THE FIRST TIME I SAW CHRISTMAS
By Linda Lichtman
Mom and I are off to a big girl day, even though I’m only five years old. Excited I hold onto her hand with all my might because we’re walking across Brighton Beach Avenue to the “EL”. It’s my first big train trip and I’m surprised by the huge number of people walking in every direction, bumping into each other and pretending they didn’t notice. I can’t imagine where all these people could possibly live. Mom told me I’d been a worrier since birth.
We walk up the long stairs of the subway and mom tells me we’re standing in front of the biggest store in the world, Macy’s. As we cross 34th Street, Mom puts her arms around me and directs me toward a booth behind which a man wearing a red and white striped hat and jacket is standing. Mom softly directs him:
“Two hotdogs please.”
“Would you like mustard and relish on your dog, cutie?”
Mom quickly answers, “Mustard on mine and both for my daughter and a coca cola.”
Although it’s very cold, we remain outside of the frankfurter stand, chomping and drinking away. I offer mom some of my drink but she shakes her head and makes a funny face, then continues sipping on her waxy cup of water. She always says no to foods she thinks might make her fat.
After swallowing the last delicious bite, we wave to the hotdog man and walk inside the Macy’s store. “Wow! Look at all the beautiful lights – red, blue, pink, orange hanging all over the store. Mom, I bet this is the happiest place in the world. Is someone getting married?”
“No sweetheart, these decorations are for a holiday called Christmas – celebrated by non-Jews in honor of their Lord Jesus.”
I don’t understand the word “Lord” and am now confused, but then I remember dad telling mom something about our landlord who owns our building. Now we’re walking past a display of a tiny family around a baby. Mom pointed to it explaining “that” is Baby Jesus lying in his mother’s arms. I think that’s very sweet, but I don’t understand why people are celebrating a little baby.
Once the elevator door opens to the second floor, I stop breathing. I only have a few toys at home – games, dolls, but here – on the second floor of Macy’s – there must be a million toys. If these are all for baby Jesus, I want to be his friend. I want to go to his house, small as it was, and play with him every single day. I will even change his diaper the way I’ve done for my little brother Mitchell. Well, I don’t actually do the “change” but I help Mom so I know how.
“Mom, do all these toys belong to the Lord baby?”
“No. Not really. He gets them to children when they celebrate his birthday. “
“Christian people. Non-Jews”
“I wanna celebrate baby Jesus! I wanna be a non-Jew. I love baby Jesus! Mom, who’s that big fat man?”
“That’s Santa Claus. He lives in the North Pole and stops by every Christmas, bringing toys for certain children who had been very good.”
I stop and start thinking back over the week and ask: “I was good Mom. Wasn’t I good?”
“Yes, you were terrific. Why don’t we get on that long Santa line so you can tell him what you’d like for Christmas. “
“And he’ll give me that present to take home?”
“Not today, but on Christmas morning.”
“Are we going to stop being Jewish? Say yes mom, please!”
“Just for one day. Santa makes an exception for Jewish children who were extremely helpful to their moms.”
Mom held my hand while we waited in line. I watch Santa carefully as he holds babies, talks to kids, makes comments to parents, and then puts his arm out for the next in line. Now I’m worried. What if Santa doesn’t like me? Should I tell him I’ve never been non- Jewish for Christmas before? What should I ask for? Am I allowed to ask for more than one thing, mom?”
“Did you ever meet Santa before?” She shakes her head no.
“What about daddy? Does he know Santa? “
“Next in line.”
Mom pushes me toward Santa and he puts his arm around me, “Would you like to sit on my lap little girl?”
“No. Mommy always tells me not to let strangers touch me. And I have a question. If I get non-Jewish for one day – will you bring me a present?”
“Even though I’ve never met baby Jesus?”
“Maybe you can meet him on Christmas morning.”
“Will you take me to his little teeny house?”
“No, you’ll have to ask your mommy to take you to visit him. Now, what would you like me to bring you?”
