Christmas 1976

Now before Xmas ’76, I’ve only had five Christmases, out of which I can probably remember only two. (Or maybe three, only I don’t remember remembering Christmas ’73 back in ’76.) And yet when my mom told me we were going to have Christmas in the new den rather than the living room, I thought it was an intriguing twist on ancient family tradition. But, you know, we had a new den and by gum, my parents were gonna try real hard — too real hard — to show it off to friends and neighbors and relatives.

First off, we get a real tree, probably our first. The family used a fake tree every year, since the days when the family still lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, and on through the years until…well, I remember my dad agonizing over the color coding that determined a branch’s placement on the main tree stem, so that’s probably 1975, and if not that, 1974. (It’s hard to tell from the photos.) But this tree is all too real. Earlier Christmases have trees with tinsel garlands in elegant interlocking grids; this one has unruly branches jutting out in all directions, too impolite to hold the red and white and clear plastic chains in any regular manner. In fact, you’ll notice one of the red chains is sagging half-way off the tree. The chains are brand- new, part of an extensive ornament-buying-programme my parents enact for the occasion. I take part, going with my parents to the nurseries of Long Island, one time asking them to buy a Flintstones ornament that mysteriously disappears from my person (and my memory) before Christmas. One of them was the occasion for one of my most mysterious and random childhood memories: a woman with a bag full of purchases has her scarf fall to the ground as she leaves a nursery (probably Martin Viette’s – God, I am so glad they still exist), and the Santa on the premises notices and interrupts his conversation with some adults to get her attention…and I don’t think I ever found out what finally happened. I felt sorry for the homeless scarf. Anyway, I don’t remember doing this at all, but from the photo it’s pretty clear I also accompanied my parents with the trimming of the tree — the majority of them are placed around my height!

The other way my parents are overdoing it: just look at all the fucking presents. Holy shit, they extend across the entire width of the room, which might be…what? Ten to fifteen feet? I don’t know. It was such a long time ago and I’m a terrible judge of length. But compared to all the other Xmas photos we have, this is easily the most bountiful season we ever have. And off-hand I only remember the cheap stuff: the Richard Scarry books, Stadium Checkers, a carnival playset, a hunk of plastic with a spiral pyramid that round metal balls rolled around before getting lost on the floor.

The couple of months surrounding this Christmas I remember with a warm fuzzy glow. Kindergarten was held for only half a day, and for the first half of the year I’d come home during lunch-time, put a Swanson’s TV Dinner in the oven all by my lonesome, then eat and do stuff in front of the TV set in the den. The family went to Florida for my first vacation a few months later. Good times.