We Laughed, We Cried
Brainstorming December story ideas in a recent Vital staff meeting, one person told a story about a holiday moment that stayed with him. Eventually, almost everyone took a turn. As the saying goes, we laughed, we cried. It occurred to us that most folks have at least one stand-out moment from the time of year dubbed simply “the holidays.” At some point (no doubt after at least two adult beverages), someone suggested we put our memories down on paper and share them with our readers.
“Over-sharing violation!” cried one man.
“What if we don’t have a happy/childhood/holiday memory?” queried others. But in the end, we decided that if one story could spark a dozen more, then perhaps a dozen could be a catalyst for thought, if not conversation, about this most auspicious (or at least emotionally charged) time of the year.
Happy holidays and hope for peace in the New Year.
From all of us.
Alex — Writer
Every spring my Father, my sister and I would drive down to Chicago to celebrate Passover at my grandparents’ house. They would take out the extra extensions to the table so it could fit 17 people around. What I remember most was the break after the first part of the service. All the kids would scram off to the bedrooms. Like a football team at kick-off, we would jump on my grandparents’ bed and tackle the pillows. I think you know the rest.
The adults stayed at the table leaning on the back two legs of their chairs, talking politics. The more they would drink, the further they would lean back, and the redder their faces would get.
Erin — Sales Assistant
I’ll always remember spending the day of Christmas Eve with my ten cousins at my grandparents’ home. As the youngest, I was the official household pet. Amy and Lisa brushed my hair until my four-year-old impatience made me run to find grandpa, slouched in his brown rocking chair, with a can of Schlitz and a cousin settled in his lap.
My brother Jeremy and cousin Andy would give me noogies and grandma let me mash the potatoes before dinner — made by a woman who never counted calories and based food’s worthiness on taste alone.
We still gather for Christmas Eve, but after twenty years the cousins are scattered, flying in from Los Angeles, Vermont, and even Taiwan. Two are married, one is lost to suicide and grandpa is no longer in his brown rocking chair.
When we meet, there are so many hugs and kisses, so many “guess what’s?” and pictures shared, that the distance between us the other 364 days of the year seems insignificant. The best present I could ask for is the indelible bond of my family.
Frizell — Staff Writer
A Christmas memory that stands out in my mind was the year I got my first bicycle without training wheels. It was a gorgeous blue Huffy, if I remember correctly. It had red and yellow flames painted on it and, of course, a sweet banana seat.
This was the year that Santa died. The precocious kid I was, I nosed about our small home on Christmas Eve trying to catch a glimpse of St. Nick. Instead what I found was my parents locked in their bedroom struggling to assemble my new bike. I could overhear their frustrated curses and the clang of metal on metal.
I was about six or seven years old. Christmas was never the same. So, most of my childhood was spent without belief in Santa. I learned a valuable lesson that night. Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want the answers.
Jon Anne —Editor
In my youth I struggled with anorexia and bulimia, in an ironic battle for control of my life. By December of my fifteenth year, I weighed 88 pounds, finally hospitalized with bleeding ulcers and a nutrient I.V. About the fourth day I started feeling really scared. Something clicked. I decided to live… I can still taste that first bite of strawberry Jell-O.
Late afternoon on Christmas Eve, I was released “on my own recognizance.” My best friend Kathy and her boyfriend picked me up wearing Santa hats, and took me shopping at Target — the only place in town still open. They didn’t say a word about where I’d been, but sang me Christmas carols at top volume and pulled silly pranks in the store for my benefit, oblivious to repeated announcments that the store was closing. I never laughed so hard in my life. Mostly, I’ve been laughing ever since.
John — Staff Writer
My wife Kerri passed away on November 4, 1993, leaving me alone with our two daughters, Havalah, age 6, and Madeline, age 3. I don’t remember Thanksgiving or Christmas that year, as they were simply a blur of grief. But Thanksgiving of 1994 remains one of my fondest memories.
It was just the three of us, in a humble ranch house in Kentucky, far from my Wisconsin family. It could have been miserable. I baked the turkey, prepared the stuffing and mashed potatoes and green beans by myself, and the three of us sat down around the wobbly kitchen table with no decorations except a single candle. But the girls had no concept that we were far from the Norman Rockwell ideal. They laughed and chattered. We ate pumpkin pie afterwards, and then watched Rugrats on TV. It made me weep with joy — my heart full of love. It was one of the greatest days of my life.