“I would like my own room. I sleep in the same room as my little brother and he’s always crying. And also, could you get daddy a job during the day so mommy isn’t so lonely at night?”
“How about a nice new doll?” Santa spits through his beard.
“I already have a doll, thank you.”
“That’s very nice.”
Now Santa is waving for the next girl in line so I quickly grab his right thigh and slip in a request.
“How about some trains? My brother and I would love to play with some choo choos. Maybe one train could have a whistle. And maybe some doll clothes and some money so my dad doesn’t have to drive a taxi all night to pay the rent.”
After finishing, I pause wondering if I’d asked for too much.
“Oh, I forgot something Santa. Mom said to say thank you.”
Christmas Eve finally arrived. Although I want to stay up all night to see if Santa had heard me, I’m just too sleepy. But the next morning I wake up, run into the living room and I see a huge wooden crate filled with trains and tracks. I think it’s strange that the trains didn’t come in a box and that there was nothing to unwrap. But I’m so happy to have a train set, I hardly notice that the trains don’t look brand new. Mitch and I are spending every day playing with are trains. But I do feel a little disappointed that I didn’t actually get to meet baby Jesus. Maybe next year.
I can’t speak for you – but in this head above my shoulders – there is an enormous Committee planted there by some practical joker from another universe. This Committee is comprised of voices from any possible representative opinion and they speak very loudly to me – kind of like Nancy Grace & Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews, Judge Judy and/or all political pundits or reoccurring celebrities attempting to make their point.
The job of this committee is to keep me guessing at all times. For example:
I’ve decided to go that party I’ve been invited to on Saturday night. In the midst of choosing what I’ll wear – Nancy Grace will scream:
“You don’t want to go to that party friend. They’ll be serving shrimp and you’re allergic to seafood; you will go into anaphylactic shock which could lead to diarrhea, heart palpitations, closing of airwaves and on a very bad night – death.”
Rush: “You have to go to that party you idiot, the host bought you that beautiful scarf last Christmas.”
Judge Judy: “Do you really think you can fit into the purple dress? Do you remember what you’ve just eaten for dinner? Case closed.
Chris: Heh, heh! Just wear the black pants – they have an elastic waist and will fit you even after you’ve eaten a bus. Who cares how it looks? Just bring a box of candy and no one will notice.”
And just when the voices become manageable – the message changes.
Heidi Klum: “Oh just go to the damn party – get there fashionably late and leave early. Remember, sometimes you’re in and for the next party – you’re out!”
Then there’s Seal: “I wanna fly like an eagle, let that spirit carry me…I wanna fly…”
Some professionals might diagnose this as schizophrenia, but that would be primarily to fill out prescription pads and make brownie points with their drug companies.
I’ve learned to quiet these voices by:
- Eating brownies
- Watching Yankee games
- Annoying my husband
- Going to the gym – not doing anything – but just being headed in that direction helps.
- Phoning a friend.Here’s hoping your voices are quieter than mine.
The sweet pungence of freshly cut grass triggers a bright image of my parents’ home on Long Island. I’m 15 again; it’s a brilliantly hot Saturday afternoon in August and the sun shines directly on our backyard. My watch reads 2:00p – right on time; his pick-up truck pulls into the driveway. Anticipation forces my heart to beat a little faster.
From my second story bedroom window I watch him set up the manual lawnmower as the sun shimmers on this shirtless wonder. I study his red crew cut which blends perfectly with his tan and deeply freckled body. Slightly more than twice my age – he’s a genius with that simple machine, erasing any grass growing above two inches. Like broken hearts the grass is strewn about the yard with little resistance. And in concert with his strength, those muscles punctuate every movement – rippling in a circular and hypnotic motion as his brawny, burly arms force the machine to cut – slice – manipulate each blade of grass to his guided direction. His dominance increases and I can hear him grunting, “Ahhh, ahhh, ahhh!” Does he know I’m listening? Is he calling me?
