Here’s a look back at 2010.
Truth be told, I’m not much for secular Christmas celebrations. I know some people love hanging ornaments and baking cookies for days. Many even enjoy firing up the virtual Yule Log for some digital crackle and pop.
But me? Not so much.
To be blunt, I think the holidays are hell on women.
Now before you dash off a response to the complaint department, let me say that I know many men pull more than their share during the holidays. My own 85 year-old father is hosting a Christmas Eve dinner for twelve people and a dachshund. He’s been cleaning house and stocking in groceries for days, bless him.
But all in all, it’s women who do most of the slog work this time of year: writing notes in cards, buying presents, wrapping gifts, scrubbing toilets, shopping for fresh cranberries, making the guest beds, finding that kind of dark chocolate a nephew likes—you know what I mean.
Speaking as a member of the XY chromosome club, we bring a lot of this on ourselves. We really do want everyone to have a picture-perfect holiday and we may be predisposed to obsess about details. Years ago, my late mother taught me to make little notes in a Christmas card registry that would trigger my memory when writing comments in holiday cards. “Did Jon play baseball again this summer?” “How’s that new dog doing, Carl?” As much as I would like to be less prepossessed about these matters, I simply can’t. I feel it’s an affront to the lessons my mother taught me. I already disappointed her enough when I was ten and rejected her sewing instruction; I can’t ditch the Christmas card registry and the little notes.
But, I’ve been better about letting go other holiday chores. Take cookie baking, for example. I am a pretty fair cook. I subscribe to Bon Appetit and regularly watch Ina Garten on the Food Network. Well, really I listen to Ina. It’s the calm of her voice that soothes. If Ina’s voice were a color, it would be cerulean. She’s that good.
But I’m terrible at cookie baking. Every cookie comes out too hard no matter how much I trim the baking time. Why can’t I bake a decent chocolate chip cookie? Three years ago, my family flat-out asked me to stop baking Christmas cookies. I acquiesced with gratitude and shame.
This morning I made my pre-holiday excursion to the grocery store. I couldn’t help but notice the tired look in many women’s eyes. One woman was walking down the cracker aisle, deep in thought and using a role of wrapping paper as a cane. Another grandma-type had a baby in the front seat of her cart and he was screaming for a donut. Grandma jingled keys in front of her progeny while she hastily scanned the ingredient list on the back of a can of gravy. No doubt someone in her household needed low salt. I suspected Grandma needed a valium.
But the most tired woman I encountered was Shirley. Shirley works as a bagger in the check-out lanes. She is about my age, has a soft, friendly face and lives in nearby group home for adults with developmental disabilities.
Often when I finish the last aisle of shopping, I look for Shirley’s lane because I enjoy talking with her. Shirley asks me the same question every week when the heavy bag of cat litter comes through and all those cans of Fancy Feast. “How many cats you got?” We talk about what cats like to eat and she points out how much work a pet can be. “But they’re worth it,” she always says.
This morning when I came through Shirley’s aisle, she looked tired. It seemed the holidays had taken a toll on her good-natured demeanor, too. She didn’t notice as I pushed the bag of potatoes down the conveyor belt or all those cans of cat food. No doubt, Shirley already had seen her share that day of harried and self-absorbed customers like me. She yawned and talked to the bagger in the next lane, another resident from the group home. “We’ve got a lot to do before Christmas,” I heard her say.
“Merry Christmas, Shirley,” I said.
“Yeah, Merry Christmas,” she mumbled. I had never heard such a drained and tapped- out response in my life.
Shirley didn’t raise her eyes as she helped bag my eight sacks of groceries. I hate to admit it, but I was too busy arranging the cart to look up and say anything else. All I could think of was getting home in time to unpack the groceries, make the guest beds, and have dinner on the table for guests by six.
“Gotta cat?” Shirley asked, noticing the Fancy Feast cans.
“Just one right now,” I answered.
Shirley sighed and took a deep breath.
“They’re worth it,” she said.
I had to agree. And all that jingle bell ringing, gift wrapping and guest bed making? It’s probably worth it, too.
OK, kids. It’s that time of year again!
Time for the annual Holiday Cards Grammar Quiz.
Are you ready? Get out your pencils. Here we go.
Which one of these sentences is correct?
How did you do?
If that little quiz was a puzzler, here are some helpful hints about seasonal grammar.
Rule Number One: Proper Noun Plurals
If you’re sending greetings from everyone in your family—Ma, Pa, and little Cindy Lou–then you’re in the land of the plurals—sorta like Whoville. No need for holiday excess. Get rid of those apostrophes!
Here’s how you do it: Happy Holidays from the Whos.
Rule Number Two: Plural Possessives
I gotta admit–this one is a little tricky.
Let’s say you paid off your mortgage and want everyone to know that greetings come from your very own debt-free house. This year, it’s all about OWNERSHIP.
Here’s what you need: Best wishes from everyone at the Trumps’ house.
