Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Annual Brady Street Christmas Story

I originally wrote this blog entry some years ago, way back in 2010, during what were the earliest days of "The Charbor Chronicles".

I did my normal holiday routines, by now so common they qualify as traditions. I got off to a very hot start with my Christmas shopping early in the year, getting a few nice gifts for a couple of people and, also like always, I assumed that this was the start of something new, something good. This time, I would be wiser than last year, and the year before that, and so on and so forth. 

But you can likely predict that, like last year and so on and so forth, very much the same result ensued. I forgot about it, did not have quite as strong an urge to get it all done early as I had originally wanted, and kind of allowed the holiday season to sneak up on me once again, predictably.

Yes, that means I was out there once again, racing to get all the shopping done on Christmas Eve, cursing myself, just like last year and so on and so forth, for not getting all of this done earlier. Yes, that was me, dodging lines, crawling in an overcrowded parking lot, trying desperately to find the right gift at the right time. 

The good news is that I feel I was more imaginative with the gifts that last year, and so on and so forth. Improvements have been made. But, of course, there is still that feeling that, by law of averages, sooner or later the holiday season shopping will get done in a more timely, efficient manner at some point in time in the distant, hazy future. When, I cannot say, as certainty has most assuredly eluded me in regards to early holiday shopping. But someday, it will be all done early, and I can finally laugh at those last minute shoppers braving long lines in the stores as well as on the roads (and even parking lots), and rest at home, thankful for having been wise enough to get it all done early enough to avoid those headaches.

Just not this year.

Also, there is definitely that feeling that I spent too much, as my spirits sank with each ring of the cash register, each swipe of my card, each dismaying total price that always seemed a tad higher than I had originally expected (in some cases, even more than just a tad). 

It becomes easier to understand why this is also one of the most stressful and depressing times of the year, as well, and why people always approach this time with caution, financially. Things can get out of hand in a hurry.

That said, it is also the season when you should focus on the blessings of life, of which I have quite a few. My Christmas Eve was spent with a wonderful dinner with my family, including my little boy. Later in the evening, I joined my girlfriend over at the home of some close friends of hers, who are becoming closer friends of mine, as well. They are warm people, and it was a very nice dinner (no meat) that we got to enjoy. We sat and relaxed on the sofa afterward, beneath a towering and beautiful Christmas tree, and we were warm and laughed. Good times.

This can be a happy time of the year, and I have a lot to feel blessed for. So, with that in mind, here is the Brady Street Story, which some of my friends really seem to enjoy hearing. It is almost my own, personal holiday tradition, at least for now - although I would like to make more. But this story, I think, is nice, and should lighten things up and get me back in the holiday spirit.

Hope you enjoy!

The Brady Street Story

There are a lot of things during this time of the year that can serve to be reminders, pleasant or otherwise, about the holiday season. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, I know, and this story is mostly about a specific Christmas tradition that I fondly recall. But is also simply a pleasant memory that I thought would be nice to share, and which shows at least a good and friendly sentiment.

The holiday season changes as we change. It can often seem only positive as a child, but as you get older, the undisputed positive feelings can sometimes begin to fade away by the overcommecialization and false sentiments that prevent us from remembering what the true meaning of Christmas is supposed to be. At once, it can be a time of great joy, as well as great stress. The delight of seeing family members can also be tempered by the anxiety this can provide, and induce heavy drinking. The pleasure provided by the excitement of an impatient child could be quickly erased when that child tears the beautiful gift wrapping you so carefully chose and loses interest, moving onto the next colorful box, hoping to get the one really desired toy that will provide ever lasting happiness (or for a few days, anyway).

