Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 24: Soft as Flowers, Irving Berlin-ish, Christmas Essay, "Live Long and Prosper," The Unknown Christmas Story

When they stepped outside together, the snow was already more than six inches high and rising.  A beautiful night, the streets in every direction impassable to traffic.  Hardly anything moved save for the occasional snow plow on the avenue, bus engines whirring, strained, somewhere in the distance, little else.  To the west, over the rooftops, through the immense, agitated hive of falling snow, a kind of violet light puzzled them.  Down the street dozens of children, who'd swarmed out of their apartment houses, were in the midst of a snow fight, the scene lit by wrought-iron street lamps, snowballs bursting against hooded, gleeful faces, and dropping, soft as flowers, behind them.

The above passage describes the first Christmas Eve Ives and Annie spend together.  They aren't married.  They're in an art class together, and they've just finished a little post-class celebration.  Annie came with another guy, but she spends most of the night with Ives, holding hands, enjoying Ives' quiet, thoughtful nature.  And the snow is falling on the city, making everything very Irving Berlin-ish.

There is not real snow in the forecast for tonight in my little section of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I am totally fine with that.  The winds are blowing at about 40 or 50 miles per hour.  The Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, is currently closed due to these winds.  There is snow on the ground, cars, and trees.  We will have a white Christmas, just not a REALLY white Christmas.

Sorry I didn't post last night.  I got wrapped up in wrapping up.  I also practiced with my band for tonight's services and made two pecan pies.  It was busy, and I didn't finish until around two in the morning.

This afternoon, we will be celebrating Christmas with my wife's family, which is a first for us.  Then, this evening, it will be church.  Two services, one at 8 p.m. and then a candlelight 11 p.m. celebration.  That's pretty much my day.

This morning, I made a trip to the cemetery to visit my sister's grave.  I stood in the wind and cold, told her how much I missed her.  I left a piece of her favorite Christmas chocolate there.  Almond brickle that I make every year.  She loved it.  I would give her bags of it, and she would freeze it for herself.

This year, my Christmas essay is dedicated to my sister.  It played on the local public radio station last Friday.

Saint Marty wishes you all a very Merry Christmas Eve.

Live Long and Prosper

by:  Saint Marty

My sister, Sally, could never do it.  A life-long Trekkie, she couldn’t make her fingers part in the center to create that Vulcan salute.  When she attempted it, her hands became knots of knuckles, weird angular sculptures of pinkie, middle, fore, and ring fingers.  At best, Sal would hold up her hand, spread all her digits wide, as if waiting to catch some errant meteor falling from space.

She blamed heredity.  Either my father or mother had not passed along some alien chromosome, leaving her incapable of greeting any resident of the planet Vulcan properly.  Sal was a student of anatomy and medicine, eventually becoming an operating room nurse, so I think she felt a certain kinship with the Enterprise’s green-blooded science officer.  His cool detachment in times of crisis, arch of eyebrow at human folly.

Every Christmas, Sally received some Star Trek artifact.  A wall calendar filled with tribbles and dilithium crystals.  Hallmark ornaments that whistled Alexander Courage’s theremin theme or declared “Live long and prosper” in Leonard Nimoy baritone.  One December 25th, in the mid-seventies, she got a Spock action figure and transporter room.  I remember her placing her tiny Vulcan in the transporter tube, giving the command “energize,” and pushing the button.  The transporter would spin, and Spock would disappear into the ether.

That toy was my sister’s Red Ryder bb gun.  While Ralphie imagined taking out Black Bart and gang with his trusty air rifle, Sal was beaming herself to the edges of the galaxy, boldly going where no Catholic school girl had gone before.

Around the Christmas that my sister began exploring the cosmos with her Spock, I set my sights on a bigger, hairier quarry.  In 1976, a documentary titled The Mysterious Monsters was released.  Narrated by actor Peter Graves, it featured scientists analyzing footprints and film, listening to audio recordings, trying to prove the existence of a race of gargantuan hominids tramping through the forests and mountains of the United States.

