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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Pure pleasure

December 1st, 2004

BY DAVID MACLAINE

I know people for whom Christmas connotes nothing but depression and frustration, their memories only of stress, family quarrels, and disappointment. If I were prone to guilt the bleakness of those memories might make me apologize for my own blissful recollection of Christmases past. As I’m not inclined to apologize for my own good fortune, I tend toward paroxysms of ecstasy just by playing back a list of the most memorable gifts.

santaandgifts.jpgThere was the red rocking horse (on springs) I got when I was not yet two, the precise feel of which I can still recall in my deepest body memory. There was the Davy Crockett hat (which, alas, I do not remember), a cowboy hat and shirt I do recall, then a wagon, a tricycle, and a Dennis the Menace doll. Later came the golden age of firearms, including the plastic Winchester rifle I could fan, just like Chuck Connors did in The Rifleman, which would eject cartridges from the side with each pump, and, best of all, the Civil War musket that actually fired a cork miniball fifteen feet or so.

It was exciting to live in that last era before liability suits drove the danger out of children’s toys, back when dart guns and bows and arrows were deemed safe because as long as their missiles had that suction cup on the tip, and the girls’ toys included pint-sized irons that actually worked, Easy-Bake Ovens and assorted systems for melting plastic to make novelty toys: horrific fire hazards one and all. Okay, today fewer eyes get shot out, fewer houses burned down, but come on; why should all the graphic violence be on the screens of video games? The only toy-inflicted injury I remember from those years was a hand gashed by a sharp piece of metal hidden in the cotton padding of a stuffed panda.

With the bounty that kept coming year after year I had little incentive to join the growing ranks of my peers who disbelieved in Santa Claus. Once, in fact, during a discussion on our front lawn when several kids had voiced their approval of the view that Santa Claus was really just our parents, I offered a compromise interpretation that would at least prevent the Santa claims from being an outright lie. Perhaps, I said, there is no magical guy in a sleigh who flies around the world and pops down chimneys — we were, after all, in Houston, where it almost never snowed, certainly never on Christmas, in a warm climate where chimneys were very rare indeed, so much of the traditional paraphenalia did seem a bit out of place — but maybe our parents do hire some guy who comes in and delivers the presents in the middle of the night.

The Hired Santa hypothesis was an obviously forced attempt to save a doomed belief system; I held out until I was twelve. But it wasn’t until I was sixteen that I faced the dire consequences of a world without Santa Claus.

We had just moved out of the house in which I had grown up, into both halves of a duplex we bought from my grandmother, and my two sisters and I had rooms on the second floor. For the first time ever we came downstairs on Christmas morning, opened up a door, and gazed at the gifts piled beneath the tree. It took a few minutes for the truth to sink in. My little brother, age eight, who lived in the room downstairs on the other side of the door from where the Christmas tree stood, began to dive into his pile of goodies — a new racing car system dominated the heap — my sisters probed their varied hauls, and I looked bleakly at the prize of my small cache: a plastic clock radio. There was also a packet with some shirts, and another one with socks. That was it. No games, no toys, not even any books. Just a radio that would wake me up in the morning and clothes to put on when I got out of bed. Pleasant dreams!

I had long suspected that adulthood was not a state worthy of eager anticipation. The clock-radio Christmas confirmed my worst fears. My parents explained that it was an expensive and very useful gift that would serve me for years to come. They were right; I took it off to college and relied on it for years thereafter, using both the alarm and the radio functions regularly. It became a part of my young adult life and I mourned when the day came to replace it. But my mourning on that occasion was as nothing compared to my feelings when I realized that modest practical gifts like the radio were the norm for adults, that growing up usually meant saying goodbye to that supreme excitement on Christmas morning when you found out what delights someone (perhaps hired by your parents?) had delivered to make your playtime fun.

I haven’t haven’t fully accepted this dour vision of Christmas, although, on the whole, the years have confirmed what I learned on that day. I have from time to time thoroughly enjoyed Christmas mornings, thumbing through exciting new books and playing new records, and have then been reminded dimly of the thrill of the old days. More often it’s the best I can do to make sure the holiday is not too bleak by comparison with those rosy Christmases past.

But I haven’t yet gone so far as to abandon all hope. I am pretty well convinced that there’s no such thing as an afterlife, but as long as this life goes on I like to think that one of these years I may again wake up on Christmas morning to find a pile of pure pleasure waiting there for me, a fulfillment of my hidden hopes and dreams, a return to the age what one asked for, and much more, would be given, and my only task was to accept and enjoy. •

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

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