One Christmas Eve, when I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old, my parents dropped my brother and me off at our friends’ house a block away. I can’t remember why exactly, or if a reason was even given; they were probably just at our own house, taking all of the presents they’d been hiding for weeks out of the trunks of their cars (hey, our house was small and my brother and I were incorrigible) and wrapping presents as fast as they could before we came home. My memories of that Christmas Eve spent at the Browns’ house are some of my fondest, even though it was hardly a special occasion to spend time over there. I was best friends with their son my age, Paul, and daily we all climbed trees, chased each other until we were out of breath at the park around the corner, and helped ourselves to the impressive assortment of Good Humor ice cream novelties from the freezer in the Browns’ garage. Revolver by the Beatles was on repeat on the record player, and I lay on my stomach in the living room drawing pictures to leave for Santa, wondering about Eleanor Rigby and how her life ever got to be so miserable. It may very well have been the year that John Lennon was shot just a few weeks before Christmas, and I’ve come to always associate the Beatles’ music with nostalgia and December. The Browns had big, bulbous Christmas lights on their tree, the kind that blinked, which were different from the steadfast, pastel-colored lights that we had on our tree at home. They also had old-fashioned strands of tinsel, which their horrible cat Snowball carried out to the backyard like prey, whereas on our tree at home, we had garland that my mother kept wound around cardboard shape-keepers when it went back in the box for attic storage in January.
Mrs. Brown made cocoa for all of us, and we watched Santa’s progress as it was televised on the local Chicago news. I imagined Santa soaring across the northern suburbs of Chicago on his sleigh, stopping on every snowy rooftop, and could hardly stand my own excitement when the newscaster announced he was only two hours away. There was nothing particularly eventful about that Christmas Eve. No majestic feast, no unexpected windfall of expensive presents. We probably went to midnight mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church later that night, held candles until the dripping wax reaching our fingertips inspired our mothers to take them away from us, sang Christmas carols, and fell asleep in the back seats of our fathers’ cars on the drive home while listening to the local radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol.” What I remember best about that year is a certain, unquestionable sense of security and contentment. It was a time when I, as a kid, knew that my best friend’s home was pretty much the same as my own, that his mom would care for me and my brother the same way our own mom would, that Santa was undoubtedly coming, and in the morning there would be presents to open. To this day, I can’t hear “Yellow Submarine” or “Good Day, Sunshine” without thinking of the warm glow of blinking Christmas lights, the smell of crayons on my fingers, and delicious excitement for Santa’s arrival. I’ve written before about how much I admire the late Linda McCartney for her activism in the area of animal rights and for generally being an all-around awesome lady, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted before about how much I deeply, truly love the Beatles. For me, the Beatles = holiday cheer. There ya have it.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope a lot of holiday wishes came true today.