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Black Lamb


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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.

The gifts were not the point but there were many, most acquired and disguised by Mom. Dad gave us his too, and they were always sturdy and practical, but Mom covered all of the bases of generosity: there were the faddish gifts, such as toys with lights that sparkled, and later, for our faces, sparkling makeup; the romantic gifts, such as the perfume vial that was always in our Mom-made stockings and the small square box holding jewelry that came from the miniature sleigh that Dad made; the respectful gifts, usually top-of-the-line artists’ supplies, exactly what Mom used in her work; and, the hopeful gifts, such as the gilt-edged Bible and devotional books I started getting in my teens. It was a five-sensory wonderland of joy and abundance, and I loved it.

Then Dad died, and Christmas got a little awkward. Mom has a subterranean inferiority complex and it burst forth as soon as Dad was gone. As we listlessly received condolence callers, I asked, “Where are all the casseroles that people are supposed to bring when somebody dies?” and Mom replied, “Oh, people offered to bring food but I told them not to bother.” So, the Kauffman women are not worthy of hot food? We wasted away on fruit and bagels until someone took pity on us and invited us over for a square meal. We pulled through Thanksgiving all right, but there were other family members present as buffers and my Mom had traditional hostessy obligations to see her through. This probably made her think that she could pull off Christmas.

It was to be a small affair featuring the Three Wise Women, my mom, my sister, and myself. I arrived a day early and awoke to await Yuletide joy. This was supposed to bloom when sis & co. arrived. The problem was that Mom wanted my sister to arrive between eleven a.m. and one p.m. but didn’t bother to say so when asked what the plan was. Instead, Mom told her, “Any time is fine.” And it was fine, for a few hours.

I took a leisurely bath, did some yoga, then started to get hungry. Mom proffered non-festival cereal because she wanted to save the goodies for when “everybody gets here.” It was a replay of the shiva starvation. That put me off, and I noticed with consternation how high the sun was getting and how stupid the lit Christmas tree looked in broad daylight. Out of desperation, I scanned the agenda for American Movie Classics and was pleased to be just in time to catch the credits of the initial entry of the Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon film festival.

I’d been eager to research the genre, and Annette’s eyebrows, and this would enable me to do that at no cost. Back to feeling abundant, I settled in. But not long after the first rear-projection surfing shot filled the screen than I turned away in disgust. How could anyone watch such garbage? How could anyone make such garbage, not once but many, many times? I remembered Samuel Z. Arkoff from the producing credit and began a dispiriting rumination on the decline of The Chosen People.

Mom was pretty dispirited herself. It was three by then, and no sign of sis, but Mom refused to break out the treats or even open the gifts we had for each other. More to the point, she also declined to call my sister and tell her to come over. “I think I’m beginning to lose my taste for Christmas,” she admitted.

Rather than martyr myself in the kitchen, I decided to take a constitutional. Nature didn’t care that it was Christmas, Nature wouldn’t know that I was the unwelcome hypotenuse of a dysfunctional triangle. I would return with a glow in my cheeks and a song in my heart.

My ancestral countryside resembles the African savannah laced with the fragile, leafy dells of The Wind in the Willows. I was enjoying that Wind, until I looked down. Barely a meter ahead was stretched a mashed animal of the domestic cat variety. I squealed and ran past only to have to leap over a crushed raccoon a few paces later. Shaken, I decided to run. I turned off of the Highway of Death and slowed to a brisk walk. There was a bedraggled horse in the field beside, but no Christmas joy for him. He trudged over to greet me in mud up to his fetlocks. We commiserated over the barbed-wire and then I pressed on. At least Christmas was giving me some exercise.

I trudged up the hill to a whitewashed farm settlement when…AACCKK! The glazed-eyes of a deer were lolling up at me from the road’s shoulder; the rest of its broken body was slumped in the ditch. It was an omen. Three roadkill in forty-five minutes could not be a coincidence. Did each bashed animal represent a surviving Kauffman woman? I didn’t stick around to find out. •

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


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