When I was little, my cousins & I watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang & Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory each holiday season. It became a tradition, not borne of love or choice: it was what was on each & every year. At some point we complained, but the networks decided it was tradition & we had no choice - other than converse with our parents. Ugh.
We watched dutifully, if not enthusiastically.
Then one year, Chitty & Willy left us. Replaced by some other movies, I can’t say which ones because I don’t know. That year marked the end of our childhood tradition as we transitioned to adulthood:
We started to sit with our parents.
And it wasn’t so bad.
We all talked of our memories of last year, & the year before that.
‘Remember when Uncle Boyd bought the large jar of applesauce & we all ate it so he wouldn’t be yelled at by Grandma?’
‘Remember the year that Brett got the Vertibird Helicopter & Dad & Uncle Dean spent all day playing with it until the batteries died, and had to wait two days before he Brett got to play with it?’
One story would lead to another, as we’d laugh even as some of us tried to declare our innocence. As we grew older, certain stories became as traditional as Willy Wonka had been. Often one person would start the ‘Remember when Brett’ and another would say ‘got the Vertibird?’ and still another would relish in the descriptions of the two grown men playing with the toy helicopter. They didn’t get boring at all, we just became more sophisticated in the telling.
As we matured, we learned that Santa didn’t buy or bring all those gifts - let alone assemble them all. We heard how our parents sat up late the night before, working on the ‘some assembly required’ Barbie’s Dream House. Well, they stayed up until they passed out...
And then we learned approximately how many cups of holiday cheer it took to pass out a grownup.
Eventually we were able to join in on those stories and even comment on them:
‘Remember the year Great Aunt Marion gave Great Uncle Fred the finger?’ Oh wait, that was pretty much an every family gathering occurrence... Which is what someone would actually reply with. And we’d laugh some more, each doing an impression of Marion & poor Freddy, until we’d be wiping tears from our eyes.
As we grew older, the stories increased & we became privy to parts of family history we didn’t know before as we discovered new things about out parents:
‘Remember the year, dear, you gave me a blender for Christmas?’ my mom would say. ‘No, what man would be so insensitive as to do that dear?’ my dad would reply, ducking from her tossed pillow. Ah, we discovered new meanings for ‘Silent Night' at Christmas time & other things we had never known before:
We discovered our parents had really been children - shocking, but true!
‘I remember the year my brother was in the army.’
‘I remember the year I bought my brother a jazz album & I was so proud to give it to him.’
‘I remember the year I got Polly Dolly.'
‘Remember the year’ no longer became a year my cousins or I could remember. But somehow, over time, those stories did become my memories.
It’s funny that with each telling the story became more than familiar, more than a traditional story, but something I honestly felt I remembered. I remember how my Grandmother cried when Uncle Mike came home, even though I had not been born yet.
Which is why I remember the year when my dad so wanted a Daisy Brand Red-Ryder BB rifle, but his mother told him he’d shoot his eye out -- What? You mean that wasn’t my dad? It was Ralphie in 'A Christmas Story'?!
I’m going to have to put the rest of this column on hold until I figure this all out...