Seeing in memory the gift

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A view from the dining room of the tree in the living room before the guests began arriving, 12/24/88. That’s little Rum Rum curled up on the left side of the settee.

Thursday, December 24, 2020. Christmas Eve.  The weather outside is not exactly the way I remember Christmas Eves growing up in frequently snowbound Massachusetts. Low to mid-40s yesterday in New York and a little colder. But today’s are projected (this was written last night) into the upper 50s. It’s good for the restaurant business, thankfully; people will eat outdoors in the newly developed temp shelters.

But more than all that, it’s Christmas Eve. This past year’s experience has led to a lot of thoughts about past Christmases. Naturally the most important and impressive time for many of us was the childhood: ages six to fourteen. After that the boy began to grow (up) and the view changed. I was fortunate, despite other issues that overshadowed family life, because the idea of Christmas was always pleasing to the kid. When I was five or six, it was a sled for the snowtime. When I was eleven it was a portable typewriter. But most importantly in memory, that time has remained with me all my life.

I hated going to the barber, Mr. Moriarty. I didn’t like the electric razor. Now I don’t like the bangs.

As time passes and age accumulates, the Christmas holiday changes with us. First of all, the children are grown.  I have spent many Christmases since, and in all kinds of situations – with family, with marriage, with friends and even acquaintances, as well as alone. Solo. The solo part has been more recent in experience. All of it is fine.

All of this came to mind yesterday when I was going through some photographs on a search when I came upon some taken at Christmas in Los Angeles when I shared a house in the hills above West Hollywood on Doheny Drive. I’d shared the house with three other individuals – two men and a woman. The mix changed over time.  There were four of us when I moved in and ten years later, I was the only one remaining.

We were between ages 35 to 45. Everyone a professional in the film and television business. Everyone working, we occupied the large space with semblance of family. It might have been so because there was often a regular dinner hour which people would join or not. But we lived our lives individually professionally and even socially. Yet we came together at dinner (when we did) and on certain days such as birthdays and the two big holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The aforementioned photos I came upon were of Christmas 1988. The weather outside was sunny and bright. The holiday season was more social for professionals in the industry. In our house we put up the tree (a fourteen footer – high ceiling), decorated it, and prepared a buffet and cocktails (egg nog too) for everyone and their friends/our friends. 

On Christmas Eve day with everything set up, including the tree, we invited our cleaning lady to bring her children over to see the tree, have some snacks and get a present from Santa. Looking at the photos from that year I can see these kids were attentively polite (they were all Salvadoran) but probably bored stiff.  

Entertaining our housekeeper and her family. The tree is behind me. The lady holding the cup of tea is Channing Chase, an old friend, an actress from New York who was in residence and working in L.A.

Then five hours later, we began welcoming our guests for the buffet and the Christmas party. Very down home. This writer at one piano and Bob Schulenberg at the other. I have no memory of what we were playing but no doubt there was singing and probably not Christmas Carols but Rodgers and Hart or Cole Porter. Remember it was Hollywood and there were always singers in the room.

All of our residents invited whomever they wished, and it was rather like “friends of the family.” We didn’t think or talk about it at the time, but three decades later it provides a holiday pleasure just in remembering. We were indeed like a family, albeit a modern and “un-related” one. We celebrated together. This holiday has always been very important because it can bring people together even if for that moment. We were lucky in that house up there on North Doheny.

Dinner obviously over. The two pianos often went to work.
That’s Bob Schulenberg on the other piano. It must have been a duo. I can only read music. Schulenberg can hear it and play, and we would often do that.
Going through these photos yesterday, it was this one that really grabbed me. The pool behind the house. All I could see in memory was the gift, the great good fortune of having come upon this moment to remind to be grateful.

Like New York, Washington is bracing for another lockdown, but glimmers of Christmas cheer are seen all around from the fragrant wreaths on Georgetown doors to the facade of George Washington’s Mount Vernon awash in luminous snowflakes during its “Winter Glow” evenings.

The “Winter Glow” at Mount Vernon.

The White House holiday parties continued, although as guest and contributor Stephanie Green can attest, socializing is tinged with some trepidation, even in the most elegant of atmospheres.

This year’s White House Christmas Tree from West Virginia, adorned with ornaments from children extolling their home states, fill us all with hope for the year ahead.

Stephanie Green takes us on a tour of the private doorways in our nation’s capitol, and then on a tour of the Christmas decorations in the White House under the supervision of the First Lady Melania Trump.
2020 White House Christmas Tree from West Virginia.
The Grand Foyer.
Abraham Lincoln’s portrait in the State Dining Room.
The Tree in the State Dining Room.
The White House gingerbread house in the State Dining Room.
The tree in the Red Room.
The Green Room pays homage to American wildlife.
The East Room celebrates innovation of American transportation with a train set …

Portrait of George Washington in the East Room.
An ornament celebrating the State of Florida on the White House Christmas Tree.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the trees in the White House library pay homage to pioneering American women like Georgia O’Keefe …
And presidential candidate, Belva Lockwood.
Vermeil Room with portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in her New York apartment.
A military band playing Christmas music in the Grand Foyer.
Christmas trees light up the Grand Foyer.
Christmas trees line the Cross Hall.
Urns showcasing trees from every State in the East Colonnade.

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