When I was a freshman in high school, I had an amazing teacher for ninth-grade English.
Miss Hamilton was the sort of person you remember — one who made an effort to help her students learn and appreciate the English language, to see it as more than words on a page.
For a kid like me, this probably wasn’t difficult because, at that age, I lived mostly through books.
But, Miss Hamilton did something I’ll always remember, something truly above and beyond.
She arranged a field trip for a group of her students to see a musical at the Goodyear Theater in Akron.
Just consider that for a moment. She voluntarily took a mixed group of 14-year-old adolescents out in public to see a musical.
Not a special, day production meant for school children, you understand, but for an evening performance, as if we were regular people who just happened to be a little younger than the rest of the audience.
Like I said, she was amazing!
If I recall correctly (and I hope I do), her confidence in us was not misplaced. We all showed up, dressed in our finest, and enjoyed the play.
That show was “Mame.”
Now, I don’t remember a whole lot about the play (it was forty-five years ago, after all) except for a fox hunt where Auntie Mame somehow managed to capture and keep the fox alive, and this song.
It’s “We Need a Little Christmas,” sung by Lucille Ball. I actually prefer Angela Lansbury’s version, but the YouTube video of her singing is just an audio clip.
The lyrics include the following:
“Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before
My spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking.
I may be rushing things
But deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas,
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry.
So climb down the chimney.
Put up the brightest string
Of lights I’ve ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake.
It’s time we hung some tinsel
On that evergreen bough,
For I’ve grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now.”
That night in the theater has lived in my memory for more than forty years, not only because of Miss Hamilton and all she did for her students, but also because of that song.
You see, Christmas, and the weeks leading up to it, have always been magical for me.
There have been many Christmas seasons that were special without much effort on my part: as a child; that first Christmas morning with The Engineer; and when Darling Daughter was at the delightful age when she was old enough to feel the joy and still young enough to believe in Santa.
But, there have also been many that were a bit — how shall I put this? — challenging.
The years in college when my parents were in the throes of a divorce, and it felt like my family was falling apart.
The one when I discovered — on December 23 — my first so-called husband was a pathological liar and probably a bit of a sociopath.
The year I realized The Engineer didn’t feel quite the same way about holidays.
After Darling Daughter moved out, into her own adult life, and I once again had to decorate the tree alone.
Last year, as I tried to make the season all come together while coping with Mom’s crushed elbow and subsequent dependence, as well as my own six-week bout of bronchitis.
And this year, with Mom once more in the hospital with pneumonia and congestive heart failure, bruised and battered from another fall.
I’m not looking for pity here. We’ve all gone through times like this.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel merry. And that’s when you need a little Christmas the most.
So, here’s the thing: After discovering The Engineer wasn’t as crazy about the holiday as I am — and to be fair, not many people are — I sat down and thought about what made Christmas special to me.
Because it’s not fair to expect other people to make you happy.
To my surprise (and great satisfaction because it proved I wasn’t as shallow as I’d begun to think I was), I realized it wasn’t getting the perfect gift. Instead, it was the joy of giving them, the pleasure in baking and surprising others with goodies, sending out cards, holiday music, and enjoying the holiday lights on houses and our own little tree.
Even if I have to decorate it alone.Sometimes you have to make Christmas yourself.
Last year, that meant no Christmas cards because, well, I discovered I had more important things to do — like take care of Mom. And myself.
This year, I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I do know it will still be Christmas.
So, when I came home from the hospital today, after I worked on the paperwork involved in being the one responsible for an elderly relative, I forced myself to have a little Christmas.
Though I really only felt like sitting on the couch and watching Premier League football, I opened the seventeenth door on my chocolate truffle Advent calendar. And my cheese Advent calendar. And my wine Advent calendar.
We Christmas nuts are big on Advent calendars.
Then, I put on a Johnny Cash Christmas CD. It was an old one, full of hymns sung in his curiously pleasing, yet not actually melodic, way.
Since I was brought up in a churchgoing, country-music-listening household, this made me feel quite sentimental.
It was perfect.
I baked mince pies — straight from the Walkers Mince Pie box and made fudge — two kinds — to add to the 7-Layer Bars I’d already made.
With all that’s going on, I’m concentrating on the easy recipes. Maybe I’ll make the more challenging ones another time.
I packed up some goodie plates for my friends at the library and the post office, and for the nurses at the hospital who have been so kind to Mom.
Finally, I looked at my meal plans for the days around Christmas, trying to streamline them enough to make cooking a bit simpler, and yet still have meals that have most of what The Engineer, Darling Daughter, and I consider necessary Christmas traditions.
Sure, I’d love to do it all — every cookie, every meal course, every enjoyable event — but sometimes life intervenes.
One thing I’ve learned from my mom is to remember — no matter how much we (I) would like to believe otherwise — we aren’t in control, and sometimes we have to roll with the punches.
She’s in the hospital, with two black eyes and a swollen nose, struggling to breathe, with all dignity gone, confused about what’s happening to her, and still, she manages a smile for anyone who enters her room.
If she can do that, certainly I can somehow create a Christmas.
Because it’s times like this you really need one.