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Black Lamb


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Archive for December, 2004

December 2004 in Black Lamb

All Christmas Issue, Volume 2, Number 12 — December 2004

December 1st, 2004


In this seasonal issue, Editor Terry Ross tells a Christmas story of life at the railroad. In our page 2 feature, Sensory Overload, Michele Gendelman tells how at her house Christmas and Chanukah go hand in hand. In First and Last Christmas, Lorentz Lossius remembers a bittersweet celebration when he was a boy in Norway. Although It’s Just Christmas, Cate Garrison says there’s no denying the spirit of the season. Andrew Darrel, in Angelus ad Virginem, finds that as he’s gotten older, what Christmas has lost in intensity it has made up for in duration.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The All Christmas Issue

... including one Christmas at the railroad

December 1st, 2004

railroad.jpgBY TERRY ROSS

For this special end-of-the-year issue, the Black Lamb writers were asked to write on the subject of Christmas, and they responded eagerly. Everyone, it seems, has a Christmas story to tell, even those who don’t celebrate it.

Not all the stories are happy ones, but taken together they give a pretty rounded (and vivid) picture of the meaning of this holiday. You’ll find Christmas in prison (Dean Seuss), Christmas in Norway (Lorentz Lossius), Christmas for Jews (Michele Gendelman, Ed Goldberg, and Joel Hess), Christmas in a monastery (Fr. Jeremy Driscoll), Christmas overseas in the military (Alan Albright), and many another nostaligic, hilarious, or woeful tale of Christmases past and present. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

My own Christmas story comes from an incident that occurred thirty-seven years ago:
Christmas Day, 1967.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

Sensory overload

In the meadow we can build a snowmensch.

December 1st, 2004


Until our son came along, my first husband and I’d had no cause to debate The Tree Issue. But before we even entered into negotiations, I made a preemptive strike by bringing home a four-foot high artificial pine tree and all the trimmings: our little prince of Israel was going to experience the wonders of both Chanukah and Christmas! My husband turned white as powdered sugar, like a pfeffernusse cookie with legs.

turkeydinner.jpgUnderstandable. He came from a Conservative, glatt kosher home, and even though his parents lived back on the east coast, he was terrified they’d call to wish us a happy Chanukah and hear tinsel tinkling in the background. I had to explain to him that tinsel doesn’t tinkle; sleigh bells do.

I, however, the all-American mutt (Irish, Jewish, Polish, German, and one one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth Delaware Indian, which is only one one-hundred-and-twelve parts away from tribal membership and a share in a casino), had belonged to a Reform congregation whose rabbi dressed up as Santa Claus every year to entertain underprivileged moppets at the Knights of Columbus. I didn’t know any Jews, in my family or elsewhere, who didn’t celebrate Christmas.

“How will he know he’s Jewish if we celebrate Christmas?” my son’s father protested.

“He’ll know by going to Hebrew school,” I said, “and by becoming a bar mitzvah. And if that fails, the first time he sees a foreskin in a locker room full of goyim, I’m reasonably confident that he’ll catch on.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Gendelman | Link to this Entry

First and last Christmas

December 1st, 2004


Silent wooded hills surround our valley of fields and farm buildings in Maridalen, the Vale of Mary, a few miles above Oslo. Near where the road divides and hems each forested slope sit the ruined remains of an ancient church abandoned after the Black Death: a thick stone wall lanced with Romanesque apertures and outlines of rubble. In the summertime the site rests on a mound above a waving meadow of gold at the northern tip of the lake, but now most of cottageinsnow.jpgit lies buried in snow. A mile farther up, past the new school and the old wooden church, a few dozen brightly painted houses huddle under the hills above the western branch of the road. Below that several farms divide the long bowl of the valley. Through it the river winds south under its winter ceiling of ice.

The seasons express themselves intensely here. Halfway through spring, masses of tiny violet and white flowers push themselves up through gobs and rivulets of sunny slush. Summer is for bike riding and berry hunting in the forest; tiny strawberries, then red currants, blueberries and hazelnuts. Days are long and yellow as the grass. We go to bed with the sun still up, heavy curtains drawn against the blue.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Lossius | Link to this Entry

It’s just Christmas

December 1st, 2004


I don’t know why I love Christmas.

The excitement I feel on December 24 has nothing to do with anticipated presents. I cherish no childhood memories of tearing into gorgeously wrapped parcels to discover every item on my Santa Claus list. As a rule, the offerings the Obese Old Deer-whipper left me when I was a kid filled me with nothing but disappointment.

