It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas is going to be a quiet one this year. This happens once in a while as we wander the post-apocalyptic landscape of boomer family life. There are long distances and numerous sets of grandparents to negotiate and well, life just isn’t going to be “Christmas on Walton Mountain” every year, is it?
I try to keep a little perspective when things like this make me a little glum. I’m thinking about the “Christmas I Spent Alone”.
Once upon a time (1974) a good friend of mine was moving to Boston and dropped by to try to collect the forty bucks I owed him. He caught me at a bad time, and not just over the forty bucks. I had recently been stiffed by my second girlfriend at work (you live and learn?), and this one hurt. I’d also been stiffed by my bosses–the interim job at my old payscale having somehow morphed into a permanent job with no raise. The 70s were tough that way.
My friend had a pretty suspect vehicle and I had a brand new car my boss had co-signed for. The solution was obvious, on all accounts. Off to Boston we went. He had connections at a feminist commune in Newton Corner, who graciously majority-voted to let us stay for a while. I got a job at a record store the next day and life went on from there.
The feminists developed second thoughts about our presence, as I recall, and we got rooms in an old mansion near Porter Square in Cambridge, from some crazy old hippie who insisted the rusty bus out back had been used by The Hog Farm commune to get to Woodstock. Things had changed for him, apparently, judging by his fascination with guns and the quite scary German Shepherd he kept on a thankfully very heavy chain.
Christmas came. My friend went back to Illinois to visit his family and try to rekindle his old girlfriend in Champaign, I believe it was. Even crazy Eric and his hellhound found someplace to go. With absolutely no one in the picture, I had to do something, so I went for a walk.
Following a recent snowfall, it was one of those crystalline bright and cold winter days, so I turned off of Mass Ave toward the banks of the River Charles, strolling through better scenery in the elegant old neighborhoods near the Radcliffe Quad. It was lovely, but very, very quiet–too quiet to help my lonely mood–so I hopped on the Red Line at Harvard Square and rode downtown.
Things were a little busier there. I was working up an appetite, and memory gets a little fuzzy here, but I got some lunch at a Woolworths, I think, which was across Tremont Street from the Common, the Boston version of Central Park. The lunch counter was open mostly because there was a sponsored feed-the-homeless-Christmas-dinner thing going on, but though I was a buck or two at most ahead of homeless myself in those days, I did pay and donate the change.
After about an hour of very interesting dinner conversation, I finished my I guess you could call it Salisbury steak and headed across the street and into the park, where a pretty good crowd was beginning to come out under a sun that was trying its best to warm things up. I sat on a bench for a very long time, soaking up the good cheer of scores of kids trying out thier new skates and hockey sticks on Frog Pond.
Feeling so much more a part of the world, I walked through Back Bay and caught a bus back to Harvard Square, where I dug up a pay phone somewhere inside and called Mom so she could call me back (those were the days). We had one of our best talks ever. Sometimes life has a way of making the best of things all on its own.
So it will be a quiet Christmas this year, but we can share the grandkids’ opening of their presents on our devices, which are quite a bit better than pay phones. Afterwards, TLH and I will probably watch our favorite Christmas movies and maybe go for a walk down by the lake, weather permitting. I’m thinking we might play a little cribbage.
We’ll help life make the best of things. I’ll cook us some surf and turf for dinner and the champagne’s in the fridge.
Sure beats Salisbury steak.
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