For the better part of 30 years, I’ve shut down my emotions from Thanksgiving through New Years Day. The holidays are just not for me, so I prefer to put my nose to the grindstone and work my tail off, waking up and looking up only after I’ve finally signed a check with the previous year’s date attached.
Sometimes snow has fallen. Other times the ground is as bare and barren as the inside of my heart this time of year. Still, I am at ease, knowing it’s all over and life, as it was meant to be in the pathetic little world I know reside, can get back to normal.
There were a few years where the spirit was allowed to sneak in and take hold off my heart. Baby’s first Christmas, baby’s second Christmas, baby’s third Christmas. After the divorce, though, suddenly Christmas didn’t really mean anything to me anymore. Nor did a lot of things, if I can be frank.
Yes, there was the random present from this person and that special gift from that person that was so thought-out that it touched me, but I became very good at pushing such emotions aside. The holiday period as a whole was just too overwhelming for me. I wanted nothing to do with it.
As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t a spirit of giving from where I sat, but a view of everything that had been taken away from me over the decades of my life.
Some people dream of a White Christmas. I dream of making it through another Black Christmas, and it’s become something I’m very good at.
Now, that’s another story, and since the annual eight-day Festival of Lights is upon us, I felt the need to sit down and write my favorite Hanukkah memory.
Now I’m not Jewish by any means. I might be able to point out a Dreidel, but couldn’t give you the first rule on how to play it.
And, I always giggle at the fact that The Druidian King’s daughter is a “Druish princess” but that just shows my affection for Mel Brooks and his movie “Space Balls” and has nothing to do with any type of religious up-bringing.
But I do know Sandy Koufax is Jewish, thus I should get bonus points for that, at least.
As the 20th century came to a close, though, I had the fortunate circumstance to become close to a family that was half Jewish and celebrated both sides of the late-December holidays.
The mom was a mean scrabble player with an affection for Guinness, Irish Music, romances novels and dreams of exploring far-away places that had castles and fjords and lochs and the like. There was a time when perhaps she envisioned me as the knight that might take her there, but alas I hate horses and the spark was never fully ignited.
Her friendship, however, was of a blessed sacrament to me and when I truly needed someone to help me escape the recurring battle with some of the inner demons that were taking over my life again, she stepped up and pulled me away from that ledge.
But that was years after this particular Hanukkah, though both stories go a long way as to why I grew so fond of this particular family, yet remained so dumbfounded as to whatever it was they saw in me.
She had three children, two daughters and a son, all vastly different pieces of a unique puzzle that made such a special and loving family I had to admire and respect and grew to love with a true heart.
The laid-back, free-spirited nature of the offspring was like a breath of fresh air, every time I visited. The laughter and the inside jokes and the pun-telling stories would grow into the lore of my visits.
And, the middle child, it must be said is solely responsible for my mass-consumption of string cheese in the last 14 years since I walked into their lives and they welcomed me with open arms.
But, again, I digress. String cheese plays very little role in the Hanukkah feast and has nothing to do with this story.
As everybody knows — even the jealous types who are not Jewish — Hanukkah last for eight days and nights thus eight presents, one per night, are presented over the course of the holiday.
One of my best friends at the time, Cameron, and I were planning on attending a concert in Boston as soon as all the holiday foolishness was in the rear view mirror. That would be Jan. 1, 2001, for you calendar aficionados, and somewhere it was mentioned by one of the kids how jealous they were that I got to go and they did not.
After talking it over with their mother, the two daughters were allowed to attend the concert with Cameron and I, but first they would have to earn it.
We mixed up the letters of the band on index cards and gave them to the girls as one of their presents. We might have even given them a time limit to complete the task of figuring out what the letters stood for. The memory is fuzzy, but the recollection of their excitement in figuring out the mystery was not.
As their mom and I sat side-by-side watching the two girls work feverishly together to come up with a solution, I realized this was one of those special moments that families have together, that grab on to tightly to a spot in your heart and never let go.
They they were, kneeling on the floor, moving letters around, begging for hints and clues, desperately trying to figure it out until — EUREKA — the puzzle was solved and the jubilant celebration was on.
Thus, on New Year’s Day, 2001, Cameron, myself, and the girls traveled to Boston to watch see the Barenaked Ladies perform at was then the Fleet Center.
That was the 13th concert I ever attended and was actually the second time I had seen the Ladies perform their musical magic. Our seats weren’t the best, but none of our noses bled, either.
Since that night, I’ve been to 45 more concerts and seen a lot of great shows.
All these years later, though, that is one that stands out to me and means a lot to me not because of the quality of the performance — which by BNL standards was quite strong — but because of what it meant to the two young ladies who accompanied us that night, and what it meant to them.
For as long as I live, I know I’ll have one Hanukkah memory I’ll always cherish. That family is the reason why.
Even from afar, it’s been such a pleasure to watch them all grow up into such remarkable people, still finding their way into adulthood in their own free-spirited ways that makes each of them so unique and so special.
Their family has grown over the last 10 years, and I’m on the outskirts with just occasional forays of contact. This, perhaps, is one of them.
I hope their holidays are filled with joy and love and the laughter they deserve for each and from each other.
And I hope they hang on to the memory of that day as I do.