Monday, December 24, 2012

As mentioned in this blog, Christmas Eve was celebrated as such in my family as I was growing up, but was rather a evening of last preparations for a very long & full Christmas Day, It did have its "traditions." The most amazing was when my parents put the Christmas tree up while their four children were in bed, what I have called an act of "amateur shamanism" & which they had good sense to abandon when I, the youngest,  was two or three years old. My belief in Santa Claus did not last long, or at least it became filled with doubt early on.

Nor was the holiday celebrated with any religiosity. Overt  religious enthusiasm was not appreciated  in my family, although all four kids received 8 years of Methodist Sunday School education, & one of  my brothers  became a Methodist pastor (perfect Sunday School attendance record). My grandmother, the Roman Catholic in the house for my first ten years, was stubbornly & dutifully observant. Of the four kids, I think I was only one especially curious about her faith, which she noticed. Didn't prevent me from mocking it; I went along with a lot  of nonsense in my family to get along, including racism after I came to think it stupid  & unnecessary.

Certainly something in our upbringing went awry for all four siblings to consider each other nitwits to one extent or another, if we were totally honest about it. We've succeeded in socially avoiding each other throughout our adulthood,  except when  required by special events,  although none of us has ever resided more than three hours travel from all the others in New Jersey. I used to believe this was unique to our family. I realized it was quite common but for the close physical proximity; most siblings like us scatter to distant places & pretend they want to be together. I did socialize with my sister regularly  for a number of years & would have with my oldest brother if I hadn't found grounded conversation with him frustratingly evasive in someone so talkative (he was so evasive  he'd move & I wouldn't find out where for a year). The only two relatives I think I can chat with to any extent are my pastor brother's son, a born again libertarian with gentle disposition he is trying to leaven into practicable,  ethical Christianity, & a step-nephew who sent me some writing last summer just before he got married, to critique (he didn't ask for  it specifically, but I know he wants me to like it), & which I have avoided along with several CDs sent for my succinct appraisal. I have resolved to attend to these over the next week. Poems sent to me by poet friends are read promptly; the most I might suggest with those are brief edits, a snip here, a snip there, but rarely, since  even their idiosyncrasies have attained mature, self-aware  craft.

Many of my friends & acquaintances  are such fine writers than I need only to read what they write without applying a critical eye. My friend Carrie, for instance, has prepared so many legal briefs that she gets right to the point in her occasional lengthy e mails. No mystery there: Ulysses S, Grant became one  of the finest American prose writers by way of his plainly expressed, concise Civil War battle reports, considered the best in the United States Army, which he incorporated generously into his great Autobiography (Eisenhower was generally a second rate prose writer, as his battle reports were loaded  with the bureaucratic language of a corporate commander).  Lawyers have become some of the best contemporary writers of Private Eye & police procedural novels.

To get back to Christmas.... It's a grumpy post. The best Christmas Eves I had were the intimate, late night parties, before our small group moved apart or had kids, that were intended as a respite from family obligations: The only tradition was the party itself. Our gifts were inexpensive & we knew what to give each other. In such company there's no "small talk. "

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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