Thursday, December 22, 2016

Encore: The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas

Last year's two-part Christmas story, revisited in one place.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas

Vintage Christmas ephemera.
Episode One

"The trappings of Christmas must be perfectly executed," Ambulancia declared to all within earshot, which included passers-by who looked up, startled, and quickened their steps.  "I know perfection when I see it.  I just can't say ahead of time what it will look like."  This bit of last-minute holiday drama concerned traditional crackers presented to each guest atop their dinner plate at the Christmas table.  While her mother suggested the manufacturer's decorations were quite festive and would disappoint no one, Ambulancia, joined in protest by her sister Sireena, insisted on what she referred to as "tarting them up" with trimmings that would render them extravagant works of art.  Nothing less would do.

Once again, tulle became a material of choice, along with double-faced satin ribbons, gold German Dresden trims and ornaments, Victorian scrap images, sequins, glitter, cotton batting fruit and birds and additional bits of scissored crepe paper.  Fortunately, the girls always created in their room, their atelier as they called it, so the already tidy parlor with its slightly strange but mostly wondrous tree would remain undisturbed.

As had been the case at Thanksgiving, Ellington and Henri's parents found it necessary to be "away" at Christmas, some muttered explanation about a distant, aging and slightly gaga relative or some precarious businss assignation in a wintery, remote locale which, they were sure, would cause the boys hardship.  It was no hardship at all to stay over with their best friends for the entire vacation. They rolled up their sleeves and tested the glue guns for readiness.

Though it may have seemed to the untrained eye that the sisters procrastinated, plunging into last-minute flurries of holiday preparations in general, that was not the actual truth.  They had made all their gifts weeks ago, wrapped them, helped decorate the house, baked, gone to the movies twice with the brothers and eaten lunch in a downtown coffee shop.  They were not idle nor forgetful.  it was simply that when Ambulancia opened the box of Christmas crackers, she felt her heart sink just a bit and could not bear to think of that happening to their guests.  "Presentation," she exclaimed.  "Delight the eye, create anticipation.  Much of Christmas is anticipation.  We will not disappoint."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas, part 2

As long as there was someone at home, the girls insisted that any and all Christmas lights be turned on regardless of the time of day.  So it was that they crafted beneath the softened glow of a treasured old Santa, putting finishing touches on the now highly adorned crackers for tomorrow's table.

With one of her favorite holiday magazines beside her, should she need inspiration, Ambulancia sniggered and snorted at the photo of an impossibly lavish cracker, saying in her poshest voice, "Oh, Ree, did we include the Faberge eggs in the crackers this year?  I may have forgotten them.   We'll need to start over."  Her sister answered, "Yep.  Forgot them.  I guess they'll wait for next year."  Snigger, snort, heh heh.  "A witty motto, plastic charm and, my favorite, the paper hat, will have to do.  I love when we all have on our hats.  Nobody thinks they're too silly to wear.  We know the best sports, don't we?"
NOT the sisters' Christmas cracker.
"Will you ask our Dad if he's ready to take us to deliver presents?" the older sister asked Ellington.  Unlike the girls method of, no other word for it, bellowing from room to room, the Garrick brother went and found Mr. Charpentier in his den and asked if he was ready to drive them around to exchange gifts with their friends.  "Yes!" he told him.  "Yes.  And then a tour of the neighborhood lights after, how does that sound?"

"I feel a bit selfish," he told Ellington and Henri, who had joined them, "having the company of you guys while your parents have to be off in the Black Hole of Calcutta or some dismal place without you at Christmas.  Lucky us, I wouldn't trade."  His genuine kindness, his enthusiasm for having the fellows to balance all the female influences on every matter, always made the brothers feel they were as good as at home.

Turning off the lighted decorations, Mrs. Charpentier rounded up all the siblings, each carrying a small, paper-handled bag of presents to be dropped off.  The first year their father asked if they needed a ride to their friends' houses, the girls clapped with delight.  They also jumped, just a bit, and may have let out a shriek.  Christmas was so much fun.

With the mysterious packages, some of which were exceedingly lumpy, patterned paper wrapped around the contents like a second skin, exchanged, following rather extended chats on front porches and some familiarly shrill exclamations, all were back in the car.   It was officially Christmas eve, the sun had set and lighted trees filled front windows on every block.  Following their tradition, they stopped to get hamburgers to eat en route while they rode through the evening, visiting their favorite neighborhoods, the ice cream family's mansion lit up brighter than a Hollywood premier, the towering deodar trees beneath which all cars drove with headlights off.

"I remember the first time I was able to fall asleep on Christmas eve," Mrs. Charpentier said.  "I was so disappointed when I woke up.  I felt as though I'd lost Christmas, I'd lost the child I had been.  But I was wrong.  She's still here," she laughed.  "You girls and your father helped rescue her from having to be too grown up."  She blew kisses toward them all.  "Thank you," she said.

"Being able to fall asleep when it's Christmas," Sireena said, "I can't even imagine.  How awful that must have been for you."  Her mother nodded.

As they wound their way home, the children examined the presents they'd been given and thought of what they would do before going to bed as late as possible.  One thing they loved to do and not just on Christmas eve was lie on the floor under the tree in the darkened room and look up through the branches at the lights and they way they were reflected by ornaments and tinsel.  It seemed like a wishing place, a fairy place of pine scent and candles.  There would be carols playing softly and everyone knew, not just believed but knew, that the best things were entirely possible.

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