Monday, December 14, 2020. So that’s 11 more shopping days until Christmas. Christmas is one of the sweetest days of childhood for a lot of us, especially the little ones. For others, under financial duress, it can be sadly bitter. The forecast these days is like the weather: uncertain. It really has not been cold this December, except for a couple of days here and there.
Yesterday it was in the 50s touching 60. Today, they say: 40s. Saturday afternoon was grey but an enormous billowing fog set in for a couple of hours; you couldn’t see farther than four blocks away; and the temps were not warm but up there. Now the weatherman tells us we might get 6 to 10 inches of snow on Thursday, if you’re good.
Remember how the first new fallen snow lights up your child’s imagination and there’s pleasure all around you. It’s an illusion of course but at least it’s not a delusion like so much of the other kind of weather around us.
Can you tell what kind of mood I’m in? Does it sound at least vaguely familiar to the kind of moods you’ve been in? Holidays when you get to my advanced state of being (i.e. age) are always a pleasure for me, including those times when I’ve been alone. It comes from the childhood.
My mother and my eldest sister (who was 14 years older than I) always made a point of making Christmas fun for us much younger ones. Then when my sister had her first child, making me an uncle, when I was five, it got even better. Of course, once old enough school vacations added to the joy (yippee!). And then the holiday parties and dances and grownup time: champagne!
But thinking about the day, it occurred to me that was when my future launched. I didn’t know this as a kid, of course; nor did I need to. Before I had a nephew, when I was probably no more than four years old, I can still clearly recall being awakened one very late Christmas Eve — when everyone was in bed — by the thud of Santa’s boot on the front doorstep. To this day, and I discussed it years later with my sister, what that “thud” really was that hour of the (snowy) night. Maybe it was Mr. Santa. There certainly was one in my future.
Every year in the autumn, there was a large industrial fair in the next town called the Eastern States Exposition. School kids loved it because we got a day off and were taken to see everything. And it was often fascinating. It was there that I saw the display of Colleen Moore’s castle dollhouse! I was totally taken; I wanted it. I was a kid who often fantasized my grown-up life (unlike the grown-up lives I was living with). I was also given to playing by myself with small dolls and soldiers (and cars), creating lives and stories in them.
I’d never heard of Colleen Moore; she was a Silent Screen star before my time. I’ve since learned her dollhouse had a significant effect on a lot of people. She called it her Fairytale Castle. She shared it, touring with it during the Great Depression to raise funds for children’s charities. It now is part of the collection of the Museum of Science + Industry in Chicago.
So age 8 or so, I asked my mother (no longer Santa) for a dollhouse for Christmas. Christmas morning, there it was under the tree. I was amazed even at that early age. Boys and dollhouses were not considered the norm. And in it there lived a family who were having a much better time and getting along, unlike my family. I have to admit that my mother — who was a working woman, a laborer carrying a tray or working in a kitchen over a steam table — was very far seeing.
The fascination was short lived because when I was ten years old, I saw an advertisement in a magazine for a Smith Corona portable typewriter that came in a neat grey metal box. And I asked for that for Christmas. I was old enough to know that the price on the typewriter (maybe $39) was a bit steep for my mother’s budget. So I kept the request as a wish. BUT, on Christmas morning, there it was waiting for me under the tree! This was like getting treasure. This was grown-up.
With the Smith-Corona I no longer played with toys but rather moved my interest to the keyboard where I began to write stories like the stories I made up in the dollhouse. As well as stories about what I was thinking; adolescence was about to launch. It wasn’t an intention to “become” a writer. It was a passion for expressing to someone (the typewriter) how I was feeling about my life. Although when I was 12, I started a neighborhood weekly, typed up and mimeographed. I called it The Truth Weekly. I can’t remember what the Truth was but I wanted it to be like one of those columns my father read in the New York Daily News or Daily Mirror that he got everyday at the local newspaper shop.
By Age 13, there was no more Santa Claus although there was a Christmas tree, the focus was on the almost young man and holiday parties and growing up, and going on dates and thinking you’re a grown up. Now that I am and have long been grownup, I often think I am a big baby. Although the keyboard remains my kindest, most understanding friend. And always there for me.
When I found the photograph of Colleen Moore’s castle doll house while writing this Diary, I realized as amazing as it is to view, this kid, on first sight, saw the center of the world and that image remains in my consciousness. A more than Merry Christmas from my mother and my father. And to all.