My 15 year old libido is strongly aroused now and I want him to…to…? At 15 I was somewhat confused as to ‘how and what I wanted him to do’ infusing the images of excerpts from “Peyton Place”, “79 Park Avenue” and other books my mom had hidden in the basement. Through all this, there is one constant – I smell Hank.
Closing my eyes for a moment I now allow his sweat-drenched arms to surround and cloak me. The strength of his hold and the nakedness of his slightly hairy chest create a yearning below my waist. Its unfamiliar feeling travels throughout my body all the way to my toes and fingertips. The perfume of his moisture is intoxicating.
A ringing phone calls out but I am too mesmerized by the Hank Show so I let the interruption play itself out. I won’t allow any intrusion – especially because it’s time for him to move to the next level – raking. I hold my breath as he bends and scrapes, and smile at the slight dip of his jeans below the top of his BVDs’s. I’m almost frightened by the imagined machinery inside his pants but not enough to turn away. With raking of the back area complete, he moves around to the front of the house. Now I try summoning the courage to run out and offer him water. Some days he reaches out for the glass – on others he turns me down. Either way his white teeth flash gratitude. And I am closer to – smelling Hank.
Eventually, as I made the transition away from home off to college, friends and relatives asked me what I’d miss most about home. I never told anyone – I was gonna miss smelling Hank.
I couldn’t drive, so the next morning Rob re-arranged his schedule so he could help his “gimpy” to the doctor. Upon entering the examining room, doc giggled at my description of the incident, examined me and my butt – thenchuckled sweetly and supportively when it took me at least 30 – 45 seconds to pull the Spanx-like panties over my belly and butt.
The x-rays (3) were painless – but my fear mounted that somehow I had joined the ranks of the tripping, falling, bone-breaking elderly and would wind up in assisted living. After doc examined the x-rays – she told me there were no breaks – and that I had badly bruised my sciatic nerve which was why there was pain down my right leg. “Keep taking the Ibuprofen - keep laughing and making others laugh Linda – and you’ll heal beautifully.” Check back in two weeks to make sure no hairline fractures emerge and smack a watermelon for me!”
I’m feeling much better 3 days later – still a bit gimpy – but the smile is back. And hey, if you remember, would you smack a watermelon for me? I’m just sayin…
I love summer fruits – cold, sweet, deliciousness squishing in my mouth, before sliding down my throat. Unfortunately, this summer I’ve had issues with the watermelon. I’ve had to return two – and there’s a third split in two halves just languishing in the refrigerator. Should I return and replace? They’re heavy…hmmm…
Off to Trader Joe’s last night, I’m still weighing the watermelon issue – when I notice a bin of watermelons screaming – “Eat me! I’m sweet!” right outside of TJ’s entrance. So, I stop and reach into the bin, lift up a green-striped 3 or 4 pound egg-shaped melon, turn right to place it into my cart – whoops – my right foot gets caught on the platform jutting out from under the bin and clips my right foot – then thrusts me – still holding the watermelon – forward like an action hero. I release the fruit, grab on to a pot of roses to fend off the fall – but THUD! I crash hard – slamming my right butt cheek onto the cement.
Ohhh! The pain, the embarrassment – as people gather around to watch – more pain – as the security guard tries lifting me up. I hear onlookers sighing “Yikes” as they watch the guard pulling on my arms. I eventually succumb to the lifting – immediately after he asks if I want the scattered watermelon.
I limp into the store, then reject their kind offer to put me in a hovaround for accessing my shopping needs, fill out the accident report, then continue limping to my car, assisted by one of their customer service guys.
Finally home, I call my husband who is busy at work – and who is also seriously fond of my butt cheeks, swallow two Naproxens, slide under the covers scratching my head – how did I lose a fight with a watermelon? Well – hopefully the pain will be gone in the morning.
Part II – A visit to my doctor!
Wednesday morning I awoke in Glory Land.
My eyes opened and something felt painlessly different. Usually I want to close my lids quickly and do the usual “oh no, another day” moan which leads to pulling the covers over my head and doing a head flop back onto my pillow.
