, trivial, sometimes mysterious. Sometimes, if a kid comes into the room, the talk suddenly stops. "Ix-nay," one of the aunts will say. "Little pitchers have big ears." There are things, in this long-ago time, that a kid is not supposed to know about. If for some unfathomable reason anybody said the word "condom," it would take the room an hour to recover its equilibrium.
Where are the kids? Would you mind, my friend, if I went in search of myself? It won't take long. I know just where to look.
I am with my cousins in the unheated bedroom at the back of the old house. We are burrowing under the piles of coats that have been dumped on the bed. Moutons, mostly, with a few Persian lambs, for animals do not yet have rights. Just a glimpse of myself is all I want. I don't want to look too hard. Because for me, this trip is a wistful mirror.
The bedroom door opens and Aunt Ida is standing in a rectangle of light.
"You kids go into the living room now," she says. "Santa Claus is coming soon."
We go. And as soon as we leave, Aunt Ida opens a bureau drawer, reaches under some flannel sheets and pulls out a moth-eaten Santa Claus suit and a scraggly beard. The pants of this suit have long since disintegrated. So my Aunt Ida hikes up her dress and yanks on a pair of my uncle's blue serge pants. Over these she tugs galoshes.
She takes a pillow from the bed and plucks off the pillowcase. She stuffs the pillow under the Santa jacket to give herself a tummy. She fills the pillowcase with toys from Woolworth's, Kresge's and Grant's She puts on the beard, the cap. She tiptoes out into the hall. Then out the back door and into the night - air so cold it makes her nose sting, sky lit with a faint glow from the mills.
Around the house she goes and up on the side porch. She pauses and peeks in the window.
She sees what we see now. Me at 7. My young, handsome father and pretty mother.
(Death took my mother gently, during a nap. My father followed her the next year. But memory brings them back now, and makes them young again.)
On the frosty porch, my Aunt Ida sees us all - the old folks, the young folks and the kids. Moving, though we can't feel the current, down a river of time.
We don't see her. She is on the other side of the dark windowpane. The adults know she's out there. We kids aren't sure. It's a moment of great suspense for us. We are not yet old enough to understand that life is fairly predictable. That you can usually tell what will happen next. That there are only a handful of plots, endlessly repeated.
I promised I'd get you back. But let me take a last look into that room. Almost all of the people we see there are gone now. But they haven't gone far, and on Christmas they are very close. They are just the other side of the windowpane.
We can't see them. But we feel them there, those simple people who loved us and took care of us. They left us blessings we too rarely count. And, if we let them, they come back at Christmas with gifts of everlasting life.
The church member who could not read this himself I could only imagine that many of his family members are now on the other side of the windowpane and that he would like to be reconnected with those dear departed family members.
I was also very moved myself fortunately I never had to deal really with the passing of close family members except for my Uncle Joseph in 2004. I have been blessed with a child hood where nobody dies, nobody that matters, that is. I however saw myself in Dick Feagler's character and some day in the future thinking of resplendent Christmases of days gone by.
I know that my aunts and uncles will die someday, I know that my parents will die someday also however I hope that it will be far off from this Christmas, and many Christmases to come.