We were not a rich family by any means, but I can remember the richness of own holiday traditions, and the simple joy and even thrills that these provided during the build up, at once extremely pleasurable and excruciating, for those Christmas mornings, particularly when we would spend it, as we often seemed to, at my Grandparent's place. Not interested back then in what almost all adults, myself certainly included, seems interested in doing now on such a morning - namely sleeping in - I would wake up at the first trace of light in the eastern horizon, and my impatient legs would kick off the blankets and land onto my bedroom floor with a thud (admittedly as loudly as possible in the hopes of waking everyone up). I would open the door and run down the creaky stairs (again, in the hopes of waking everyone up) to the downstairs area, where the site of the Christmas tree, looking almost mystical with the dulled glory of Christmas morning with all of those shiny ornaments and tinsel and wrapping paper of the beautiful and enticing gifts spread out like buried treasure awaiting discovery, at the foot of the tree.

These memories are wonderful, and I guess at the time, a part of me understood all of that, too, even if what I was doing, in effect, was prolonging the agony of a child's interminable wait, that seemingly endless countdown that came a week before the official countdown of a new year. The excitement would slowly build, as one hint after another would clue you in on the upcoming Christmas holiday. The warmth of early autumn and the brilliance of the changing of the colors would give way to the stark, brown branches, shedding their leaves and facing the winter with the dull brownish tint that seems to just go with the colorlessness of the winter landscape. The Christmas decorations begin to go up sometime in November, especially after Thanksgiving, and the excitement builds further still. When your parents take you shopping and actually ask what you might want for Christmas, as you drive past strip malls with larger than life Santa decorations smiling and removing all doubt that the big day is virtually here. And then finally, when the last school bell rings before the winter recess, (thus concluding a day that hardly counted as a school day at all, because it was filled with parties and movies and free time with kids engaged in conversations focusing on comparing holiday plans that their families would be involved in,  and generally an exciting air of expectation) and kids would go racing off to their homes. School was done until January (see you next year! Ha-ha!), and in the meantime, it was the season of getting (if you were a fortunate kid, that is – and one of the holiday gifts that probably is better appreciated with age is just how rare and fortunate being such a kid is, on many levels). All that waiting, and there I was, wide awake downstairs in a sleeping house still only dimly lit by the early morning light. Oh, everyone would wake up, eventually. But it seemed impossibly long and torturous, those final hours (Or were they merely minutes that seemed like hours to a small child? That seemed, in fact, like years) until everyone would wake up, and I would shamelessly lead them to the living room to finally open all of those beautiful gifts and end the mystery, finally slaking that thirst.

This is, of course, before adulthood. Before you realize all of the more stressful aspects of the holiday season. Before the time when being bombarded by aggressive Christmas sales and Black Friday and cards and gifts and parties and obligations came into play. Before the bills came in to add to all of those other bills that keep piling up, and you realize that it might be a good idea to pick up some extra hours of overtime when the new year came and sent you back to your job, or jobs.

When you are fully grown, these are the new realities of the holidays. The stress and tensions that so many people fear from these family get-togethers, when toys no longer distract you, and when conversations have the potential to turn unpleasant or annoying, if not worse. The older you get, the less you look forward to all of those wonderful gifts that can make such a wonderful presentation by the Christmas tree, because now, you know the cost of such a lovely presentation. You are an adult now, and the main thing that you can rely on savoring is the blessed ability to sleep in (unless you have an impatient child intent on waking you up bright and early, as I did when younger), and perhaps being able to pig out on all of that delicious food (my personal favorite would be win and cheese, which is almost like milk and cookies for adults), and maybe add some holiday cheer by consuming entirely too much of that spiked eggnog. Before you wake up the next morning and begin to piece together the broken fragments of the dreamy holidays and realize that it had turned into a nightmare right about the time that you lost all of your inhibitions and decided to show off that cool tattoo you got on your rear quarters to that aunt you have not seen in so long (and no doubt will not see again for quite a long time, much to the relief of you both). Before you remember singing far too loudly, and remember the mockingly indulgent smiles of some, and the harsher, but more hushed recriminations of others who tried to get you to stop before you took it much, much too far (too late! Fait accompli!). You try not to think about which reaction is worse, but it can be hard to think about anything else, until finally, you return home to normal life, not sure if you should feel grateful upon realizing that the holiday break seemed far too short, and that, yet again, your time off seemed to not have been utilized in the best manner possible. But at least these embarrassing holiday memories become exactly that – memories. Maybe next year you can pull yourself together better. Maybe it becomes your New Year’s Resolution, even. Well, that, and losing those extra pounds that seemed to have mysteriously attached themselves to every part of your body that you do not want them.