Ken — Theater and Stage
Christmas, 1966. I’m one of the top sopranos in the Boy’s Choir at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Manitowoc. It’s dark, but Christmas Mass begins at 8 a.m., and Sister Rene wants us there early. My mom gets me up, but all by myself I get dressed, grab my songbook and walk through the eerie morning half-light. Back then, winter was real, and the four block walk bitterly cold, but my stinging ears and nose woke me up and energized me for our big finale “The Christmas Rose.” Learning to sing is the only thing I can credit my Catholic grade school with teaching me, the rest I cheerfully forgot. But that morning was a big milestone. Making my way alone at age eleven through the dimness and cold was a big step towards independence. A shame the autograph I wrote in the snow on the way wasn’t preserved for the ages.
Laura — Senior Account Executive
My fondest memory of Christmas came six years ago. It was two years after my parents’ bitter divorce. My siblings and I were separated by the distance between two coasts. That year, our gift to one another was a family Christmas at my mom’s in Florida. We were all there, including both my parents. We spent time building sand castles with my sister’s girls, laughing about family memories and eating everything in sight. We even hired a photographer to take a picture of us children, which still hangs on my wall as a warm memory of the time the hurt and anger was forgotten when we came together in love. We haven’t all been together for a holiday since and probably won’t be again, but nothing can take away the warmth this memory holds in my heart.
Liz — Administrator
Family dinners aren’t as frequent as they once were, but on major holidays we congregate at the family headquarters for major feasting. With five kids plus their mates and offspring, my parents’ usual accommodations are sometimes inadequate, so out come the folding chairs and dining room table expansions. As we sit elbow-to-elbow, the cranberries, potatoes, gravy — and especially the turkey — move clockwise around the table. After everyone has had their fill, we meander into the living room to claim our spot on the La-Z-Boy, davenport, loveseat or floor as tryptophan narcosis sets in, and we doze off. The only sounds in the house are the soft snores coming from the nappers, and the football game on the TV. It is these quiet afternoon times I enjoy the most during the holidays.
Lucky — Slightly Crunchy Parent
Just before I turned 18, I moved to Boston to be a nanny. Having no expenses allowed me access to my whole paycheck, which was especially fun. I started saving for my Christmas trip my first payday. By the time Christmas rolled around, I had saved enough to cover my travel expenses, and had wonderful gifts for my friends and family. This was the first (and so far only) time I’ve been able to give so much. It was such a thrill to watch everyone open their presents. I scored big that year too, my favorite gift being the Dee-Lite debut cassette of World Clique. Just last week, as I was driving with my sister, we could still sing every word of “Groove is in the Heart,” which we did loudly and with much feeling!
Megan — Intern
It snowed in Dallas on Christmas Eve, 1985. Of course, it was only a dusting, but still enough for Santa to get his sleigh moving. I had asked for Jem dolls and a kitten — this was going to be the best Christmas ever! I was whisked off to bed, despite my protests, and could hardly contain my excitement as I drifted off to sleep.
A few hours later I was jolted awake by thumping on the roof. My heart was pounding — Santa’s sleigh had landed! I didn’t dare move. This was more magical than I had ever dreamed. I sighed with happiness.
In the morning, I dashed to the living room and was overjoyed to find a small gray kitten mewing, tugging on the red ribbon around his neck. My parents were smiling, and we had a wonderful time laughing and opening presents.
Today, I still wonder about the noises I heard that night.
Mehrdad — Co-Publisher
I am among the many that did not have that luxury, due to the chaotic and hostile times in my country of origin, Iran, during the last 25 years. I have lived here without seeing my siblings and parents for nearly that long. My friends and a couple of relatives have tried to fill that void. But I, admittedly, at every holiday, dearly miss my closest loved ones. My heart is always with them.
Russ — Arts Writer
A few years back, somewhere in the vicinity of a marital engagement, (she) and I were living at (her) place with (her) cousin in an apartment not far from the local, fully accredited women’s college. With no big family gatherings left to attend, we were out of the maze of meaningless conversation and invisible family tensions that usually accompanied those things. (Her) cousin was elsewhere.
We exchanged the last of our gifts over warm beverages. I had given (her) a doll. It was a life-like representation of Johnny Depp in the role of Constable Crane. The character reminded (her) of me. (She) gave me a lavishly illustrated book — a Japanese story about the ruler of the dream kingdom.
We fell into bed and (she) fell asleep. I stayed up a little later. The dream-ruler’s story washed over me. With no passion and very little feeling left in the relationship, my thoughts drifted out into the snow gently falling outside. That night I began to dream the life that has followed since.