Saturday, November 28, 2015

Non-Cynical Boomer Holiday Memories




Not mine, but close enough
The overarching internal conundrum within my aching aging bones involves the ever-evolving conflict with my current angst and railing regarding the corporate takeover of the world and my chestnut memories of the holiday season which were spiced and seasoned with the same cynical manipulative persuasive pro-consumer enticements I rail against.

So I will happily digest youtube clips of a dopey 1972 toy TV commercial over a 2015 holiday-tinged politically correct snarky Black Friday mobile-app blowout micro-clip (or whatever they call it nowadays).   And I’m not alone.

Why does the Rankin Bass machine (highlighted by the phenomenon of Rudolph--and the Charlie Brown specials rank among the most enduring form of holiday entertainment?  It’s the sweet simplicity and lack of pretense. 


But this isn’t a cranky opinion piece.  I just wanted to establish my hypocrisy up front so that it is clear it all comes down to selling something, no matter the era.  I just wanted to benignly and politely share the following memories:

As an only child television pretty much formed my sensibilities “back in the day.”  Even though there were family gatherings and that dynamic was a huge joy for me, I always managed to find a TV to hole up in front of to watch whatever offerings the networks or some obscure UHF station were offering as we visited Waco or Austin.  Back then, thanks to syndication, one didn’t have the same cable offerings during travel as today. 
Dilemma

Visiting a different city (even 100 miles away) could send you into a brand new world with different sitcom reruns or local kid’s shows with cartoons you never heard of.  Channel 11 from Fort Worth had Slam Bang Theater with the Three Stooges and Felix the Cat.  On my visits to the distant lands tens of miles away, we could pick those up (with old-school cable) and no one knew where I was when we arrived--I crawled into the TV “dens” or “studies” as soon as possible to start consuming cultural differences.

However, at home in San Antonio (pre-1973), attending every
McDonald’s opening and gorging myself on Krofft Saturday Morning offerings and reading silver age Hanna Barbera comics and ordering Scholastic books and listening to Disney records made up my spare time.  So with that as base, it’s easy to ascertain the fabric of my seasonal joys:  Media.

It’s funny how the homey snow-village hearth obsessed version of the holidays, while clearly of an earlier time and lacking in antennas, was refined through the media representations.  My parents may have actually experienced those things but I related to the idea of that little berg.  There were the animated specials by Hanna-Barbera and
others that fed into the depiction.  A sweet made for television film
that was set in such a village (yet contemporary) was requiredviewing each year and despite it’s depressing tone put me in the mood much as “The Christmas Story” did for the next generation.  Of course I will rewatch today a “very special” holiday edition of Lucy or Mary or Bob or the Bunkers and Bradys, the Clampetts and Cunninghams.






And of course, the Manhattan environs of Buffy, Jody and the Jeffersons were perfect fodder for the holiday escapades.  Which leads me to:



Thanksgiving is the gateway to the shopping…ahem…goodwill season and the Macy’s Parade was a complete blast with the “Miracle on 34th street” location.  I loved the idea of New York during the holidays (although I had never been there…again representation). 
Those were the years before Times Square was cleaned up…the “Taxi Driver” years….but that parade ran down a Disney-fied Broadway with lots of clean, safe grime-free holiday cheer.  Even in San Antonio, I could grasp at some of that utopitan urbanity
Joske'
when I visited the Christmas Wonderland at Joske’s downtown (now the Rivercenter Mall).  I cannot express the joy of those memories…the train that ran through the village, the fake snow, the piped-in carolers and of course Santa himself…was it the same santa from North Star Mall I wondered?

Although the weather in South Texas could sometimes be balmy at this time of year, we could be blessed with a “brown”
Thanksgiving, with football games on inside and played outside (in crisp clean air).  The “white” Christmas was rare though.  But any amount of frigidity certainly helped.  I still have the little Christmas village with the fake snow (now yellowed--well) and the little houses (now barely holding together).  This little neighborhood was always packed away in the same musty little suitcase (still in pretty good shape actually) which is just a part of the memories as the contents themselves.  Funny how that is.

I still have the ornaments that we put up on the tree.  I don’t put up a
tree anymore but with my entire obsessive-compulsive family unit, alterations to the tree attire were almost non-existent for decades.  The stockings made by my aunt made regular appearances as did that one gingerbread ornament which looked so real I almost ate it a couple of times (there is a bite mark or two).  We did morning presents which changed to the night before as my
parents got older.  I remember the time when Christmas landed on Saturday and my folks had to compete with the cartoons for my attention.  But most of the games I got--Kooky Carnival, Operation, any offering from Shaper--reminded me of the commercials on TV that hawked them.  Unless some idiot chose to give my UNDERWEAR or SOCKS or a SWEATER for Christmas.  You see, I wasn’t much different than today’s kids.  I realize that. 



I still had the cassette tape as my Dad, pretending to be St. Nik, was testing out the new-fangled tape recorder (wow!) he got me.  Unfortunately, the tape, consisting of my father reading the instructions into the mike and my Mom in the background making the coffee (Mrs. Clause I guess I was to surmise) broke and cannot be retrieved.  Well, it was 1970 after all.  I should be glad no evidence exists of my spoiled tantrums over the gifts I opened that
had no brand-name or comic character attached.  Anything Hot Wheels or the lesser Matchbox elicited untold joy however.  Especially if they had the little magic gas pumps.  To this day, I have no idea how those little gas pumps made the cars run.  I guess I can Google it.

I generally forgot about all these tropes during the eighties and nineties when the holiday season became about parties  (well, that’s a people thing right?).  As the lines between fiction and reality became blurred thanks to vociferous cinema attendance, the
Christmas get togethers became fertile soil for possible romantic hookups, trembling parking lot encounters, and the resulting self-fulfilling depression and loneliness (however bittersweet--tinged with seasonal joy).    And of course, having a small business, buying presents for clients and close friends and relatives became a rather tiresome yet rewarding experience.  I can’t say that media didn’t play a huge part in later years as the rollout of the Holiday Tentpole films excited me to no end. 



But the holidays are a quiet time now.  In my “waxing nostalgic” faze I will get some eggnog and rum (that’s the “party” part nowadays) and settle in with a marathon of Rudolph and Charlie Brown with the unpacked village suitcase sitting nearby waiting to be unpacked.  I put up a few decorations for my Mom in her little apartment--not much room for a tree--and she says that’s all right but I know she would love to have all the trappings up the holiday in her gaze.  Currently, a large part my job involves decorating for the holidays for a store so my enthusiasm wanes when on the homefront. 

But it’s fun to bring back all that at my job.  I hang old cheesy
holiday albums featuring cartoon characters and media celebrities from the ceiling and sneak in a lot of golden books and tattered decorations to fill out the d├ęcor.  Sometimes a boomer or slacker will come in and marvel. 

Aside from that, when all the razmataz is stripped out, you realize it comes down to being with loved ones, if only for a day…seeing old friends in person (infrequent in the age of Facebook)…and appreciating what you have been blessed with rather than what you lost or don’t possess.  It’s OK to hold on to those old memories but what is left are the ingredients of a quiet celebration of gratitude and selflessness, a celebration that at it’s core celebrates the Reason for the Season.