December 19, 2011

Home(sick?) for the holidays

A middle-of-the-night blog post, you request? Well sure, why not? Seeing as how Zoe just woke us up, and I'm still jacked-up on steroids thanks to a sinus-infection-triggered-asthma-thing, and am wired and wide awake, and have a fully-formed post floating in my head.

Sure, why not.


Please let the record show this post in no way indicates any dissatisfaction with my current life/situation, but is only a collection of holiday memories that each leave me a little sad, longing for home and a childhood that, up on reflection, was pretty damn lovely.


But yeah.  We all know I'm a Yankee girl who's made my adult home in the South, in my adopted (and well-loved) city of Charleston.  I am at peace with that decision in so many ways.

But sometimes, around the holidays especially, I get to remembering winters up there, back in Jersey, and I miss things that I know, even if I did live there still, would be long gone anyway.  Here are a few:


It's a running joke in my family that I memorize movie quotes and, in particular, songs to the many, many musicals that were a running theme in my childhood. I often use this skill to drive those I love mad, and I love that I see Zoe developing a similar one (right now, she probably has 15 Christmas carols memorized, and she's only three!).  But sometimes it backfires, because sometimes a song can set me back in time so realistically, it's hard to come back to my current life without at least a bit of a sigh.

Anything from Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas has this effect on me, but most particularly the song "Ain't No Hole in the Washtub." I only have to hear the first line ("Head full of good thoughts, belly full of grub, money in your pocket when there ain't no hole in the washtub..."), and suddenly there I am, in my childhood living room, the taste of (oddly) popcorn balls in my mouth. I can picture the couch (orange-y plaid pattern for a long time, then a series of other fabrics, including one with...pheasants? Quails? Some random game birds.), and the cave-like feel of our basement-cum-apartment, and I can see the Christmas tree lights with our flashing star up on top of the tree.  We always had a real tree, for as long as I can remember, and the smell of pine takes me there as well.  I remember hauling the tree down the stairs, or at least following my parents as they did it, then sweeping up the needles from the trail they left in the kitchen.

I love those memories. I was so young. I remember fervently believing in Santa Claus and the Hanukkah Fairy (my mom's invention, to keep Hanukkah as exciting as Christmas in our mixed household), who'd hide our presents in the storage room/pantry that had lots of nooks and crannies and monsters and ghouls, at least in my mind.  I remember waiting up with my brother Daniel for as long as possible on Christmas Eve, hoping to catch a glimpse of a reindeer hoof outside our ground-level window in our chimney-free house.  I remember sneaking out of our bedroom in the middle of the night to see if Santa had come, and he always had, no matter what. The bottom of our tree would be crammed with presents of all shapes and sizes, and our stockings (still my favorite part of Christmas) would be full-to-bursting, set just out of reach of our dog, Brittney, who liked to chew things even into her old age.

It was so magical, you know?

Now-a-days, Charles and I try to re-create that magic for Zoe.  My Nana made us kids special Christmas stockings when she was alive, and since she wasn't alive when Zoe was born, I spent a couple months creating a similar one for her, so she has a sparkly, felt Christmas stocking that I probably love more than she does.  Because it makes me think of Nana.   We hide presents and blame the Hanukkah Fairy on each night of Hanukkah.  We light the candles and say the prayers, and we set out cookies for Santa Claus.

It's not magical for us, I don't think. We're too old, too jaded.  But I hope to impart some of the magic to Zoe.


I also spend a lot of time around the holidays thinking of New York City, to which we'd travel by train at least once per holiday season, every year.  Mom and Daniel's birthdays are right after Christmas, too, so we'd always, always get there to celebrate.  We've done the Fifth Avenue Christmas Windows.  I've ice skated in Rockefeller Center.  The huge tree there? Yep, I've seen it. Love it.

We tramped all over mid-town and the Upper West Side when I was a kid, in all kinds of weather just like we were mailmen or something. Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail seemed to be our motto, and just ask me sometime about me, a rainstorm, the subway system and C.H.U.D.  It's a good story.

I'm dying to show Zoe the city during the holidays, but I get it...she's still a bit young. Maybe when she's five or six, she and I will start taking an annual trip there, so those sites can be as special to her as they are to me.  And in the meantime, I guess I can cue up Miracle on 34th Street yet again.


And finally, what would the holidays be to me if I didn't remember my years working at Il Forno bakery in Montclair, New Jersey.  I worked there through my later college years, and it was home to a few of us girls who loved it (and, sometimes, hated it, in our own stubborn ways).

The holidays at the bakery were chaotic. Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve morning always found all the local (or in my case, semi-local, since I'd usually be with my parents, 45 minutes away, but I'd have to make the drive anyway) employees wandering through the doors by 6 a.m. to start filling bread orders for dozens of customers.  The smell of yeast; of coffee; of olive oil and tomato sauce and rosemary. They all take me there.

We'd whine, being up so early on holidays, but we'd have so much fun. I remember laughing a lot, particularly with my friends Rhea and Christina, and Rossella, our boss and work-mom, who we all adored. It was always a loud, boisterous time, and when the last customer would leave, we'd sort of collapse in the back, then set about the task of sweeping, mopping, and washing the thousands of dishes that accumulated through the morning.

I've not yet found bread that even approaches the quality of Il Forno's, and if anyone can give me the recipe for the pignoli nut cookie crescents, well, I'll be in your debt, big-time.  And I certainly don't miss those crazy-early hours.

But the food? The friends? The holiday dinners for which Rossella cooked the most AMAZING Italian food I've ever eaten?

Yeah, I'd love to re-visit that. Just for a day or two.


I guess when you get down to it, I'm really lucky. My memories are lovely, and I'm glad to have them. I only get a little sad, a little nostalgic, for the past, and while I know you sometimes can't go home...well, it's nice to have triggers that at least help you remember, right?'s one of mine. Enjoy.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Lovely, sweet middle-of-the-night reading. <3

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