Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, December 21, 2007

We have no Day of the Dead in North America, that time when we honor and mourn and celebrate our dead. The closest we have is Christmas, celebration of the Babe, the Birth, the Incarnation; the Homeless Family, the Holy Family, the Holy Homeless Family, the Baby in the Feed Trough; the Shepherds, the Terrifying Angel, the Singing of the Angels, Peace on Earth and Good Will Among People; Singing, Singing, Singing; the Wise Men of the East, the Astrologers, the Travelers, the Camels, the Caravan, the Gift-Givers, Gift-Giving; Solstice, Rebirth, Evergreens; Lights, Colors, Candles; the happy generous red-suited white-bearded fat man Santa, Flying Reindeer, Chimney Entrances, Wish Fulfillment, Magical Generosity; Cookies, Fudge, Eggnog, Candy Canes; Cards, Pictures, Friends, Family, Feasting.

And, with family, inevitably, the absence of family.

I hear my dad puttering around. Settling in a comfortable chair with a drink, ready to tell a story. He is a friendly ghost.

So many family traditions, so dependent on particular members.

In my family, growing up, Christmas feasting began Christmas Eve and lasted for 24 hours. Christmas Eve dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s -- Mom’s parents -- and opening presents, and my parents and grandparents and my then-unmarried aunt, and sometimes my grandpa’s unmarried brother or sister, and all of the adults smoking, and my brother and sister and I retreating to a side room to watch something boring on TV, or to read a new gift book, while the adults smoked and drank and talked, until we piled into the car happy and full and red-eyed from the smoke. In junior high or high school our friends the Godfreys started coming over late Christmas Eve after we got home from Grandma and Grandpa
s ; the parents would drink and talk in the living room and us boys would gather in me and my brother’s room to listen to records (my sister, who was younger, had her own room, and years later told me she felt left out); this tradition lasted until my parents moved out to the country about 12 years ago. Christmas morning, presents at home, grandparents and aunt and visiting others over for brunch and more drinking. After brunch, maybe a walk in the snow, and playing with new toys, or listening to new music or reading new books. Christmas afternoon with Dad’s family, for dinner and more presents with 20 or 30 people, sometimes at our house, more often in Battle Creek, 30 miles down the road, where Dad grew up and a lot of his family still is, at one of four uncles’ houses, my dad’s two brothers and their families, or my dad’s uncle and his family, or my dad’s cousin and his family. My dad’s dad hosted the party until he died -- when I was 3, 41 years ago, a few weeks after my brother was born. The last thing he said to my dad was asking after my newborn brother, whom he never met.

My mom’s parents are gone; Christmas Eve dinner is a long gone tradition. Now dad’s gone, one of his brothers is gone, his uncle and aunt are too old to host the party, and his cousin is divorced and doesn’t have a big enough house for the party. Which leaves my dad’s one surviving brother, now 75, and his wife, to host, and one of their sons and his family, the one who has done well and has a big enough house. My brother closed on his house yesterday; maybe he’ll host it someday. Or maybe when the senior uncle and aunt die, this party will fade away too.

The dead return at Christmas. I’m happy to see them in the vividness of the mind’s eye, and I miss them.

The deep dark dread of the bright merry season. Pass it well. Peace, goodwill.

* * *

Record producer Joel Dorn died this week. He produced an astounding series of albums for Rahsaan Roland Kirk, as well as pop gems from Roberta Flack and the Allman Brothers and Donny Hathaway, and the marvelous, eccentric debut of Leon Redbone.

I’d been thinking of him lately because the 30th anniversary of Kirk’s death passed this month.

Here is one obituary and another.

Condolences, in this time of darkness and dread, to his family and friends.

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