There was the year, for example, that my mother told me He would bring a box of multi-colored nail polishes, complete with files and little scissors, if only I’d stop biting my finger nails.

I did.

He didn’t.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Garrison | Link to this Entry

Angelus ad virginem

December 1st, 2004


As I grow older I find that what the experience of Christmas has lost in intensity, it has made up for in duration. When I was a little kid, Christmas day was the most exciting day of the year, but the excitement and pleasure only lasted from bedtime on the 24th to bedtime on the 25th. For some reason, the earlier preparatory activities never really stirred me. Nativity plays and singing Christmas carols at school were fun, but not more fun than other things we did at other times of year. Making decorations with my big brother and sister was a bit nerve-racking because of the high standard of workmanship they required, and became something of a chore. I wasn’t allowed responsibility for decorating the tree until I was already in my teens, by which time the activity had lost its capacity to thrill. Only the Day itself was special, and once it was over, it was over. Maybe eating cold turkey and pickled onions in front of the TV on the evenings of the 26th, 27th, and, if we were lucky, the 28th could prolong the excitement a little – but not much.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Darrel | Link to this Entry

Jive turkey

December 1st, 2004


I was mortally offended. Driving back in the dark down a long black scar of a byway through the black Central Valley night squeezed in the back of my aunt’s station wagon with my then wife and sister and a couple of slivers off the family tree, the bobbing of twin headlights hypnotically approaching then zip-flashing past to plunge us into further darkness, I realized: no leftovers. I had left my other uncle’s house without a bag of fixings for the long stretch of lunches ahead.

turkeymeasuring.jpgWe’re a turkey family. No Christmas ham or fatty goose or blue plate specials. Grandma would corral one of the hugest tom turkey Butterballs from the deepest, iciest aisle of Safeway, sequester herself in the kitchen (don’t you dare come in here!) with its sputtering, capacious four-burner, and somehow, hours later, at the appointed hour, the triply extended dining room table would instantly groan (a delightful groan) with a dozen piping hot dishes around a perfectly crisped succulent bird for Dad to carve. Fluffy mashed potatoes, rice-zucchini (casserole, but we never appended that word it was just “rice-zucchini” longingly and lovingly), whitebread stuffing, green beans, rolls tucked into a basket covered by a cloth chicken cozy she had sewn herself, lonely almond green beans, lonelier candied yams, more gravy than a thirty pound bird could’ve supplied… everything hit the table hot, we never learned how.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Starbuck | Link to this Entry

Last torch of triumph

December 1st, 2004


We were living away from home by then, but that particular Christmas my brother and I decided to spend the holiday with our parents, for two cogent reasons: our maternal grandmother was to be there, serving as she always did as balm to the familial irritation we knew would spread faster than diaper rash; and our parents had finally bought a house in the country.

flamingxmastree.jpgIt sat on a hill above a valley that early Spanish explorers in our region of gold rush California gave the name “el Vallejo de las Vocas,” Valley of the Voices. That the valley certainly was: a haunted place, especially toward its upper hilly rims, from which even someone not paying attention could hear voices from a mile across the gorge as clearly as if they were emerging from the next room. And there were voices, too, that seemed to have no obvious source: strange cries and cracks and other unexplained aural phenomena that were probably just ordinary sounds magnified by the area’s sensitive natural acoustic but were still unnerving in a pleasurably shivery sort of way.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Menzies | Link to this Entry

The Christmas party

December 1st, 2004


I grew up on the south shore of Long Island. My father’s sister, whom he adored, lived with her family on Staten Island. So every Christmas morning my father would get up somewhat before the crack of dawn, drive from our island to theirs, have breakfast with his sister, and then come home for our celebration. This involved, on my part, no waiting to open presents, because even at a very early age I was not a morning person.

First there would be the parade through the house, led by my father on the kazoo; then presents; then breakfast; then Mom and I would go to the noon mass (Pop felt churches were for weddings and funerals, and he wasn’t too sure about weddings); and then it was time to get ready for the party.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Bogert | Link to this Entry

Putting the X in Christmas

December 1st, 2004


What do you get when you mix Annette Funicello, roadkill, and neuroses in a steaming hot mug? You get the Kauffman Kristmas, 2002.

I never thought that I’d have a bad Christmas. No matter how tense family relations were during the year, everybody got it together to have a good time for holidays and my parents knocked themselves out for Christmas. Up went the fir tree, the massive hand-woven wreath, the lights, the fragrant displays of candles and greenery. On went the music — medieval, brassy, jazzy — any rendition of the Christmas favorites. It was the one time of year that sightlines to and the sound from the television were not sacrosanct.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Kauffman | Link to this Entry

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