Louise, over a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, asked Douglas: “What was Christmas like for you, as a child?”
An innocuous enough question, and yet it struck him that along with the regular coffee dates, he and Louise were creating a kind of intimacy. Friendly intimacy, he quickly corrected himself.
It felt all too easy to answer her question, without stopping to consider what it might make her think of him.
We did not celebrate Christmas at home, actually. My mother had grown up Jewish. My grandparents on that side kept kosher, and celebrated the high holidays. One of my earliest memories is a Passover meal in their home, watching and listening as all the rituals were carried out and explained for my benefit.
Then my father died, long before I was old enough to truly remember him, and my mother remarried quickly. My step-father was raised in a Christian family, but he didn’t hold with any formalities or traditions. If you’d asked him what religion he was, for example, he’d say something like “any denomination that puts on good pot luck suppers.”
My mother’s parents were not pleased, to say the least. It was many years before we celebrated any holiday with them again.
After Thanksgiving, the kids at school would begin their hyperventilations about Christmas: the presents they desired as life itself, the wheeling and dealing with parents, the anticipation of time off school. I longed to participate in these rituals, that seemed as much a part of childhood as learning our times tables and spelling. But at home, my step-father invested no energy in creating a holiday. My mother half-heartedly tried to engage me in Hannukah events and rituals, but they seemed a pale ghost of the materialistic orgies my schoolmates took part in.
When I was ten years old, my step-father woke me up on Christmas morning, as the sun peeked over the horizon. Putting a finger to his lips to keep me from exclaiming, he led me to our attached garage.
There, glistening in the florescent light, was a bright red Schwinn bicycle. I nearly cried with joy. I embraced him in one of the only truly loving hugs I can recall us sharing.
Riding that new bicycle out to the park that day, in a pouring rain, to show it off to all my schoolmates, hearing their oohs and aahs, being the center of their attention, just for a moment, I realized the gift my step-father had truly given me. For that moment, I belonged.