Six Milwaukeeans’ Best (And Worst) Holiday Memories

By - Dec 1st, 2005 02:52 pm
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By Evan Solochek

Tom Barrett (Mayor of Milwaukee)

When I was 12, I served as an altar boy on Christmas morning. My mother woke me at 4:30a.m. for 5:30a.m. mass. We met my best friend and his mother and drove to St. Sebastian. I remembered being amazed at how many people would actually get up at that time in the morning to go to mass. It was a beautiful and meaningful service.

When it was over, my mother and I set out for home, my anticipation of opening my presents growing to near-urgency as we approached our house. As I raced to the door ahead of my mom, she stopped me and gave me the heartbreaking news. My younger sister still believed in Santa Claus and, to preserve her imagination, I would have to wait until she awoke to see the presents under the tree.

Of course, all Christmas stories should have a happy ending and this one does too. When I finally was able to look at the presents, I saw a brand new toboggan. There was fresh snow from the day before and I spent hours with my brother and sisters riding in Washington Park.

Mark Borchardt (filmmaker, American Movie star)

Last Christmas the cat got stuck up in the tree. Family and friends, including my kids and Ken Keen, were gathered at the house for the yearly celebration, but this unforeseen event became the main narrative of the day.

What started out as a pedestrian incident turned into a tense, day-long ordeal. A variety of initial rescue attempts proved futile as the cat only moved further up the tree.

Finally, the fire department was called, but they had abolished the service and their basic philosophy was that the cat got itself up there and the cat can get itself down. So much for that.

It grew colder and night was closing in. The cat would surely meet a bitter fate if a rescue was not accomplished. Though my youngest daughter Dara’s heart grew increasingly concerned, it could not be broken. I climbed up on the motor home underneath the tree and vigorously shook the main branch that the cat had sunk its claws into. Terrified, it clung for dear life, so I shook the branch even more violently. The cat determinedly stayed on it for a while but then its grip started loosening, its stamina weakening. Excited voices rose as I shook the limb even more intensely. Suddenly, the cat’s back legs gave way and swung out in the air, a ballet of madness. Gasps from the ground erupted as the front legs finally gave way and the body took a free-fall through the dead branches of the tree. The plummeting cat almost missed the blanket but caught enough to break its fall. It bounded off and raced around the house. Dara reappeared with the cat in her loving arms and Ken concluded that the rescue required some kind of a fermented beverage.

Keith Tozer (Milwaukee Wave coach)

One of my fondest holiday memories was about five years ago when Ranee, the children and I decided to fly to Manhattan for three days to celebrate. It was great. If you don’t know New York City at that time of year, it’s one of the best times to go. The lights are up and it’s very festive. New Yorkers are in a much better mood.

After arriving, we walked up 5th Avenue to Central Park for a carriage ride. It was the perfect winter evening, huge snowflakes and no wind. We covered up with a blanket and went through Central Park singing Christmas songs with the buggy driver.

Then we walked to F.A.O. Schwartz and gave the kids an hour to shop. We stopped for a drink at the plaza hotel and, afterwards we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathederal, laughing, joking and singing the whole time.

Our next stop was Lincoln Center to see the ice rink and the huge Christmas tree. Alex and I went back to the hotel while Ian and Ranee went ice skating. That night, we met at the hotel for a great dinner. We talked about Christmas, how wonderful it was to be in New York and the great time we were all having.

The next morning we saw Santa Claus at Macy’s. Outside the door, an elf asked for my name. I thought it was strange, but when the kids were on Santa’s lap, he turned to me and said “Hey Keith, did you like that blue bike I got you when you were six?” I said, “yeah Santa, that was great.” It really made the day for the kids. That night we hopped on a plane to Milwaukee. It was one of the best getaways my family has had.

Don Hoffman (editor, Queer Life News)

By far, the worst gift I ever gave to anyone was a huge gender  mix-up. Here’s the scoop.