I didn’t recognize the positive vibe at first because I’d been living in CaCa Land for over a month. So I looked under the bed, beneath the pillow, then ventured into the bathroom for a sign. Everything looked the same – but – something felt different…there was something glowing inside of me – it was…ME! I was shimmering from the inside out.
After being slam-bam, no thank you ma’am by a “friend” gone rogue – I was feeling worthless, in despair, heart-broken, and ready to jump! Life didn’t seem worth living – when you love someone, think you’re caring for and supporting him/her and then they turn around and whack you in the face with a frying pan because they’ve been building up resentments for a very long time – that hurts. And I couldn’t let go of it. Real friends – two I barely knew – listened quietly to my verbal tears, held me, told me they’d be there for me – before and after I repaired.
I didn’t think the pain would ever subside. I didn’t think I deserved happiness. I could barely write, barely show up for my life, my husband, my friends. It’s that horrible “P” word – process. It processed itself out of my heart, through my bowels.
I don’t expect to stay in Glory Land forever. It’s just a break from “life as usual” giving me the opportunity to breathe freely in between the next challenge. I wanna say “bring it on” but I’d be lying. Glory Land is where I need to be for today – please come join me!
There was an industry advertisement three weeks ago CASTING FOR WHEEL OF FORTUNE! Seeking contestants living in Southern California who have upbeat personalities and are good at game shows. Send us an email with the following information. I jumped on it.
Name: Linda Lichtman
So. CA town where you reside: Westchester
Why do you think you’d be a good contestant? I’m upbeat, quick on my feet, warm and friendly – and love The Wheel!
Tell us a little about yourself: Retired comic, former biz owner, writer, Internet Radio Show Host – and proud to say I got married for the first time at 55.
Phone Number: yeah!
Send recent photo: Done!
I then pressed SEND for my submission – and was so excited I could barely breathe. Yes, Wheel of Fortune! I then sent the ad to four friends who might be interested. Imagine being on the show with any two of them. Yes!!!
I started wondering how I’d respond on the set as Vanna turned the letters around. It’s different once you’re actually there. Nerves, excitement could color the experience and perhaps detract from my concentration. I’m gonna start deep breathing again.
What if my nerves didn’t take over and I was the winning contestant? Then I could qualify for the jackpot round. There I am, hugging Pat Sajak, cause he wants me to win. It’s good for the show. Yeah! I’m so happy I rush over and hug Vanna White. She seems sweet.
Two weeks letter – reality check! Two of my four friends received phone calls for interviews, the other two didn’t; I didn’t. Hmmm!
So last night Rob and I watched WOF. Still thinking I’ve got a shot at an interview, my husband who I admitted marrying when I was 55 – pokes me and addresses one annoying fact, “They never have Seniors on WOF!” No! They only have people who can say, “Yes Pat, I’m married to my wonderful soul mate, Roger, we have three astounding children” – she neglected to add the kids are usually under 10. We never hear “I was married to a fabulous guy who died three years ago.” No widows! We never hear “I’ve got three great kids, the oldest is a lawyer and the other two are plumbers… ” OR “I’m a divorcee with three great kids.” No one gets divorced on WOF. Well, except for Pat and Vanna. No Seniors. Except for Pat – who turns 65 on October 26th; Vanna is only 54.
Apparently the producers don’t think Seniors look so sexy in HD – even after the surgery. But come on have you seen some of the “younger” contestants? No beauty queens or kings here.
Also, older folks may have all kinds of sad stories about dead siblings, sick children, losing their homes, their limbs, their teeth. WOF only want young, young, young people with all their teeth – young and representative of the pre-Boomer demographic. That’s just wrong.
By the way, of the two friends who received interviews – one is 35, the other a very youthful 42, married and both have young, healthy children. Of the who weren’t contacted: one beauty is 60 – OMG! Don’t put the old farts on TV – whose gonna watch them? And the other friend is 54 and divorced – like Vanna.
If you’re a non-demographic living in Southern CA – call WOF and complain. Even if you’re a perfect demographic – and don’t live in Southern CA – email them and complain.