But the holidays can still be pleasant. People can seem genuinely in better spirits. More willing to give, even if it is just a smile. Often times, it is far more than that.

Which brings me to another holiday tradition that I cherish, albeit on an entirely different level, and for different reasons.

I neither lived on Brady Street, nor have any strong affection for it, other than this one story that was, as chance would have it, one of the most memorable of these festive traditions. My family lived in West Milford township, in a small house on High Street, on what could be considered a hill. On top of that hill was Brady Street. Turn left, and this road will end maybe one hundred yards downhill, joining a more clustered network of houses, a busier street. Make a right, and you will see a couple of houses on a dead end street.

Now, West Milford had an annual tradition where members of the fire department would drive around town with someone dressed as Santa Claus, waving to the locals as the horns and sirens blared. It was, and remains, a relatively sleepy town, but this was often enough to arouse children (and a number of adults, as well) out of their homes, and to happily wave back, and express their appreciation and holiday cheer. You could hear them coming from quite a distance, and so there was usually time to prepare.

That in itself does not make this story unique, of course. It is probably fairly common practice for townships to have something more or less like this. But what made my particular memories of this event stand out is that, maybe for three of four years running, I would come out to see that fire truck turn onto our street at the bottom of the hill, and then proceed upwards, where inevitably, the fire truck with blaring horns and the smiling, waving Santa would systematically make a right onto Brady Street, which was, of course, a dead end.

I never actually saw them when they pulled in, but I could imagine the smiling and waving continuing...until maybe a couple of hundred yards down the road or so, when it abruptly ended.

Usually, the fire truck seemed to pause, as if unsure of how to proceed with this unexpected development (although I began to wonder just how unexpected this development actually was when it became a holiday tradition). Suddenly, the sirens would fall silent, and those men that accompanied Santa, perhaps maybe even dressed as holiday elves, would climb down and have to guide the enormous truck out of the fairly narrow, dead end residential street. It always seemed to take quite some time, maybe ten and even twenty minutes, to guide the truck out, and this obviously interfered with the general hoopla and good cheer of a positive holiday sentiment. As it approach my street again, they would have to caution cars, of which there were always a few, since High Street is a nice shortcut that is frequently used by locals, even by people who do not live on the street itself.

And so it went, for a few consecutive years. I remember once, my mom and I were in the living room, and we both heard the Santa truck coming. Having remembered this Brady Street tradition, which always put a slightly sour note, I'm sure, on the day's events, I remember pulling back the curtains and wondering aloud if they would do it again this year.

As it passed our house, the smiling Santa and his helpers would be waving, often only to us, since hardly anyone else on our section of the street got out of their homes.

“I wonder if it's going to make the right onto Brady Street again?” my mom asked.

About a minute or two later, we watched as the fire truck reached the top of the hill, and as if pulled by some stronger force than it could muster the will to resist, the truck would make the right turn. I would watch Santa and his helpers, still forever smiling and waving, disappear behind the corner house that blocked my view. Of course, disappear is not the best choice of words here, because there really was no mystery as to where it went. The main mystery was how long would it take to get out this time, and whether or not they would do it yet again next year. Perhaps the greatest was that it happened every time. True, this was before GPS and all of the modern technology that might have helped to avoid this annoying (at least for the Santa fire truck and, perhaps, the residents of Brady Street) and surely unintentional Christmas season tradition.

Still, there is an endearing element to these memories. It was, after all, a nice gesture that simply had this fairly minor mishap. And although the fire department no longer seems to make this right onto Brady Street anymore, and finding out the hard way (time and again and again as luck would have it) that it is a dead end street, the fire truck now passes by it without really even coming close to getting trapped again. But, in my memory, there will always be a part of me that longs to see the sweet confusion of a simple, if predictable, mistake, that helps keep our humanity and humor intact in the manufactured chaos that our present holiday season has become.

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