My closeted family’s Christmas calm

When I was a kid, Christmas was my favorite day of the year. And it wasn’t just because of the cool gifts my parents bought us.

I looked forward to the fanciful gift Dad slipped into our Christmas stockings, to his rich chocolate fudge, and to his unique lime green and teal window decorations. No “garish red lights” on our house, he’d proclaim.

I eyed my mother’s famous carrot cookies cooling on racks, soon to be glazed with powdered sugar icing and topped off with colored sprinkles.

From high up in the church loft on Christmas Eve, she and her fellow choir members sang my favorite Christmas song of all, O Holy Night.

There weren’t any gifts under any Christmas tree more beautiful and thoughtfully selected than ours, I thought.

But what I most loved about Christmas was how my parents looked on that day. They’d sit, side by side, on the pretty, sapphire-blue silk couch my father picked out for our living room, and would remain there, all smiles and shiny-looking, for as long as it took the four of us kids to empty our stockings and unwrap our packages.

Me in my angel costume, 1964

In my angel costume, 1964

On this day, Dad appeared in no hurry to dash outside for a cigarette or to disappear somewhere for a couple of hours. Mom didn’t rush us into the kitchen for a healthy breakfast.

In the build-up before Christmas, our family of six would attend a holiday performance at the Catholic elementary school the four of us kids attended.

One year, my little brother – dressed up as Joseph – sang a solo in the school play where he pleaded for shelter for himself and Mary at an inn. (It was a little heartbreaking, I have to admit.)

That same year, my fellow choir members and I walked up the aisle dressed as angels, singing rounds of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Here, too, my parents sat side by side in the audience beaming at us and our grand talents.

Powder blue pocket transistor radio

Powder blue pocket transistor radio

For Christmas, my mother went to great lengths to find gifts for me in blue, my favorite color.

Bathrobes, swimsuits, jewelry, doll clothes, jackets, sweaters, Keds, etc., all in various shades of blue.

She even found a blue pocket transistor radio at Sears for me. I never knew anyone with a blue transistor radio but me!

One year the four of us kids received brand new, full-size Schwinn bikes. It was a first for us. Mine was bright blue, of course.

When my dad could still find real silver dollars in circulation, he’d wrap one up for each of us in layers of old newspapers. Then he’d sneak them into our stockings on the hearth before we woke up on Christmas morning.

A blue Schwinn bike like mine

A blue Schwinn bike like mine

The four of us would race to see who could get to their large silver coin at the center of their dense package first.

I remember soft baby dolls and stylish Barbies. Skip Sticks and roller skates. Volleyballs and softballs.

Baseball bats and mitts. Bell-bottoms and mohair sweaters.

Paint-by-number and mosaic kits. Liquid eyeliner and velvet, bow-shaped hair clips.

And my favorite, an aquamarine ring in a heart-shaped setting my mother found for me when I was in the 6th grade.

Our Christmas card, 1954

I’m on the right, eyeing my little brother’s Christmas stocking

My parents were generous and thoughtful people, though they never overdid it. With rare exception (though I can’t remember one), my siblings and I awoke on Christmas morning to gifts we loved and to parents who were united in their joy and love for us.

Though I didn’t know at the time that my parents’ sexual orientations were mismatched, I think I always sensed something that wasn’t quite right between them.

They didn’t hug or kiss like my aunt and uncle or the other parents in the neighborhood did, though it would be decades before I’d be able to articulate this.

But on Christmas Day, as they leaned into each other, they at least looked like a matched set.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off them.

Instead of being in a hyper frenzy on Christmas Day, I’d feel a calmness that I didn’t feel the rest of the year, something I’d only recognize in retrospect years later.

For one day a year, at least, we all seemed to be pointed in the same direction.

It was my favorite day of all.

Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Love! I love this essay! So evocative.

    • Thank you, Hatt! I hadn’t thought about a lot of those details until I sat down to write the piece. Funny how that works! xo

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