Columns » Bob Lancaster

G.C. past visits


Some ruminations following a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. In recent holiday seasons I’ve been given to thinking of my childhood Christmas self as a grasping little materialist. That scrawny youngster wanted stuff. He dreamed of stuff every night after August. He prayed for stuff from about Halloween on. Big sacks of it. Gooey gobs of it. He wanted to wallow in the Christmas treasure, the haul, like Scrooge McDuck. He knew the “true meaning of Christmas,” and it wasn’t what all the pulpits said. It wasn’t about the babe in the manger so much as the magi cameling up for high-dollar smellum delivery. He was rightful heir to and beneficiary of a 2,000-year-old gifting tradition, and and needed to get stuff while the getting was good, lest the Second Coming or nuclear war or a meteor hit bring the tradition to a sudden and fiery end. Pretty embarrassing in retrospect. A junior grasper, wanting it all. If little ol’ moi hadn’t existed David Mamet would have had to have written me. But here in the geezerly twilight the kindly Ghost of Christmas Past has been forgiving of all that — a nice surprise. The haint’s counsel: Greed is just part of the spoiled child’s package, but don’t judge him green. He’ll grow up, learn shame, get to know his better angels. Judge him then, after he has come to know the real money-back limited-warranty true meaning of Christmas: that it really is more blessed to give than to receive. That it’s the givers not the givees who take lasting satisfaction away from Christmas. That’s the satisfactual Christmas truth. So obvious that it only took me 60 years. Insert large sigh here. **** The stuff Junior Materialist wanted for Christmas was always shoddy merchandise that wasn’t good for anything. It was of no practical use. It nearly always broke the same day the package was opened. Or it didn’t work. Or some essential part just fell off of it. I had no inkling of the kamikazi-widow’s secret smile behind all the Made in Japan tags attached to all my Christmas crap. But even the Boeotian Little Moron can recognize quality, or the lack of it, when he finally gets to open the package and hold the stuff in his hand. A pang of realization: that the catalogue just didn’t show flimsy. Also, why did my brother, who was nowhere near as clever or designing as I was, always get better Christmas stuff? A damnable mystery then. Now I know. **** The Christmas Stuff dreams were from a time when another variety of materialism held much of the world in thrall. It was called dialectical materialism. It was more idealistic than my primitive brand of Santa Claus materialism, but it also turned out to be very demoralizing. Commies knew no fat elf would air-caribou them gaudy gifts on Christmas eve, but their stout-hearted realism concerning this didn’t make their world a brighter or finer place. On the contrary. Holiday cheer was a felony there behind the curtain, as were the other 99 known varieties of cheer. Harboring Christmasy sentiments made you an enemy of the state, and got you shot if a squealer noticed the silver bells that you thought were tingalinging only inside your head. Surrogate Santy for that mass of mirthless proles was one Karl Marx, who had the beard for it but not much else. If the dialectical materialists just had to apotheosize a Marx, they should’ve waited for Groucho. He wouldn’t have joined a party that would’ve had him as a member, so the whole Communist movement might’ve died aborning, saving much grief. That would’ve been a nice Christmas present to history, from Russia with love. Karl Marx really was a pisspoor excuse: dour, thin, tight-fisted, of regular height, and his belly didn’t shake when he laughed because he never laughed. He wanted to make Christmas into a Five-year Plan. And the sad part, he got a lump of coal the only time he ever put up a stocking. **** The one constant in our Christmases Past at the Home Place was the cold. We seldom had white Christmases but we always had cold ones. Partly that was because prime time at Christmas was just before dawn when the dark was darkest and the cold coldest. The rising sun would warm things later, but who could wait for that? Mitts so numb from cold that it was hard to light firecrackers. About the only way to get the feeling back was to let one of them go off in your hand. You might blow off a finger doing that, but how many fingers did you really need? **** These visits from G.C. Past we always reminisce about Pap’s all-time favorite Christmas gift when he was a boy, the empty Prince Albert tobacco can. The moral being that in the era of the Bull Moose poor was authentic poor rather than genteel poor. It was poor that sucked. Only they didn’t know it. And found richer riches than the rich found, in places where the rich didn’t know to look.

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