Every year about this time my wife and I watch the movie Christmas Vacation. Like peanut brittle, chocolate-covered cherries and Crown Royal, it’s something we look forward to every Christmas season. In fact, we usually sip Crown Royal while we watch it.
The first half of Christmas Vacation is a collection of some of the funniest scenes ever assembled in one movie, but there are also a fair number of tender moments interspersed among the slapstick, and it is one of those scenes that has surpassed all others to become my favorite. The hapless Clark Griswold has somehow managed to get himself trapped in his freezing attic. While looking through boxes for something warm to wear, he finds several reels of old home movies. He sets up a projector, the kind that always gave my teachers fits when I was in grade-school, and of course, it works perfectly. (This is Hollywood fantasy, remember.) With tears streaming down his cheeks, he watches images of his much younger family flicker on a bed sheet, while Ray Charles sings “That Spirit of Christmas” over the clattering of the projector. It’s the perfect song choice. I get a little misty-eyed every time I see it, however, this is about the point in the movie when the Crown Royal kicks in, so that may have something to do with it.
Or maybe it doesn’t. As I get older, I find I am more sentimental about my own past. I‘ve begun to see myself as the caretaker of our family history, especially now that my father is gone. For a couple of years I’ve been digitizing old family photographs and VCR tapes, in case they should ever be lost in a fire or a tornado. (This is Kansas, after all.) When I see people picking through the wreckage of their homes after a natural disaster, it’s always the photos they’re trying to salvage, and it’s heartbreaking. So I copy ours to flash drives, and I also upload them to websites so everyone in the family can see them, any time they want.
I also think these blog writings of mine may have a part to play in the preservation the family history. Certainly not one as prominent as our photographs, but valuable in their own way, nonetheless. I want to leave something tangible for my daughters, so they will have a better idea of who I am, or was, as the case may be. This is not simply about my own ego, but comes from my recent experience of being on the other side of it. My father left me with a number of unanswered questions when he died, things he never talked about much when he was alive. I don’t mean deeply personal things. But I’d like to know, for example, what it was like growing up in the South in 1930’s and 40’s. What was it like to be a young husband and father in the 1950’s? What were his dreams? Who influenced him and whom did he admire? How did he come to his occupation? How did a boy from the Arkansas delta grow up to love opera and the symphony?
I write this blog so my children won’t be left without answers, assuming they are interested enough to ask the questions. They are thoughtful girls, and I believe that one day they will. Some people may say I should just talk to them while there is still time. I agree with that, to a point, and I try to, whenever there is an opportunity. But we are scattered as a family now, and also, I’m not comfortable talking about myself. Besides, when it’s written down, it’s there forever. My father may have told me things over the years that I just don’t remember. It’s entirely possible. My wife accuses me of forgetting things she tells me, but then she has never understood the difference between forgetting and selective listening, so it’s not quite the same thing.
Several times in the recent past I considered asking my father to write about his life for my brothers and me, something like a memoir, but I never did. I worried it would be an imposition. Chances are he would not have done it anyway, but that’s alright, too. I could let it go knowing that I tried.
But enough of that. This weekend is the first weekend in December, the one we normally choose to carry on what has become, for us, a most unlikely holiday tradition. After the house is decorated and a fire is lit in the fireplace, we’ll kick back in our comfortable chairs, munching on peanut brittle and sipping Crown Royal, and we’ll watch Clark Griswold “cock up” Christmas one more time.