Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day three hundred and fifty eight ... Show and tell.

What makes a memory?

I'm sure there's a mathematical equation for the brain chemistry necessary to produce a cerebral remembrance of an event. It probably has some relation to our ability to know right from wrong, yet still pick what we know is an unacceptable route of action. 

All those variables. 

Did I consider the consequences if "this" happens, compared with who gets smushed together in a flashback to an earlier time. 

The more we think something happened, the more it becomes real.

The more we ignore what we should do, the less it barks when it gets left behind. Barking takes a lot of energy. Laying on the floor is what pleases the laws of physics. 

I have so many memories of Christmas past. 

It helps that my mother never threw anything away, so, if I need any evidence as to what my stockings were like over the thirty five odd years that they were a part of my life I could rummage around and find each and every one of them, complete with handwritten misspelled scrawls of notes left to Santa, letting him know that the milk and cookies were all his. 

My mom and aunt pitched in in May of 2005 and bought me a camera--a digital camera--and I immediately started taking photos with it. I have a ton of pics from that spring and summer and fall.

And then, in November, my dear mom was given the bad news, and the clock started to tick a bit faster, the days started to get a bit shorter, and each pixel held a bit more importance in the grand scheme of things. 

I have lots of pictures of me and my mom that are acceptable for public view, and just as many that would be an unnecessary and uncomfortable inclusion in a public forum. And one of them that I wish I could put up here is from the last public event she took part in before she passed away, a few days before Christmas in 2006.

It was a day I will not soon forget, and an experience that was as uncomfortable as it was liberating.

I have two Santa suits.

Yes. You heard right. Two.

One I have owned for years and is thin and flimsy and soaked with Jack Daniel's and peanut sauce. The other is homemade from quality material and would fool the best of the bozos working down at the penny fountain photo galleria at the mall. It was this suit that I brought with me to the nursing home. I brought it there to surprise--among other people--my mom and my aunt, but also, a man named Bernie, who my mom had taken to helping over the years, as was her style. Whether it was getting him a gallon of milk, or helping him do his taxes my mom took care of Bernie. This also extended to seeing he got into an assisted living residence in Fairhaven, Mass.

Every year this home had a holiday party, and each year I would accompany my mom and aunt there to sit with our "uncle" Bernie and scarf down coconut shrimp and meatballs while the sax/guitar/laptop combo belted out the hip tunes of the last hundred years.

This was the year that I decided to play it up a little bit.

This was my year to play Santa.

This was the year I would watch my mother look at her son with complete and utter indifference.

And it was the strangest feeling I have ever experienced.

I left the house in Mattapoisett a few minutes after my aunt and mom did; we took two cars. I pulled up and into the big circular driveway and parked somewhere not too far from the end of the big semicircle. I pulled off my sneakers and stepped out of the car onto the cold, dark tar.

I put on the big, baggy, red pants.

The black Doc Martens--while probably not Santa's familiar choice of footwear--was a slick, stylish choice. They fit well even with the top of the red pants tucked in. Then the jacket came next. It had been fashioned into a Santa jacket from a fleece winter coat. While still alone outside in the cold darkness, I was starting to warm up from a combination of adrenaline and simple self-satisfaction. This was going to be a fun time. Not only that, I didn't have to do any of this--I wanted to. 

I put on the wig and the beard before the hat. These two pieces were troublesome but essential for the true look of Santa. After a cursory glance in the rearview mirror it was time to put on the gloves.

There's something special about putting on a tight fitting pair of white satin gloves--the kind with one silver snap on the back of each. It's a bit Mickey Mouse, and a whole lot Gene Kelly. It's timeless and classy. And when you do it, you wonder to yourself, "Why don't I do this more often." And then, sadly, you don't do it more often. 

I snapped the snaps on each glove, glanced in the mirror again, opened the driver's door of my Forester, pressed the auto-lock, shut the door and walked with a quiet intensity towards the grand set of automatic doors at the front of the building.

The heels on my boots--unlike my sneakers flat soles--made me feel like I was ready for anything.

I could see my mom sitting at a table with my two aunts and Bernie through a sliver of uncurtained window. She was smiling the best she could as she held a small paper plate with one hand, and a napkin in the other. 

I pulled the back of each glove up with the opposite hand, checking to make sure they were both buttoned, and then I cinched my belt up so as to look a bit more together. I didn't need much stuffing. Nonetheless, the suit was a bit big on me.

I walked up to the infra-red zone at the main entrance. The door detected my presence and reacted accordingly. It swung open, and, as it did, the music lifted in volume and intensity.

I was almost in place.

I walked past the receptionist who gave me a big smile and a wave. I gave her a white thumbs up and headed to the banquet hall.

I wasn't expected, but Santa is--by nature--unpredictable.

As I got closer to the open French doors I slowed my pace. No need to rush this, I thought. Best to enjoy every second of it, because, just like last year, I thought this could very well be my mother's last Christmas on earth. There are ways to remember important things. If you just physically slow down, your brain will be more apt to play along, and when your brain is on board, it's much easier to remember things.

And I will always remember the moment in time--perhaps it only lasted 30 seconds, though it seemed like ten minutes--that my mother sat there and stared at the man in the Santa suit--her man--and thought to herself, "How nice. There's a man in a Santa suit here."

"Look Bernie!," I heard her say. "Santa Claus is here."

And I just stood there and looked at her ... and looked at her ... and studied her face. Nothing. She had no idea it was me. I felt like I had traveled in time to a place before I existed and I was as much a stranger in a costume as a cop walking the beat outside. Not a threat, by any means, but certainly no one of any personal consequence.

And I waved at her ...

... and she waved back.

I did it again.

And she waved back again, this time a bit more exaggerated.

I mouthed the word, "Hi Mom," but the beard and mustache covered my lips and I got a big mouthful of white nylon strands.

And I pulled the beard down just a tiny bit, smiled a big smile, and then, held both arms open to her. And as fast as a metal paper staple pierces and crimps she realized who I was. At first, she showed traces of silly embarrassment that she hadn't recognized her baby, regardless of a full-on costume. But that was immediately overcome by that look that I have seen so many times; that look of love for her one and only; the look that showed how proud she was to have someone to suddenly show up as her entry in show and tell. And it gave her, yet again, a chance to let the world know she had made this ... had produced this from herself ... had raised and nurtured and encouraged and taught as best as she could. And she could mention to those around us how she didn't have to ask me to come to the party in costume. She didn't have to convince me it would make so many people there at the home happy. But I did it, and it did make so many people happy. And, as she was folding the lipstick smudged napkin in half, looking like she wanted to get up, I ran over to her and sidled up next to her and hugged her like never before. And a whole nursing home full of people put down their coconut shrimp for a second to note to themselves and to others that Santa had shown up, and someone had definitely been good this year.

And they wondered even further why he didn't really do much schmoozing. He just kind of sat at that one table with Bernie and his two nieces, and got his white satin gloves all greasy like that. 

How odd, don't you think, Gladys?

And that is one of my favorite memories of Christmas past.

My computer clock says 12:01 a.m.

That means I can officially call this one in the bag.

It was a good time.

It was a bit different than the others.

Someday I'll tell you all about it.

But now I think I'll just go try to sleep and hope the dreams that drop by are good ones.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

And, as always, Thanks for reading.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And you they all smiled brightly as they drifted off to sleep. Shine on ...