As a Jew growing up in red-necked, blue collar Unfunky Scummedrine, Christmas was all about loneliness and abandonment. My parents did not celebrate Christmas in any fashion. We did not take holiday trips. We did not haveany visitors. We did not decorate the house or lawn with any Yuletide adornments. When our classes made Christmas decorations in school, we donated those to neighbors. In school, we sang Christmas songs. The token Chanukah song,
"Dreidel, dreidel" was always an embarrassment. Five thousand years of Jewish history, and this is how we enlighten the Gentiles about our traditions.
Truly, I only remember two Christmas's where I did not feel lonely. One was in Fifth Grade. I had to go over to the home one of a classmate, an anti-Semitic terrorist, to work on a class project. After we finished, I helped string their tree with popcorn and cranberry strands. It was like the WWI truce--he ceased his terrorism one day and was a human being. I was treated like a valued guest in their home. Afterwards, he continued to sneer and terrorize me redux.
The second was at Binghamton. Interestingly enough, my friend Sue (the blonde in the photo above) was born on Christmas Eve to a parent who was a Holocaust survivor. The other parent was just a bissel meshuganah. Both were Hungarian refugees. Susan, my ex-roommate (now a world-famous psychologist (WFP) and myself made up the Terrible Trio. Mostly we mocked everyone. Susan had wisdom which I didn't possess till much later. Once, she, WPF, and myself were hanging out. Several of the WFP's friends had stopped by to say hello. After they left, WFP ripped them to shreds. When the WFP herself left, Sue turned to me and said, "Jeez, look what she says about them when their backs are turned. And they think she's one of their best friends. Just imagine what she says about us." I was uncomfortable and said, "Oh, no, she doesn't say anything bad about us." But that was a lie. I knew when Sue was gone, WFP ripped her to shreds. And, much later, I realized, as much as she said supportive and kind things to my face, behind my back, she was vicious. But that realization came much later and is not part of this story.
I had little desire to rush home for Christmas break at any time. Unfunky was cold and lonely and my parents offered only tension, not sanctuary. I was not allowed to drive and I felt just plain stuck in the house in the middle of a development in a town that had little to offer. Susan was living off-campus and offered to let me share her room for another couple of days. I had a job offer in Unfunky, so I would be leaving after Christmas. WFP was coming to visit, so she, too, would share Sue's quarters.
Christmas Eve was Sue's birthday. We planned to take her to dinner at the Oakdale Mall and then treat her to a movie. And that's when things got complicated. Oakdale Mall closed at midnight. The movie (I no longer recall what we saw, probably a current romcom) ended around that time. We walked out to a frozen winter wonderland,a wonderland coated in snow, a wonderland where snow was falling heavily, a wonderland where we had missed the last bus back to town. But that was no problem. We would just call a cab. We tried to call a cab from the mall, but had no luck. All the cab companies were having their Christmas parties and no one would come pick us up. Okay, we would just trudge across the parking lot, cross Harry L Drive (what did the L stand for--the joke was Lingerie) and bivouac at the Wendy's across the street. And then things took a turn for the worse. It was so frigid, that my fingers and toes froze in their coverings. Scarcely had we set foot across the parking lot that I could barely move. I discovered how hard it was to locomote when you no longer had pedal sensation. I said naught, wondering if the others had such troubles, but doubting it. Susan was my most middle class of friends. She wore long thermal underwear beneath her jeans. And surely WFP had more common sense than I as well. So trudge we did, across the parking lot. It seemed to take eons of time before we made it to Harry L Drive, and then crossed over to Wendy's. We thawed out over hot chocolate and took turns going to the pay phone and trying, with absolutely no success, to get a cab. We sat at our table, wondering what we would do. No cabs, no buses tonight, and probably, no buses tomorrow, what with it being Christmas day. A man in his 30's approached us. He had a fair enough appearance--shaven, slim, well-dressed. He had overheard our plight. He was going to deliver Christmas presents to his company's families that night and offered to take us back to Sue's house, as it was on his way. What could we do? I was only hoping that three could overcome one, if it came down to it. I was less than thrilled at taking a stranger up on his offer of succor. And at that time, I did not even know the Bundy story. just the usual Red Riding Hood warnings. But reader, we did. Any action was better than being stuck in Wendy's for eternity, drinking cocoa after cocoa, wondering what we would do when it closed at 1AM.
The stranger drove a posh car. There really did seem to be presents in the back seat. The three of us squished in the back and he drove us back to Sue's in the most impeccably honorable fashion. WFP and I wondered, when we exited, what did he really do. Sue took him at his word. He did help us out of a jam, whomever he was. Could he have been an angel, a true Good Samaritan? At any rate, we went back to the apartment, washed, and went to bed. The adventure continued. Sue had a habit of screaming in her sleep. A few hours later, she screamed in anger, "Steven Spielberg." And then, "I'm in the kitchen." Well, I was too terrified to return to sleep. And that adventure was probably my best Christmas ever. Every Christmas since--ambivalent, abandoned, and anxiously lonely. Another year ending, another year alone.