Christmas is in two weeks. When you’re a grownup, that doesn’t sound like very much time to get everything done, get the house decorated, get the lights up on the house and yard, get all the gifts bought, wrapped and put under the tree. When you’re a kid, two weeks is like a lifetime. Christmas will never get here. To make it worse, they let you out of school for Christmas break, and you don’t have anything to do to pass the long grueling December days. Mom would try to come up with activities to keep us out of trouble. Popping corn and forcing us to sit for hours with a needle and string to make garland for the still unbought tree. You count ten popcorns and then you string on a cranberry. Of course, your big sister would rat on you and you would get reprimanded for eating two popcorns for every one you threaded on the string without sticking your finger. I can hear it now. “Mom, he’s eating all the popcorn!” in that shrill big sister voice.
Mom’s next project would be to cut strips of red and green construction paper and instruct us how to glue together endless paper chains to be used to decorate the living room. Red tissue-paper bells that folded out from two flat bell-shaped pieces of cardboard that clasped together to make a three-dimensional bell would be hung in the arches of paper chain. We had been making paper chains for years, but there always seemed to be a need for more. I wonder what happened to the miles of paper chain we constructed? We would each have one of those glass bottles of glue with the rubber tips and you were to only put a dab on each end. Controlling the amount of glue from those bottles was not an easy task. Too little and the loop would pop right open, too much pressure on the little red rubber tip, and you had glue all over the place. Then they would clog up too as the glued dried the little slit together on the top of the rubber tip. “Mom, he’s using too much glue!” Geeeeez.
When we finally got to decorating the tree which had sat out in a bucket of water in the garage for a week, the only thing I was allowed to put on the tree, along with the smaller kids, was the tinsel. Seems I logged too many broken ornaments to be trusted with that task. The little three-inch diameter colored glass balls could break just looking at them. I know. We didn’t have wall to wall carpet in our house, but it wouldn’t have helped. If it dropped out of your hand, it was a goner.
We had to wait for the lights to be put on. My father’s job, now mine. Even with kids grown-up and moved out of the house, I’m not trusted with the ornaments. Then the popcorn garland was put on, and yards of the recently completed paper chain, then the ornaments. Finally we tinselers were put into service. We were expected to put one strand of tinsel on a branch at a time The shorter kids would work the bottom of the tree and the taller ones the mid-section branches. Mom would complete the top branches, one strand of tinsel at a time, using a small step ladder we were not allowed to climb. Dad would sit in the arm chair drinking a beer and changing the Christmas records on the stereo. It took hours, even with five, six or seven tinselers on the job as the tinseler population increased over the years. “Mom, he’s clumping it!”
You don’t see tinsel on Christmas trees much anymore. I don’t even see it for sale anymore. Little eighth-inch silvery strips about a foot long, that had a nasty habit of picking up static electricity and would stick together from branch to branch. We had to take them off the tree the same way. Put them away for next year. As much as you could get off. The remnants of Christmas trees in the alleys after the holiday would always have errant strands of tinsel still on them. I can’t imagine that tinsel was that expensive, but it was always saved, something not to be tossed out.
Needless to say, I ultimately got into trouble anyway, numerous times, and not just for wasting glue, eating popcorn meant for garland, or clumping tinsel. I was threatened with Santa not even bothering to fly over the house, let alone leave me that special present I had waited for all year. I can’t tell you the number of times I was afraid that Santa wasn’t going to show, but he always did. I started to believe that there wasn’t any naughty or nice list, or good ol’ Santa Claus, being old like he is, didn’t have such a good memory. Parents start threatening the first day of Christmas vacation though. “Santa Claus is watching you. He knows what you did and he’s marking it down.” Total crap, but we were afraid not to believe it. It seems funny to me now that we were only reminded about this Santa tallying stuff during the final two weeks before Christmas. It might have been helpful to point this out at other times during the year as well. Might have made it a little more credible.
When you’re an adult, you spend the month of December trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for everything, and Christmas is always the day after tomorrow for us. Whatever happened to Christmas Clubs? You know, that special savings account at the bank that you would start in January and deposit a little each week in anticipation of a small Christmas fortune available in December. I guess if I had a Christmas Club account this year I would have cashed it out in August to make the car payment anyway, and I’d still be trying to figure out how I am going to pay for Christmas. Christmas has become a major expense item that needs a year of careful planning. Something I have never been able to do. Christmas, with luck should be paid off before Christmas comes again. I guess Christmas Clubs were replaced by the credit card so now you can pay for Christmas 2011 all the way into Christmas 2025. When we were kids we saved our meager allowances, prayed for snow so we could shovel old lady’s sidewalks and driveways, or did extra chores to fund our Christmas gift giving. I wonder if anyone needs their walk shoveled?
What do I want for Christmas? When you’re a kid, that thought process starts long before the temperature drops, the snow falls and you have to break out the rubbers. Yeah, we called them rubbers, and if you had the kind with a zipper up the middle, you were a “sissy.” You had to have the buckle rubbers to be cool. My mom, of course, bought me zipper rubbers. I’m sure she got a hell of deal on them, but her excuse had been that they were the only kind they had left in my size. Girls wore zipper rubbers that came in yellow, or red, or green. Guys wore buckle rubbers that only came in black. At least my zipper rubbers were black. I avoided wearing rubbers as often as I could. I still remember the taunts I received about the zippered rubber boots even from my “first-best friend.” They call that “bullying” now, something that is running rampant in schools across the country, all of a sudden.
The method of closure really wasn’t that important anyway, because the cool way to wear rubbers was to leave them unbuckled (or, in my case, unzipped) most of the time because it was easier to stuff your pants leg into them which is what you were trying to keep dry anyway. Even if someone didn’t notice you had on zipper rubbers, they’d find out because you could buckle together buckle rubbers and throw them over your shoulder on the way home from school after the snow had melted. You couldn’t do that with zipper rubbers. You had to carry them in your hand, between your thumb and forefinger. A dead give-away. You were less likely to lose a buckle rubber for the same reason. You buckled them together in the cloak room to keep the pair intact. A zipper rubber could get separated from its left or right, most often by a bully, and you could spend a lot of time trying to match up a right or left zipper boot with the boots of other sissy’s whose mothers had gotten a deal on rubbers at the Woolworth.