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Black Lamb


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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.

For years and years my parents hosted a Christmas party. It said on the invitations “from five to eight,” but there were always people reeling out of the house at eleven or so. My father served what he described as a modified Fish House Punch; how accurate a description that was I’m not sure, but it’s a damn miracle that no one in all that time killed either themselves or some poor, unsuspecting bystander, because the stuff was absolutely lethal. My responsibility, from the time I was ten or so, was coats, which went to the guest bedroom on the second floor. It was a source of great pride to my parents (and therefore to me as well) that I could always remember who belonged to which coat. How I accomplished this I have no idea — we would normally have in excess of fifty people.

In 1970 I got a brief tour of Play It Again, Sam, which played at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami over Christmas. It was the first time I had ever been away from home at that time of year. I played tennis on Christmas Day, and I was absolutely miserable. I was so unhappy, in fact, that when in 1976 I was offered a movie that would have entailed being on location over Christmas, I turned it down. The location was Paris. France. Well, it wasn’t a very good movie.

In 1977 I got married, and my wife and I alternated Christmases between her family and mine, helping with the party when we were on Long Island and calling to see how things were going when we were in Michigan. Then in 1980 her father died (or, to use my mom’s polite euphemism, “joined Barnum & Bailey”), followed a couple of years later by her mother. And then mine.

My wife and I continued the tradition of the party, lethal punch and all, at our apartment in New York. Pop would come in on Christmas Eve and sleep on the couch in the living room. The apartment isn’t big enough for a parade, so he didn’t have to bring his kazoo.

And then in 1989 he joined B&B.

In 1991 my wife’s cancer was diagnosed, and that Christmas was the last of the parties. All things considered, we had a pretty good time, but I found I could no longer do the thing with the coats.

Winning an Oscar is certainly a boost for the ego (and for the asking price), but the real fun of it is bringing it home to someone who cares. I think Christmas is pretty much the same. It certainly isn’t just like any other day, but most of the meaning is lost if it can’t be shared. I miss all the people mentioned in this piece, but I miss them most on Christmas.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” •

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


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