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Sometimes, I think we have all become unwitting victims of both Charles Dickens and Norman Rockwell or, at least, our vision of their creations. We became hopefully self-convinced that the roaring fireplace and jolly Mr. Fezzywig might be real and that there surely will still be a job there when we go back to work on Dec. 26. And, certainly, the smiling turkey-carver at the head of the table will still have room on the Visa card for his spouse to hit the post-holiday sales. However, we who have survived to retirement know how wishful these little dreams really were in our own times of job-holding and childraising. Nevertheless, we treasured the cozy fiction then and I, for one, still do now.
The whole family knows that the son-inlaw's employer is down-sizing its middle management—again. And, oldest son's business, once so promising, is still stuck in the doldrums. I think I have heard this before: that was in the '70s, when besides a frozen economy, we had the additional specter of nuclear incineration threatened by a madman tyrant sworn to destroy us. We wondered then if Norman Rockwell's beaming holiday family would live long enough for Easter. And, we suspected Mr. Fezziwig's business would be in bankruptcy by New Year's.
But, Santa came anyway in those years. He brought more wardrobe for Barbie and extra straight track for the electric train. International crises, vicious political confrontations, and domestic financial problems raged unabated. But somehow, there were tennis rackets and first baseman's mitts—and skis followed by several weeks in a cast and being chauffeured to school and going on crutches to the junior prom. This last was first viewed as the depth of embarrassment to the would-be femme fatale. But the next day, we noticed that her cast had been signed by a dozen new names and all of them were male.
Now, the once-children have children of their own. The electric train has been divided up between two of the boys and, to no one's surprise, one daughter, and it has been hugely expanded since. The grandchildren aren't terribly interested in the tin crossing gate that actually goes down when the train approaches—not nearly as much as their fathers and their uncles are. These folks join grandfather on hands and knees to watch the train go through the tunnel and insist on tuning off all the lights so the sweep of the train's locomotive lights can be seen more clearly—and fully appreciated.
A few years ago, Barbie's original wardrobe and personal property was heartlessly sold on eBay by a college senior facing eviction. Her sisters say they have forgiven her. I think her mother has, too. But I'm not so sure the once-impecunious student has forgiven herself.—not if we judge by the wardrobe she gave her nieces for Christmas.
The dinner table this year will once more make room for a high chair, and a chubby tow-headed occupant. High chairs now, I find, have seat belts. But, I'm proud to say that this grandchild has found a way to squirm out of the chair, despite the belts, and end up in grandmother's lap, where the sippy cup is waved in juice-strewing triumph and it's much easier to pull at the tablecloth and tip over the wine glasses. That's why there are mothers and aunts—to do the mopping up.
Dessert will be the traditional choice of pies. Then, there is a second critical decision involving whipped cream or ice cream on top. A half-whispered estimate of "at least 500 calories" will be made, with appropriate scorn, by the high school freshman granddaughter who is getting a "B" in home-ec. She is convinced that her parents have managed to make it this far in life only via miraculous divine intervention—or hers. Then, somewhere around her sophomore year in college after two years of dorm food, she will become a family dinner enthusiast and we won't hear any more about calories.
Theodore Rickard is a freelance writer living in Yarmouth Port, MA.