The same year, on The Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors had an encounter with one of these creatures in the form of wrestler Andre the Giant.  Andre was fur-coated and fanged, with eyes the color of cataracts.  In the bionic universe, Bigfoot was not some missing link, hiding in the caves of the Pacific Northwest to avoid human detection.  Andre the Bigfoot was a robot built by sexy alien scientists studying our planet.  (Stefanie Powers, one of the aliens, wore a tight blue jumpsuit that showed off ample cleavage.  She certainly would have caught Captain Kirk’s attention.)

Alien or ancestor ape, though, it made no difference to me.  At nine years of age, I was in the throes of Bigfoot fever.  I searched for footprints in my backyard; made bait piles of blueberries and dandelion greens; listened in the night for neanderthalic howls and moans.  And, as the holidays approached, I dreamed of coming down the steps on Christmas morning to find Andre the Bigfoot standing beside the tree, a red velvet ribbon perched on top of his curly mane.

I had no clue what I would do with an eight-and-a-half-foot tall, six-hundred pound monster.  I never got beyond the imagined morning when my family would be greeted by the feral stink of hair and sweat and urine as they entered the living room, my Bigfoot gnawing on the mantle or clumsily pawing my mother’s manger scene.  Like most kids wanting a pet for Christmas, I didn’t think about upkeep—the house breaking and grooming and midnight walking.  Not to mention elephantine piles of Bigfoot manure on neighbors’ lawns.  No, it was all about the wishing and wanting.

That Christmas, Santa did not deliver an Andre-the-Giant-sized gift down our chimney.  Instead, I got an encyclopedia of the animal kingdom.  Thick as the family Bible, the book held hundreds of photographs.  Lions mauling a zebra carcass.  A hooded cobra ready to strike.  A killer whale breaching arctic waves in pursuit of a seal.  Near the back was a section titled “Mysteries of the Animal Kingdom.”  In those pages were illustrations of the sleek plesiosaurs of Loch Ness and loping snowmen of the Himalayas.  And, of course, Bigfoot.  Wide as a grizzly bear and twice as tall.  Below his image was a question, if I remember correctly.  Something like “Long Lost Cousin?”  I spent that whole Christmas day with penguins and yetis and hippopotami and starfish.

It really doesn’t matter what they are.  Bigfoot or Vulcans, bb guns or iPhones.  We never really outgrow the wonder that accompanies Christmas presents.  They’re mysteries to be examined, explored like moons on the cusp of the Klingon Empire or looming shapes under the canopy of midnight evergreens.  They can satisfy a deep ache for German chocolate or break into a chorus of “King of the Road.”  They can smell like your dead mother’s carrot cake or your grandfather’s Irish whiskey.  They’re all about possibility and want.

Andre the Giant died of congestive heart failure on January 27, 1993, in Paris.  He was cremated, his ashes given to the wind in North Carolina.  Leonard Nimoy died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on February 27, 2015.  In June, 2015, an asteroid in the Solar System’s main belt was renamed 4864 Nimoy.  My sister, Sally, died of lymphoma of the brain on August 19, 2015.  The night before she passed, I leaned close to her ear and whispered, “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark.”

This December, the Christmas tree at my parents’ house is decorated with Star Trek ornaments.  Enterprises.  Klingon war ships.  Kirks.  Spocks.  On Christmas morning, there will be presents, wrapped and waiting, under the tree.  Perhaps one will contain a Red Ryder bb gun to defend the world from all the Black Barts.  Or maybe a tiny Vulcan, ready to beam across the galaxy, spread the promise of long life and prosperity.  Or maybe, just maybe, one might hold something larger, heavier, wild and elusive.  Something big enough to eclipse sun and moon and stars.  To blot out all the dark matter of the universe.

The Unknown Christmas Story...

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