Dust off that apostrophe and slap it on the Trumps–you know you wanted to…
Rule Number Three: You’re, Your and Yours’
Everything’s pretty straight forward here.
“You’re” is simply a winning combination. Think chestnuts and an open fire. Mariah Carey and lip syncing. Or a houseful of people and plumbing problems.
You’re linking two words that naturally go together.
Now to the next one: “your.” Here’s where it’s all about you: “Your” house, “your” unannounced distant relatives, “your” nervous breakdown.
No need to dress it up: “your” is as primal and stripped down as it gets.
And last of all, “yours’.” There’s no such word. It’s like a pleasant holiday shopping experience in the local mall. It simply does not exist.
Rule Number Four: Garden Variety Plurals
If you’re dressing up simple plurals with apostrophes–cookies’, and snowflake’s and raindrop’s on roses’s—then it’s time to take a break.
Put your feet up, pour that glass of eggnog, go ahead—splash a little bourbon on top and give a listen to one of my favorites.
Oh, and if you guessed the fourth sentence was correct, you’re right!
Well, I did it!
And don’t even ask about the cold. I couldn’t feel it. Too much adrenalin. Too many good-natured people in crazy hats. Too many Secret Service agents.
More on that last one later.
It was a great morning: clear and cold, about 48 degrees on the island.
What I had heard about the exuberant Turkey Plunge was spot-on. It was a major event. People assembled from all around: grandmothers brought lawn chairs, kids came in parkas and boots with inner tubes around their waists and lots of people carried heavy towels.
I was the only one from my merry band crazy enough to face the saltwater. Plunge organizers, mindful of the crowds, allowed me one mate on the beach to hold the towels and one by the coffee pots to wait with a steaming mug.
Getting there early was a mixed bag. It was great seeing all the wacky costumes, but standing around the registration tables for 45 minutes gave me time to wonder if I was in over my head, and—well—it was a little cold.
During the wait, plunge officials awarded prizes for the best individual costume, best family costume, and prizes for swimmers who had traveled the farthest. I thought I might have a shot at the long-distance prize. After all, we drove nearly 200 miles, boarded the ferry at Hyannis and then crossed the Sound for an hour.
Foolish me. Last year’s long-distance plunger came all the way from China. Our little jaunt across the state was nothing.
And I was no match for the costume prizes either. I wore my swimsuit, of course, then about five layers of warm clothing and last of all my heaviest bathrobe– the animal print one that looks a little like wild fowl from far away. To top it off, I found a beige plush, plucked turkey rump to wear as a hat.
If you’re goin’ in, you might as well go all the way.
But looking around me, I realized my get-up was tame. First there were the guys who drove up from New York: the Teletubby boys in brightly-colored fleece. We took photos and admired each other’s attire. Then there was the family dressed as a Wizard of Oz troupe. Dorothy apparently hadn’t had time to shave that morning. And Dan, the Turkey Tie Man, his feathered wings made out of a hundred ties.
Of everyone assembled—about 300 in all–the best dressed participant was Mr. Gobble, a spectacularly handsome white turkey in a red bow tie. He nonchalantly strolled around the beachfront as if he owned the day.
All morning the local radio station provided music from a flatbed truck and called attention to particularly good costumes such as young Superman and the rogue tattoo artists who made their costumes from brown grocery bags hand-lettered to read simply, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Those who seemed in-the-know moved down to the beach at 9:55 after murmurings that a countdown was starting. That’s when I took a deep breath and began peeling off layers: first the wild fowl bathrobe, then the red insulated sweatpants, next the sweatshirt, then more sweatpants and more sweatshirts. The last to go were my insulated boots. I really hated to give up the boots.
I stood by the edge of the water and looked out to sea. Plymouth Rock was only a few miles away. All of America was at my back. I felt solitary, stripped of time and place, and part of the long march of history. Well, as much as you can feel history with a plush turkey rump on your head.
And then it began.
The radio station turned up the volume and started the countdown. “Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.”
I looked around to find my Teletubby pals. I wasn’t going in without them. They waved from across a distance and I waved back. Then I looked the other way and saw a guy I hadn’t noticed before. He wasn’t as playful as the rest of the crowd and seemed oddly unaffected by the cold. I also noticed a coiled wire snaking out of his ear.
That’s when I saw him.
A familiar face in a ball cap and a broad smile standing next to the guy with the wire.
Joe Biden! Holy Moley! I’m plunging into Nantucket Sound with the vice president!
“GO!,” the radio announcer yelled and we all rushed into the water—hats flying, turkey ties swirling, a vice presidential baseball cap bobbing in the waves.
I couldn’t think of a better place to cross off a goal on my Bucket List. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to make a fool of myself on Thanksgiving morning.
Apparently others felt that way, too.
The next afternoon, I ran into Vice President Biden and his family in the Even Keel Café. Joe was sharing a plate of French Fries with his grandchildren.
I think he gave me a wink.