Friday, December 24th, 2010
26

A Brief Christmas Memory

As mentioned previously, the Christmases of my youth were spent sleeping over at my grandparents' house. This memory comes from what Wikiepedia assures me was 1987—which simultaneously seems like moments ago and an eternity back. I had just turned 15, and was suffering from that terrible curse of teenagerdom where you are worried that it is kind of lame to be spending time with the people who love you best and wishing you were somewhere else. One of the tragedies of our lives is how much we miss out on because we think there's something more interesting happening wherever were aren't; it is a lesson always learned too late.

In any event, the thing I wanted most that Christmas was R.E.M.'s Document, which had come out in the fall. My grandmother, who had wisely given up on making guesses as to what to get me, had dutifully gone to the record store—remember those?—in the strip mall near her retirement community and picked it up. I knew immediately that it was there when I looked under the tree. The shape of the longbox—remember those?—gave it away.

My grandparents were wonderful people, but they were old. They did not, in 1987, have a CD player, and I don't believe they ever wound up getting one before they passed. So there was no way I was going to be able to listen to the album until the next day.

Older readers may have similar stories, but this is what I remember: lying flat on the ground near the Christmas tree, staring at the box and the liner notes under its lights. As my grandparents puttered around cleaning up, I played the songs I knew in my head and tried to imagine what the other ones would sound like through their titles and the deliberate obscurities of the packaging. (I'm vague on this one, but I believe the box had some kind of legend like "File Under Fire" or something on it.) Occasionally my grandmother would offer me some tardelle, and I would decline, fearing that the honey would stick to my fingers and mar my precious new present. It was warm, it was quiet, it was pleasantly dusky; it was Christmas.

Obviously this is a story that would not happen today. I would have been sitting in the corner listening to the whole thing on my iPod, walled off from everyone else in the house and missing the stray bits of conversation that would waft through my reverie. I'm not making a judgment here or saying Things Were Better In My Day; it is what it is. We all make our own memories one way or another. In any event, I am wishing that each and every one of you have some sort of enjoyable event over this holiday; that you cherish the people you love and manage to tolerate the ones you don't. I find that alcohol helps, but as the flashback above hopefully illustrates, it is not always necessary. Merry etc.

26 Comments / Post A Comment

Matt (#26)

You know what album I got for Christmas in '87? Bad. But it was the lp and I was, um, not 15.

#56 (#56)

Alex, we're the same age… so no more "i'm so old" posts or I'll be offended.

deepomega (#1,720)

In '87 I was probably face-down in a Smurf cake, giggling.

(I'll leave my age at the time as an exercise for the reader.)

riotnrrd (#840)

Face down, ass up: that's the way we like to sup.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Damn, I'm older but not wiser.

And right back at you regarding emjoyable events and people management!

keisertroll (#1,117)

In 1987 I was three. I win.

Brad Nelson (#2,115)

Christmas 1987 I was 6 months old. Last.

NinetyNine (#98)

It was definite 'File Under Fire.' I feel like they did it ('File Under _____') for at least one of Life's Rich Pageant and Green but for the life of me I cannot remember what those were.

Mindpowered (#948)

In 1987 it was raining. There was snow on the mountains though.

Being 10, I believed the adults in my life were still fixed, permanent and unchanging. As such I didn't give much thought to the rituals that seemed rote and hackneyed. The calls from Germany and Long Island. The trek out my paternal grandparents.

Now I'm older and I see that the 1980's was the twilight of those Christmas rhythms. By end of the decade I lost 3 out of 4 grandparents. The other went the 1990's and the calls from Germany stopped in 2008 (far before they should have).

Back then I never appreciated the comfort of those rituals, but now I can see the how chain of connectedness supported my parents and me throughout the holiday. Now it's time for my wife and I to cut our own path, and create a new set rituals, drawing from the past but uniquely ours.

So, enjoy the holiday, and celebrate but remember;

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,

jrb (#3,020)

In 1987, they spelled it 'finguers.'

mathnet (#27)

In 1987 my sister thought it would be a funny joke to wrap up a training bra "To: Mathy Love, Dad."

What is a longbox? Is that like a Longcat/Maru mash-up?

[kidding. mostly]

sailor (#396)

Thanks Alex and back at ya' from an even older fart than you are.

BoHan (#29)

Christmas 1987, but especially Christmas 1986, my fellow stupid young lawyers and I were busy billing over 100 hours per week, trying to ram deals through that would beat Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986, as its various measures kicked into effect on the first day of the following year. I'm pretty sure I had no Xmas for about 3 years running. Fucking Reagan. Now that's old.

fedredhead (#3,965)

I remember '86 too. I had a one year old hyperactive baby and a husband who was never home. He worked until midnight that New Year's Eve. Fucking Reagan indeed.

Bittersweet (#765)

In '87 I was about the same age but had Document on cassette. Way to be tech-forward, Balk.

Merry Christmas to all that celebrate, etc.

Edith Zimmerman (#5,210)

Alex! This is so good.

Sweetie (#519)

I probably shouldn't talk about doing the same thing with the Queensryche live box set when I was 13 something. I felt so satisfied and dirty and awesome all at once.

Then my grandma taught me how to make cornbread without worrying one sec about all the cigarette ash and bourbon spray she added to the recipe.

In 1987, I was, and still am, Jewish. But this is really universal, particularly regarding the teenage feeling "that it is kind of lame to be spending time with the people who love you best and wishing you were somewhere else." I now remember the NYEs spent at my grandparents' far more clearly than those in high school and college spent cobbling together random plans for the sake of doing something.

In any case, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night…

nuch (#893)

In 1987 I got Bert and Ernie dolls, and danced in circles for hours to Rockin Robin in the tape player.

This year I'm spending Christmas alone in an airport in Switzerland, missing even the people I only "manage to tolerate".

petey (#8,666)

Alex! I turned 15 that Fall… I picked up Document on cassette. I remember thinking it was gritty sounding compared to other stuff I knew. File Under Fire.

It wasn't until Green that my folks got a CD player. That was my very first CD.. long box and all!

Krustina (#571)

Love this a lot. Album sleeves and liner notes were the best! Thanks so much Alex!

Jack Shepherd (#5,165)

File under fire. I had forgotten about that. And Reckoning was File under water. Wikipedia is now trying to tell me that they had originally intended to call that album "Mr. Evil Breakfast."

Peter Feld (#79)

This is touching but don't you think the first four albums are better?

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