Saturday, December 22, 2012

NOBODY had a fake tree

Back in the day, NOBODY had a fake tree—

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! Like I needed to tell YOU that. And I’m hoping that by the time you read this, I will have finally finished decorating my house...juuuuuust in time to take it all back down again. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I only had to buy one extra piece of furniture this year to display my newly acquired baubles.

Of course, nothing I hang in my own home could even hope to compare to the magnificent garland and colored balls that for years graced the intersection of downtown Syracuse.

Like angels trumpeting in the season, this simple strand of greenery that draped from pole to pole was, to us kids, the shot heard ‘round the world. The Christmas Revolution had begun! And with it, heralded in silver bells, paper snowflakes and trips to Kings to buy another bottle of Blue Waltz perfume for my mother because somehow she kept accidentally spilling hers in the toilet. Silly Mom.

Back then we used to buy real trees—NOBODY had a fake tree. And if they did, they were smart enough not to admit it. We’d go to the tree lot and pick out the perfect pinion pine...even though “perfect” and “pinion pine” are about as compatible as kisses and burps.

We would haul it home and drag it through the house, leaving a trail of dead needles that would eventually make their way into the soles of our feet. But that hardly mattered, because THIS WAS CHRISTMAS AND THESE PINE NEEDLES WERE ABOUT BABY JESUS! And Baby Jesus made everything better. Still does.  

After that, things turned a little bit dark, as it involved hand saws, crooked tree trunks and scorching hot lightbulbs. Plus my dad. So basically a Molotov Cocktail. And every few years, my dad would actually saw through his arm. 

Which makes me laugh until I cry to remember, but that is WRONG, you guys. And heartless. So I’m very sorry. (clearing throat and wiping away mirthy tears)

Anyway, when the cursing subsided and the wounds were bandaged, we children would come out from under our beds and begin the tradition of decorating the tree. Our attention spans were short, and what started out as careful placement of two or three strands of icicles at a time, soon disintegrated into pom-pom wads thrown like fast balls so we could hurry up and get to the hot chocolate.

Christmas morning always dawned too early for my parents—I never understood why. We’d beg to be let out of our rooms, and were answered with the familiar refrain; “FIVE MORE MINUTES!” Eventually, we wore them down, and after Dad checked to see if Santa had been there, he called up the O.K. and we came like flying monkeys down the stairs.   

Out of thousands of presents over the years, a couple stand out;

    1. A miniature doll house “some assembly required” kit that unbeknownst to us was made up of male and female parts that had been frantically multiplying and replenishing while in storage, thus EXPLODED into a million tiny pieces when the box was opened. Which is how it ended up at the D.I. for someone else to “really appreciate”, and;

    1. A trip to Washington D.C. for my Senior year, that never “actually” transpired, because the ticket wasn’t “actually” purchased, because we didn’t “actually” have enough money. But it made for a really fun theoretical Christmas gift. 

Well, just like the Bible says, “It came to pass...” And it did. Present day thoughts and experiences—they came to pass. And although we’ve all heard the cliche, “It’s the thought that counts,” I’d like to take a little poetic license and suggest that rather, “It’s the memory that counts.”

Memories of cinnamon candy and homemade toast, and rooftop icicles that became tasty treats for the walk home from school. Holiday crafts and school programs, with every child wise to the fact that Batman smells and Robin lays eggs.

Christmas Village and Temple Square and traditional dinners of potatoes and peas eaten by candlelight. 

And finally, the family Bible on a bed of red velvet, with a piece of hollyberry to mark the story of Mary and Joseph and a manger filled with hay. 

I think that last one is my favorite. Because as I said earlier on, Baby Jesus made everything better, bless His heart...every memory, every experience, every trial and every family was better because of Him.

And whether or not the world believes it, we still are. May these words never fade into the distance, but rather take center stage daily in our homes: 

“GLORY TO GOD in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”



Saturday, December 8, 2012


Good times, these last hurrahs.

