Friday, December 21, 2007

Secret Santa

I was so anxious to begin writing this morning I turned on the wrong burner. Nothing like radicchio and micro greens in melted plastic for breakfast when all I really wanted was boiled eggs. The smoke and stench will clean in a week or two.

Santas past are on my mind, but especially the year I played Secret Santa for the vice-principal of Westmoor Junior High. For one week, I made, bought and creatively appropriated gifts for Mr. Spivey, but on the fifth day, the Friday before Xmas break, I was out of ideas. I had painted two pictures of English sailing ships for my mother: one in oils and one in watercolor and the watercolor painting looked the best, so I took it, wrapped it up and slipped it into Mr. Spivey's in box in the office. I also included a tag with my name on it, since that was the day we were to reveal ourselves as the Secret Santa. Mr. Spivey loved his gift. He had made ships in a bottle and loved sailing (I didn't know that) and he had the painting framed and hung it on his wall. Many years later (a couple decades or so) I was told it hung on his wall until he retired. But he isn't the only one who cherished that painting, so did Mom, and she has never let me forget that I gave her painting away. Reasoning with her that she had another one didn't cut any ice with her. She said it wasn't as good.

Well, I knew that, but didn't figure it would matter since she loves the paintings I didn't like. For instance, the large 3/4 length portrait in acrylics I did of Beanie. That's her favorite painting and she has decided that the painting will go to Beanie when she dies because she can't trust me not to burn it.

Still, the experience of being a Secret Santa was a lot of fun and I've enjoyed carrying on the tradition without ever revealing my identity. It's more fun to give a gift anonymously and let the person believe they are special if only for that day, and it doesn't have to remain solely a Yule province either. Throwing a Scrabble game to a game partner on New Year's Eve after they tried for a year to beat you isn't such a small thing to do and it makes them happy. Finding an inexpensive computer -- or putting one together from excess parts -- for someone who doesn't have one is a nice gift. After all, every writer should have access to the Internet if only for the research. A gift certificate for a manicure or massage for someone who needs a little pampering or a food basket for a family who has had a rough year are also nice. Or simply giving a few months of pictures, extra storage space or a paid LiveJournal account are also gifts, and don't forget to check out the virtual gifts.

At a time of year when the days are so short and the nights so dark and long and cold, a little anonymous cheer is a great way to help someone feel special, and it works the same for the other eleven months of the year.

So much of the time we think about all the experiences and people who have scarred us for life, the ones who broke our hearts and betrayed our faith. I prefer to remember the people who, in their blundering and insensitivity, also did me a favor. I can think of quite a few. I think of it as the silver lining to every dark cloud, even though I love dark clouds because they bring rain and snow and cool breezes on blistering summer days.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Telling tales

A stranger who obviously read my post about Imelda and her clueless husband sent me a link and I followed it to The Story of Stuff. It's not another version of George Carlin's A Place for My Stuff, but the story of a linear system. If you're not interested in the environmental side of the story, skip down to the Consumption tab and start from there. The video takes 20 minutes but it's definitely worth the time to get a good look at what American consumers are doing to the environment, the world and themselves. Don't worry. It's not one of those boring, Green Peace videos. One thing is certain, the stranger who sent it obviously got the message. Nice to know someone reads my posts from time to time.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice and my nephew Cody's 17th birthday. He's Beanie's baby. He's also a regular teenager who's doing all the things most teenagers who collected edged weapons, love fantasy and wear black and long nearly white blond hair do. I wish I could be there to give him a big hug and celebrate his birthday but I'm leaving on Saturday for mountain solitude for ten days. I met someone who wants to help me celebrate Solstice so I said yes and we're getting together to do the Yule holiday up right. Looks like this is the beginning of a really great friendship.

I also decided to send out thank you cards to all the people who contributed articles to the ham club newsletter. It was a last minute thought and my hope is that they will feel better about contributing next year and for however long I decide to keep editing the newsletter. Nothing like a little timely holiday graft. It goes along with the email I received from a major national magazine interested in publishing one of my articles. Hitting the big time is always a great present no matter what time of the year it lands in my lap.

This holiday season has been hard for my family because of Dad's death earlier this year and they don't seem to be able to muster up the energy or the enthusiasm to celebrate the way they did when Dad was alive. Dad would hate it that they're missing the holidays he loved so much, but they all have to grieve their own way. I miss Dad, too, but I don't feel like he's gone. I feel him close to me most of the time like he's been freed from the limitations of his body and can be wherever he's needed and wanted most, like earlier this week when I opened an email from a plant nursery.

The ad offered free upgrades to expedited delivery and discounts on holiday gifts. The magnolia was beautiful with its glossy black leave and creamy ivory petals so I clicked and followed the link. Magnolias, decorated miniature live Xmas trees, holly bushes and a gorgeous Xmas cactus that took me back thirty years.

Dad had just bought a Xmas cactus with beautiful yellow blooms. Eddie, my middle son, was about three years old and he wanted to give me pretty flowers for Xmas, so he plucked all the blooms off Dad's cactus. Dad caught him and went ballistic. Dad was even tempered and calm most of the time, but messing with his plants was grounds for slow torture and a long, painful death. Dad was afraid the cactus would never bloom again and I don't think he ever forgave Eddie. Two years went by and the cactus didn't bloom but Dad never got rid of the cactus. Then, one year at Xmas, the cactus bloomed with gorgeous yellow flowers and it continues to bloom even though he is gone. All the plants he loved and tended and cared for are still alive and part of him lives on in every one of those plants and trees and tales like Eddie and Dad's Xmas cactus.