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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Christmas of Catastrophes

Most Christmas memories blend together, a collage of moments in the scrapbook of memories we all carry in our minds.

But there is one from my childhood that stands out.

It was our Christmas of Catastrophes in 1953 when I was 10 and living in a small apartment with my two brothers, my parents and our cat, Kitty.

Chicago was under a snow and ice siege…freezing, slippery conditions that kept us inside as the biggest and most anticipated holiday of the year approached.

We were excited. Our Greek mother had taught us to sing “Silent Night” in Greek to impress our relatives when the big day arrived.

We decorated our tree that just missed the ceiling and sat tucked into the corner of our small living room. The ornaments were vintage now, mostly glass tinted with silver and gold designs and old world themes, from my parents early Christmases together.

Some of our strung colored lights were candles with rising bubbles that appeared when they were lit. Once decorated, the finishing touches were slivers of silver tinsel hung from the branches. It was a happy time for a working class family in the immigrant neighborhood.

Nothing seemed different this particular Christmas except for the nonstop severe weather and the sheets of ice everywhere.

The most popular Christmas song that year was Nat King Cole’s recording of “The Christmas Song.” My father who loved to sing in bars and at weddings had to have it. He called all over the city to find a copy of the 78 record platter and finally found one.

Under other circumstances, my father would not have ventured out in the Arctic grip the city was under, but he was obsessed with the song and was determined to have it for Christmas. So he cleared the car of its snow and ice and began his trek to the record store.

Our cat Kitty, we discovered, was fascinated by the slinky, snakelike glimmering tinsel dangling seductively from the branches. It was a new cat toy to play with and bat with his paws.

However, it didn’t stop there. Kitty wanted to taste the tinsel, and with one stubborn tug pulled down the tree.

Branches snapped, ornaments rolled across the floor, some broke, and we gasped. With tears and laughter we put the tree upright and repaired the damages as best we could to restore it to its pristine state.

It was dark now and my weary father returned with his precious record only to find worsened street conditions for parking his big Caddie. As he attempted to seesaw into a spot, he hit the car in front and in back of him.

Totally exasperated, my dad now had car insurance and damage issues as well as unhappy neighbors to deal with. He finally gave up and came inside in a foul mood. The earlier excitement and family cheer were now gone.

But there was still one more catastrophe that day.

My dad unwrapped the coveted record from its packaging only to discover it was cracked and unplayable.

We did recover from that awful day and still had a good Christmas in spite of the cat, the tree, the car and the broken record.

It was an unforgettable Christmas, our Christmas of Catastrophes.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009-2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Cat photo by Palmer W. Cook

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