A Holiday Toast
from the book The Brass Bed and Other Stories by Pearl Cleage
[Copyright] 1991 by Pearl Cleage. COPYRIGHT 1996 Essence
Communications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
When you come from
a family as high-strung as mine, holidays take on a life of their
own. With all the excitement brought on by what my grandmother used
to call the high quantity of salt in the air, there was always the
potential for major disasters resulting in towering rages,
disappointments of mythical proportions, joy teetering perilously
close to complete hysteria and egos so exposed and inevitably
battered that it took until the next Christmas for things to settle
down so that they could begin all over again.
It made for
exciting times around the holiday table. But madness takes its toll,
and by the time we gathered for a toast of New Year's eggnog, I was
wary and exhausted, not sure if my Uncle Louis was still speaking to
my father or if Aunt Gladys was still mad at Aunt Barbara. I
remembered vowing as a child that if I ever got out into the world, I
would never allow holidays to dominate my life.
And I was as good
as my word. When I got out on my own, I gave holidays a wide berth. I
stayed home as much as I could. Better safe than sorry. I didn't even
have a tree for the first three years I lived alone. I refused to
cook turkey on Thanksgiving and gave presents only to my daughter and
the few of my close friends who took it personally when I seemed to
forget that this was a time to exchange gifts.
But one year I
found myself wanting to acknowledge Christmas. I wanted to decorate
something, string a few lights, drink eggnog in front of a fireplace.
But I refused--for a moment. Then I remembered that this wasn't a
principled stand; it was a relief-of-stress stand, and I figured I
should go with the flow. I got a Christmas tree and I liked it. A
lot. So far, so good. The next year, when a bunch of us found
ourselves without plans for Christmas dinner, I decided to have
friends over. They all came and we lit candles and set a place for
Nelson Mandela and held hands and said thank you. And it was the
nicest Christmas dinner I've ever had.
I had managed to
wrestle my childhood memories into submission and I had Christmas
back. Then I got cocky. I started looking forward to it. I wanted
Thanksgiving to hurry up and come so I could buy my tree and set it
up. I wanted to buy presents and cook turkey and dressing and giggle
in the light from the Christmas tree. I was ready! I was getting
impatient, which is, of course, the best way to bring on
stress--exactly what I was trying to avoid in the first place. I
thought I had blown it and been banished back to square one.
morning. I was cruising through the morning rush-hour traffic, and
all of a sudden Otis Redding was on the radio singing "Merry
Christmas, Baby," and his voice filled the car with such happy
holiday Black-mannishness that I started grinning in spite of myself.
"This is the anniversary of Otis Redding's death," the
deejay had told me a minute before, and it made me just a little sad.
But listening to him singing in the kind of sweet-man voice makes you
know he's going to be that way all the way till New Year's, and he'll
hold you close and light a candle and put his arm around your
shoulder when you cry just a little because you're there together.
This year, I think, we'll set a place for Sweet Otis, and all of a
sudden it feels like Christmas!
So I breathed a
sigh of relief that I hadn't spoiled my Christmas before it even got
started good. And I sent a silent thank you and Merry Christmas to
Otis, and asked him to give my best to the Bar-Kays, wherever they
From The Brass
Bed and Other Stories by Pearl Cleage [Copyright] 1991 by Pearl
Cleage. COPYRIGHT 1996 Essence Communications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2004