December 11, 2013
I broke my pubic bone, summer of 1989. I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, in Virginia, when I came to a four foot wide crevasse. It was jump across or go back the way I came. I peered into the canyon and nearly peed. It was eighty feet deep. I stepped back a few yards and charged, leaping across—uh, falling, actually, having forgotten the thirty pound backpack strapped to me, my body plunging downward, me making a last minute grab at a tall, lithe fir tree, my arms nearly coming out of their sockets as I hugged the tree, the treetop bending, me letting go—before it sprang upright—and landing on my back on limestone in the wilderness, my groin going, Pop. What does that have to do with Christmas?
My friend Kathleen B. and her family have a long-standing holiday tradition, a tree decorating party. It’s been going on since her three kids were little. It evolved and got weird as the “kids” grew, got married and had kids of their own. (We even have our own Brit: Mark, married to Lisa, whose voice sounds as though he might be the host for “Masterpiece Theatre.”) And there were the Friends of Kathleen and Kids: Me, nurse Michele G., Gerard the cop and his bride Bridget (and now their three kids), Judy the dog fiend, Marmie (currently residing in heaven), a plethora of old girlfriends and boyfriends and a cast of holiday orphans, one-timers and two-timers. And on it goes.
There were traditional ornaments on the trees, to be sure. Most of them are still around—being broken only enhances the value. Gradually, “supplements” began to appear, each with significance to the revelers: an empty (it was full when it made its first appearance, but no tree branch could support it) Jello box; a recipe for a Jello side dish from a deranged caterer, who—hoping Kathleen would hire her for daughter Lisa’s wedding— wrote a bizarre pitch letter which included icky advice for married women and cynical observations on men and their frailties; a stained napkin with a cryptic message; an ornament made of wine corks; beheaded angels and angel heads with no bodies; a note and photo from a pervert who posted a message in a women’s dorm (Michele G. was living in the dorm) saying, in effect, Hey girls, I’m hot; deformed, dirty stuffed animals; broken ornaments affixed to boot laces, shoe strings, paper clips, etc. Kathleen, in the early years, was a stickler for properly placed tinsel. She gave up when Lisa and I put full tinsel boxes in the limbs of that year’s tree.
Michele G., a childhood friend of the daughters, has always had more fun at the decorating party than the rest of us combined. She is Jewish. She digs Christmas. This year she said, “Does anyone get that a Jew is the only one still decorating?” For twenty-five years, she brought homemade ornaments to the party. Now she brings tasteful ornaments. Back in the day, she brought along many of the aforementioned doozies. Christmas party, 1989, I mumbled something about not decorating because of my pubic bone. Christmas party, 1990, Michele solemnly handed me a box. I opened it, and there was a plastic mini spinal cord dangling from a long ribbon. Attached to it was a message in green letters: “‘I’d love to help, but oh, my pubic bone.’ e.e.b., ’89.” I may be the only man in the United States who, for twenty-five years, has been hanging a tiny pubic bone (left of center on the tree, of course), on twenty-five fir trees.
The decorating begins with the hanging of the Star of David fashioned from Popsicle sticks (as a kid, son Bobby attended a Jewish preschool). Gerard the cop narrates. This year I heard him say, “Gene, now hanging the pubic bone, always a highlight.” The decorating ends with whichever kid is the smallest being lifted up (baby Declan is up next year) so he or she can place the cardboard Angel on top of the tree. There is drama, as we’re not getting younger. Will the kid fall because Gene wobbled on the stepladder and lost his grip, or her Uncle Bobby’s muscles failed?
Not to worry. Michele G. would make an ornament commemorating the fall and the kid, as an adult, would have a story to tell, of the time she fell off a Christmas tree.
Ho-ho-ho! Leap a crevasse; hoist a beer! May your pubic bones be merry. And—shout-out to Sara Palin—happy holidays!