It was my first job. We all had to pick out a co-worker’s name for a secret Santa exchange. Since there were several people who worked in our office, we all put our names in a hat. I didn’t know everyone (I know for some of you that’s hard to believe).

Here’s what went down. I picked the name “Pat” and I naturally thought it was my buddy, Pat.I was all excited because I knew Pat was going to be married soon and was in desperate need of a few new hip duds, especially a new tie. You see, Pat is straight, and fashion was not his forte. So I went to Macy’s and picked out this kick-heinie Tommy Hilfiger plaid. It was totally sharp. I was so proud of myself.

On the day of the big exchange, I remember being all excited because my co-workers would see what good taste I had and they’d thank me for helping Pat out. Almost immediately, my excitement turned to horror.

Giddy, I couldn’t keep the secret to myself. As we placed the gifts on the holiday table, I pulled Pat aside and let him in on the secret. He looked at me and started cracking up. “Dude, that’s not me, I know who got my name,” he said. “It’s the other Pat, the chick who works here as well.”

Holy night! I’ve never been so embarrassed in my entire life. Female Pat took it all in stride and said she would give the tie to her hubby, but I felt like such a jerk.

I will tell you; to this day, this experience makes me always question gender homonyms.

Mondy Carter (playwright, actor, comedian)

I’ve always loved the mystery of Christmas: midnight mass, the Star of Bethlehem, the ingredients of eggnog. Christmas evenings (and it always seems like evening at Christmas) are thick with magic. They are imbued with a mystery that major retailers have been unable to tarnish.

For most of my life, however, I’ve dreaded the gift-giving. It’s not that I’m miserly or don’t enjoy handing over a present. What bothers me is the dark shadow that looms over the gift: emotional baggage. Will they like it? Will it be something that shows I understand and know the receiver? Because it’s never enough to give something nice. You have to communicate with your gift. Your gift is supposed to say, “I get you.” since I get you, I got you this. Actually, if you were a gift you would be this…thing. Enjoy!

What if we broke from tradition and did things for people instead? We could exchange services. You fix my furnace and I’ll…well I guess that’s where my theory breaks down. Wait! It’s possible I could find someone who could do something for you. We could exchange our needs and fix them together. That would be more Christmas-ish anyway.

What’s ironic about Christmas presents is that no one really remembers who got what from whom anyway. Look around your house. Look at all your stuff. Do you really know where this stuff came from? Did it appear Christmas morning or on January 2nd from Target’s clearance shelf? There’s the real mystery right there. How did we ever think covering a lava lamp in shiny paper was an adequate symbol for the incarnation of God? Not that I’ll refuse a lava lamp. Those things are…magical.

Judith Ann Moriarty (painter, Milwaukee Magazine’s Mil Gossip)

At age 69, my memories of this 1945 holiday fade in and out. When they’re more out than in, I hold a 2″x 4″ faded photo of we four Moriarty kids standing near our tree in the dining room of our Iowa home. In the foreground: Judith Ann and Sharon Kay. Looming behind: Dennis Gene and Lauren Michael. We are all more-or-less smiling, which means dad is home from WWII, after being gone for four years.

Our presents (dolls for the girls; stick horses for the boys) were catalogue-ordered or made by mother or a neighborhood friend. It must have been morning when the shutter clicked, as we seem slicked-down and pristine. Hair braided tight, dead-level bangs, suspenders properly positioned. No new-fangled braces bind my teeth -they wait in the future.

My sister, the ultimate tomboy who preferred Gene Autry-style cowboy boots and a sheriff’s tin badge, perhaps felt cheated when she didn’t get a stick horse. But not me, I loved my doll. Her hair of blonde, her open-and-shut eyes of blue. Blue, too, was her shiny satin and lace gown. A veil of net crowned her head, perhaps a clue that I was expected to be a future bride. My sister’s doll was a pink version of mine. Thank heavens they weren’t exactly alike, like the blouses we wore. See there: the boys are dressed exactly alike as they stand near their exactly alike stick-horses fashioned from broom handles. Mother guaranteed equal treatment for all. VS

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