Flash Memoir - 5 holiday tales
Laugh or cry. All emotions apply.
THE MIDNIGHT KISS
Eight celibate years aren’t so bad when the first four are merely protective cover for the raw emotional spot where your heart used to be. The second four were delightfully painful in unrequited circumstances.
It was in the Fall of 1987 that I dropped a note on God’s desk threatening that unless He connected me to Judy He’d have to deal with me as a late blooming Jesuit. Panicked, God’s answer came in a week. Judy and her husband had gone to splitsville and there was no returning. So with God’s blessing, I prepared myself.
I’m one of those guys that easily provides a comfort zone for women - at least until they marry me. We finally built up to a movie, where the rear-standing Jesuits forced us to crunch down in our front row seats; on the way out Judy felt compelled to explain to our holy colleagues that she was now single.
The holidays were upon us , and as usual I left Baltimore with my kids for Brooklyn and New Jersey to spend time with my family and their mother. As New Years Day and my birthday approached, I began obsessing about the New Years Eve party that the department chair was throwing for his faculty. Judy would be there. Alone.
Full of desire and anticipation for that midnight kiss, I farewelled my confused family and headed back to Baltimore solo. I got there at about 11 pm, enough time to consume courage alcohol before midnight. With five minutes to go, and two champagnes in hand, I started casually moving toward Judy’s reconnoitered location. Not there. Not anywhere. She had beat a strategic retreat minutes before the bewitching moment. The opportunity was left unseized.
Disappointed, yes. But now I knew exactly what Judy was thinking and what I had to do.
BLOOMINGDALE’S x TWO
Linda and I were emotionally and mentally children when we were married. ..until that moment came which made us grow up very fast. It is a moment when you really understand that the world around you is not the place you thought it was.
We both had new jobs and new credit cards that validated us. Our shopping venues upgraded from Macy’s and Sears to places like Saks and Bloomingdale’s. So when Christmas rolled around we decided that the sensible thing to do was to pay cash and buy quality. And so we did all our shopping at Bloomingdale’s, where we paid extra to have the gifts wrapped.
A celebration was in order. So on the way home, having driven across the Brooklyn Bridge and headed down Flatbush Avenue, we decided to stop at the iconic Senior’s for dinner and our favorite NY style cheesecake.
The great evening was topped off by the grim and sudden realization that all our presents were missing from the back seat of our street-parked car. We learned that good intentions are useless if one is stupid. And so the next day it was back to Bloomindgale’s to buy all the exact same presents again- this time on a credit card.
Our faith in the Spirit of Christmas faced an enormous setback, especially since Linda was Jewish. Our relationship to credit cards took an unforgiving turn. And thus we entered the downward spiral of adulthood.
It was our first Christmas in the Beach Haven apartments, across Ocean Parkway, opposite Coney Island Hospital, hugging the line of the Belt Parkway.
Two things would be different this year. I was determined that Terri and David would get more toy gifts than I had ever seen in a lifetime. I recalled the childhood disappointment of box after box of mittens, socks, underwear and an occasional game or toy.
The other difference was that I gifted myself with 4 new tires to safely support our holiday road-trip. I think I gave Linda another frying pan.
On Christmas Eve we were up all night wrapping and labeling presents from Santa. In the end were gathered 100 boxes, 50 per child, that filled half the living room wall to wall. In our naïveté we never considered how long it would take to open those gifts.
To the phone. “Mom we are going to be late for dinner.”
Hustling downstairs, gifts and weekender cases in hand, I made it to the trunk of my Impala. It was then that I noticed the car was unusually high. The reason was quickly obvious; it was elevated on bricks. No tires.
“You go upstairs with the kids, and call mom . I’ll head over to Ocean Parkway and try to hail a cab.”
It was a three block walk and thoughts of mom’s lasagna soon gave way to those presents, those suitcases, lonely, in the trunk of my car, the keys still dangling from the trunk door.
For years tales of Christmas horror punctuated the Eve stories that were told in children’s bedrooms up and down Arlena Terrace in the Ramsey (NJ) Golf and Country Club. What transpired in that cute cape cod at #21 that resulted in a fully dressed Christmas tree being ejected from the house at dawn and thrown to the curb, where it sat for weeks until the town tree pick-up came by? What were those Ciofalos up to?
Fast forward fifteen years. Long gone from Ramsey, I am standing in a supermarket line at the Interstate Shopping Center on a return visit.
“Hi Andy.” It was my former neighbor from across the street of that fateful house.
“Iv’e always been curious. What happened that Christmas when you curbed your tree first thing in the morning.”
“I don’t think I should tell you. It will only ruin the mystery.”
“All of us need to know.”
“There was a hidden bend in the tree trunk. I kept catching it as it headed for the floor. Finally I nailed it down.”
I described how on Christmas morning Terri and Dave were playing with their toys and one of them clipped the tree and it finally went down. Defeated, I took the jinxed tree with all its decorations and frustratingly disposed of it outside.
“Oh wow. It was nothing like I imagined.”
And with that he departed believing every word I had said.
The holiday period ends with one last hurrah, when couples can be totally attentive to each other outside of the inclusive hoopla surrounding Christmas and New Years. This is the last time to celebrate before the dark veil of Lent and Passion Week return us to sober times (except for that tweaky break on St. Patrick’s Day).
I arrived at Olga’s home in Durham, North Carolina on January 11, 2009 for the bedroom I had rented over the phone for my weight loss stint at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. Once settled, and with Olga’s enthusiastic okay, I phoned Judy, who specialized in teaching science writing, inviting her to join me. I had sensed her annoyance at my decision to take an elective medical sojourn in the middle of my sabbatical.
“I have a very comfortable Master Suite.’
“You’ll enjoy meeting Olga. She’s a research scientist.”
“Why are you calling me?”
Clearly the distance between us was more than physical and with Valentine’s Day upon us, I decided to close the gap with a nice present. Soon arrived at our Towson address was a package with artisan earrings from Durham’s best craft jeweler. Just as soon, it was returned to Durham.
Olga witnessed my shock at this rejection and could hear the soft sobs coming from my bedroom that night. Now there was a line that needed crossing.
The next day was Saturday. ‘Would you like to go to a movie,” she sympathetically offered. “Okay.” With fateful luck I picked a movie that featured Belorussian partisans in deep woods driving the Nazis out of their country. This grabbed Olga close to home and I found unexpected satisfaction in that the leaders later settled in Manhattan after the war and worked as cab drivers (at the same time that my stepdad, Joe Casta, was a cabbie).
On the way home, we stopped for Italian food. “So I guess this is officially a first date now,” i joked. The waitress apologized for the limited offerings. We opened the menu. VALENTINE’S DAY SPECIALS.
I then knew something big was about to happen.