Some Christmas Memories

6 Dec

Since the season is rapidly approaching, I thought I’d post some excerpts about Christmas memories from my second book, Foleytown:

Every year, my mother made a large, gooey pastry she called a “Christmas Cake,” which tasted similar to cinnamon rolls, and then there were the inevitable fruit cakes that we acquired from relatives and neighbors.

Unlike most other families, we actually ate those fruitcakes, even though nobody liked them. We felt obligated to eat them, out of politeness and respect for our neighbors.

We also kept an Advent Wreath–usually the result of some humble art project from elementary school–and we displayed a nativity set on our mantelpiece throughout the holiday season.

As the youngest child, I got the honor of arranging our nativity display, which I thought was a pretty big deal, even though our set wasn’t anything to write home about.

It consisted entirely of cheap, mass-produced plaster figurines, purchased a few items a time at the local dime store. The figures were garish, with little chips in the plaster here and there, but I cherished them all lovingly—the Three Kings, the camel, the Holy Family, the single cow and the three sheep, the wandering shepherd, the donkey, and the  blonde-haired angel with Shirley Temple curls crowned by a gilt-painted halo.

There was one glaringly obvious flaw in our nativity set-up, aside from the cheap, shabby way it looked. It was not logistically correct.

“There aren’t enough camels here,” I noted to my mother one year, while arranging the figures on the mantelpiece in what I hoped was an artful and clever way. “Three Kings and only one camel. How did they make it all the way to Bethlehem with just one camel?”

“Well, camels are big, Lizzie; they can carry a lot of things and people.”

I tried to set all Three Kings on top of our camel to verify her claim, but it didn’t work at all.  For one thing, our Three Kings could not really fit astride the beast, not the least because their little plaster legs were molded together in a single, solid block.

“We need two more camels,” I told my mother.  Privately, I thought that even if the Three Kings had proper legs and feet, instead of stuck-together plaster blocks, they wouldn’t all fit on the back of just one camel.

“I’ll look into getting two more camels,” my mother replied, distractedly. Our local dime store was on Plumas Street in downtown Ulloa City, and it stocked plenty of those cheap, mass-produced figures at Christmastime. Despite her promise, though, she never actually got around to supplying our Three Kings with adequate transportation; that was just one of life’s little disappointments down home in the imaginary but very real place I like to call Foleytown.

Still trying to reason the Three Kings dilemma all the way through, I finally concluded that one King rode the camel, while the other two were unfortunately doomed to walk beside it.

“Maybe they traded turns riding the camel every once in a while, to be fair,” I reasoned childishly.  “That would be the Christian thing to do.”  I worried about things like that when I was small; I worried about whether or not plaster figurines were warm and comfortable in their little fantasy world of display.

It was a rather unique world view, I realize now.

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