Christmas 1974

One Christmas (not sure which) I received the General Electric Show ‘N Tell, a filmstrip-viewer/turntable that looked like a bright red television set. One time when I was bored, I remembered my parents had other filmstrips in their closet, and when I finally found ones that could fit into the Show ‘N Tell, I could see pictures of my brothers in formal clothing — but the colors were all wrong and it made everybody look like monsters, so I never did that again.

I scanned this image from a color negative as a place-holder for me to write about before I got the negative developed. Then I lost the negative. Then I found the negative again and decided I liked it better than what it would probably look like developed, with the years of damage (sadly, all our color negatives are that dirty) and the odd color balance, almost like super-vivid afterimages from closing your eyes too hard. The above .jpg still doesn’t really look much like the negative does when I hold it up to a light source — even with the dust and fading, the lines and colors on the negative actually look very well-defined — but a massive amount of fiddling with the saturation and contrast turned this mass of browns and greens into something vaguely recognizable as me, in the den, playing with Tinkertoys. You can even recognize the lump in the hallway as our family dog in sleep mode: the diagonal white strip is her crown, the black triangle to the right her head, the rest is the rest.

I can’t think of much else to say about the above, so this is as good time as any to review the schedule for the typical Daddino family Christmas. To wit:

Stage I. Christmas Stockings. Early morning. The opening of ephemeral Christmas gifts.
Stage II. Intercalary Christmas Moment I: Morning. The adults prepare meals while the kids play with toys.
Stage III. Entertaining: Midday. Small talk, finger food, spiked punch.
Stage IV. Christmas Presents: Afternoon until dusk. The obscene selfishness of bourgeois children.
Stage V. Intercalary Christmas Moment II: Dusk. The kids play with toys while the adults prepare meals.
Stage VI. Dinner and Dessert: Early evening. Lobster or Roast. Cake and espresso.’
Stage VII. The Rosy Afterglow: Evening. People leave, the parents clean up while the kids play with toys.

The “canonical” Daddino Christmases — meaning the ones we all mentally refer to as the Christmases all other Christmases will have to stand or fall (invariably fall) by — follow the above template very very strictly. These stages are all present in their recognizable forms some time before I’m born, when my family stop celebrating Christmas at our relatives’ homes, and die a protracted death throughout the eighties. In 1982, faced with the reality that we’re all too big for coloring books and candy, my mom fills our stockings with office supplies (I got stamp hinges, a hole-punch and a mini-stapler with extra staples, among other things), and faced with that kind of unromantic factualness we all silently concluded that this tradition had become largely redundant and never bothered with Stage I again. Furthermore, as us kids evolved beyond treating Christmas as a toy-based experience and started actually helping out with the festivities rather than squirreling ourselves away with our stuff, Stages II, V and VII begin to lose their distinctiveness.’Finally, by Christmas 1987, my mom, too exhausted from the demands of work to prepare meals, takes us all to the Garden City Hotel for dinner, forcing the system to reach complete collapse even though Stage IV is still present. There is rallying, even peaky highs in subsequent years (XMASY2K comes to mind), but 1987 marks the end of the classic Daddino Christmas era. Yet there is hope the magic can begin again with the grandchildren.

This may be terrible to admit but I really could’ve done without Stage III; as an obstacle to Stage IV, it was INTERMINABLE. I couldn’t understand why my parents couldn’t see the logic of combining Stages III and IV, but Mom insisted on it being something of a formal occasion. Odd, really, since it meant dressing up and making nice small talk with people I already saw every single day.’Oh, and yes, clearly Stage III was put on Earth to heighten the feelings of expectation for Stage IV, as if months and months of waiting had only succeeded in making us completely apathetic about getting more presents than any child will ever deserve. So Stage III largely saw a lot of my pacing, whining and clock-watching. When I got a little older I tried salving the boredom a little by helping my mother with the food, such as preparing a spectacularly failed fondue one year, but eventually I get so fed up with the hours of stilted conversation and aimless wandering around the den that during Christmas 1986 (or maybe ’85) I don’t even bother coming downstairs, choosing instead to listen to R.E.M.’s Murmur on my stereo verrry closely.

Today’s photo shows me during Stage VII, finally allowed to play with my toys in a moment of peace before I was sent to bed. In contrast to Stage III, Stage VII was sometimes actually and truly full of family feeling. When we were older, we’d just go straight to our rooms, but in Christmas ’76, we all found ourselves in the den with our parents, staying up very late at night (for us) playing with our toys, playing with each other’s toys, and completely transfixed by the Magnavox Odyssey we got that year…which can’t at all be right since they stopped production on the Odyssey in ’74. Hmm.

By the way, I forgot to link to this photo in the last post, so enjoy.