A Holiday Memory

Being joyful at this time of year has always been a struggle for me. Early in my life, my father was in the military, but we didn’t live on base with him. Quite often he didn’t get holiday leave to come home, which meant my mother was in a hellish mood. There were several December holidays without him.

There wasn’t much of an improvement after he got out of the military because of strains in his and my mother’s marriage. I often longed to be anywhere except at my house at this time of year.

One Christmas Eve when I was around sixteen and didn’t much care but my brother was nine and still very much into holiday decorations and what Santa would bring, we got ready to put up and decorate our tree. (I suspect because both my parents had British backgrounds, that was why our tree didn’t go up earlier in the month.) The fresh-cut tree was in its stand, the tree skirt precisely placed beneath it, and… There were no hooks for the ornaments.

I’ve always suspected my mother tossed them out because she was never much of a Christmas person. She saw the holiday as extra work put on her to cook, clean, buy and wrap presents, and decorate the house for the holiday. As a feminist, I can understand that. There was very much a division of “man’s work” and “woman’s work” in my house growing up. Her reasoning might have been, “No ornament hooks, no decorating, no tree, no extra work for me.”

This was Christmas Eve close to forty years ago in a small, Virginia town. Nothing would be open to go buy ornament hooks–no CVS, no Target, no Wal-Mart. Nada.

Being a teenager, I was “meh.” My brother, however, was convinced that without a tree it wasn’t really Christmas. He was close to tears.

My Dad went to the tool kit he kept in the house and got a pair of needle-nose pliers. Next, he went to his desk and took out a container of paper clips. He sat in his recliner and began shaping those paper clips into ornament hooks. True to his nature, each one was perfect. It took hours and hours: big tree, lots of ornaments. My mother eventually grasped the reality of it and improved her mood, my brother got more and more excited as each ornament went on the tree, and even this disinterested teenager got into the spirit.

This year will be thirty-seven Christmases without my father, more than I had with him. Each year I bring that memory of him to mind, sitting in his chair and doing what he could to make the holiday meaningful to his children. And it’s the best reminder of what the holidays should mean to families.

It’s my favorite holiday memory, ever.

What’s your favorite holiday memory? Share in the comments.

Pre-Solstice Friday Fictioneers

We’re one day away from Winter Solstice and the least amount of daylight for the year. However, I walked outside to get the mail this afternoon and thought I’d been transported several months into the future to April. It could be close to 70 on Winter Solstice this year–but climate change is a myth, so some say.

There’s been very little writing going on this week because of holiday baking and cooking and gift-buying, but I’ve managed to add a few scenes to a new project I’ve started. It wasn’t easy to get them out of my head, where they were enjoying a fine old time bouncing around in my imagination, and onto the computer screen, but I managed to do it. I’m not entirely happy with what I’ve written (who is, the first time around), but it’ll get fixed.

Friday Fictioneers LogoOne of my favorite stories as a child was The Little Mermaid–not the Disney movie but the story by Hans Christian Andersen. Mer-people absolutely fascinated me, and like most kids, I was sorely disappointed when I discovered they weren’t real. Today’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt brought back all the mer-people stories I’ve read over the years and inspired this week’s story, “Fish Out of Water.” As usual if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop down list.

Happy holidays to all, however you celebrate, or not.

What Do You Mean It’s October?

How can it be October? It was just January, wasn’t it?

It’s hard to believe two-thirds of this writing year is behind us, and that NaNoWriMo and the holidays are ahead. I don’t know about you, but writing between Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year has been almost non-existent for me in past years. Well, except for the Uncle Sam years where I had to write even when my mind was on Christmas carols and snow flakes.

This holiday season, then, will be a test of the writing work schedule I put in place for this year and to which I’ve done a good job of sticking. Holiday shopping, traveling, and all the  seasonal drama, however, can overwhelm even the strictest schedule.

But writing, for me, has always been an escape. Difficult childhood? Write stories about horses and winning the Grand National Steeplechase–no, it was derivative, not plagiarism. Horrid high school experience? Write stories about revolution. Love college? Write a story that wins a prize and gets published in the college literary magazine. Sucky first job? Write an unpublished novel (and that’s a good thing) about a space-faring female explorer who’s in charge of her life. Have a life-changing relationship for twenty-plus years? Write him into a great main character then write a semi-biographical novel about what broke you up.

I think, no, I’m certain, that if I didn’t have that ability to arrange words in an interesting manner on a page, I’d probably have a rap sheet as long as I-95 because I would have put my fist in someone’s face–several someones and repeatedly. It was that kind of life, in other words, a fairly typical one. Reading books carried me through a lot and still does, but there’s nothing like sitting down before the computer and stepping into a world you’ve created or are in the process of creating. The real world falls away, and many times that’s good.

Of course, the shock upon re-entry to reality can be staggering but fodder for future fiction as well. That’s the writer’s burden, curse, and raison d’être. And we love it.

What’s your holiday writing plan? Will you back away until the new year, or will those family get-togethers provide fertile ground for story-telling?