Thursday, September 27, 2007

Skinflint Miskowski & Sandy Claws

Christmas is coming. Oh, boy…

I think I must be the first person in my whacked culture to register the Most American of Holidays every year. I don’t have to see the sales clerks opening bags of festive decorations. I just feel it, in September: underwater, swelling, rolling inevitably, like a tsunami.

Some of the children in my family love Christmas. Bless their hearts. They are cursed with a writer aunt. I send them a science book when I have the income, and nothing when I don’t. For, here is where I part company with my tribe: I will not buy on credit, even if all my friends and family harbor a suspicion that I am cruel…and cheap. So be it. Better to be deemed a miser, than to be in debt.

When I was a child, my father (who worked in a textile mill) and mother (who took care of neighborhood kids for extra money) paid a visit to the bank every November. They borrowed enough money to buy a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and presents for everyone in the family. Because they came from poor families, they were embarrassed to give anything handmade, like the clothes and crafts of their youth. The only real gift was a shiny, new thingie from a store everyone knew. To give anything created by your own hand would mark you as a miser and a hick.

Each year, my parents worked overtime from November to March, to pay off that loan. I respect them for it, and I respect their hard work. But if I could, I would give them back the youth and strength and heart they lost in the drudgery of repaying the bank every year for the all-American privilege of Christmas.

New friends refuse to believe I don’t give presents unless I have cash on hand. They think what a third wife thinks: “Oh, I’ll be the one to change all that!”

Then they get nothing. After all, they’re grownups. What did they think?

Suddenly the hurt, the denial, the everlasting grudge… You really don’t give presents?

Only one person ever voiced her disappointment out loud, without reservation. My friend Inga Muscio stomped the ground with both feet and yelled: “What do you mean, you don’t give presents? You’re gonna screw up my gift quota!” Consequently, she was over it and laughing in ten seconds. As it turned out, she wanted a handmade gift.

But I didn’t make a present for her, because I didn’t want her to think I was a hick.

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