Our family recently travelled to Disneyland, so we could spend our life savings on churros. It was our second son’s “last hurrah” family vacation before he leaves for his LDS mission to Uganda. I KNOW, RIGHT? I didn’t know where it was, either. 

Now some of you may not understand what a “last hurrah” is. My oldest son, Ashton, started the tradition, calling every discarded curfew, late night Halo party, Crown Burger hoark-fest and reason to borrow and spend too much money, his “last hurrah”. As in;

“It’s my last hurrah, Mother...Father. Before I selflessly leave you and all that I hold dear, for TWO YEARS, to serve the Lord and bring souls unto Christ. These final, cherished memories and experiences...hurrahs, if you will...are all I ask before I bid you adieu. Please, do not begrudge me these fading, precious moments.”

  Ashton Bingham = Spin Doctor.

Anyway, second son has taken over where first son left off, and our lives are once again centered around last hurrahs. Which is how we ended up in California. 

We spent several days with princesses and wicked queens before braving the insanity that is L.A.’s freeway, so we could tour the backlot of Universal Studios.

And now, I will never again watch a television show, movie or even commercial without a hint of cynicism, because NOTHING was as I had perceived—not the streets, the campgrounds, the town squares—NOTHING!  IT’S ALL JUST A BIG, FAT LIE, YOU GUYS! 
And don’t get me started on the homes! What looks magnificent and grand on-screen? Well, turns out they’re only partial facades made to look stately with a special camera angle. ANOTHER WORMY APPLE LIE! 

So this got me to thinking about a recent trip my dad and I took, to visit my grandma in Clifton, Idaho. Every turn in the road had a tale to tell, and my dad would give me the history of each landmark—which always seemed to contain tragedy, mental illness and wiener pigs...(hand waving dismissal)—it’s hard to explain.

Anyway, we drove past a pretty, red brick farmhouse, and Dad told me that every new farmer to the area would drive his bride through the countryside, looking for property. The wives were enchanted by this home—noticed it was the biggest and best in the neighborhood and wanted the instant status that owning it would bring. Surprisingly, there would be a For Sale sign in the yard, and they felt this was divine intervention in their behalf.

Well, even though the home was desirable, seems the soil itself was not. In fact, it was barren, never providing a single harvest. And after a couple of years of fruitless reaping, hand wringing over unpaid bills and realizing the beautiful facade told nothing of the ugly reality, the bride would pack up her dishes and the sign would reappear in the front yard, awaiting yet another unsuspecting couple ready and willing to take a bite out of that wormy apple.

I think there are an awful lot of wormy apples out there.

Years ago, a well meaning woman told me that if I wanted my daughter to be a cheerleader, I would need to get her involved in dance, cheer, gymnastics AND hire a personal coach by the time she was three years old. That’s right, three. 

Never mind that tryouts weren’t for another decade. It was still imperative that we spend enormous amounts of time, effort and money, on a pretty little red brick farmhouse while my daughter’s soul turned rocky and barren because her entire self worth was tied up in how she looked holding a pair of pom-poms. 

Of course I have nothing against being a cheerleader—I was one, remember? And I could jump kick the heck out of a football game. But that wasn’t all I was. When the uniform came off, as it always does, my parents made sure my spirit was rich and fertile. They forced me to...I mean, I WILLINGLY served my neighbors, baked bread, read books and rode my bike. I was an artist, a babysitter, an entrepreneur and an honor student. And okay, sure, that last one may not have continued into my college years, but my point is this; 

Spending that much time and effort on a beautiful facade while what lies beneath shrivels and dies is a recipe for disaster. Which is why I never did get her a coach. Go ahead—call DCFS. 

It still remains to be seen whether or not she even tries out. But in the meantime, I take great pleasure in pointing her toward the piano and commanding her to practice, telling her to apologize to her brothers and making her clean the cat-poop out of the litter box. Because I’ll be darned if her soil isn’t as valuable as her farmhouse! 

And don’t worry—she’ll thank me one day. Bless her shiny, red heart.