July has become a natural time for me to think about Christmas. I, as do many, absolutely adore the Christmas season, and I begin to long for it in the hot month of July for so many reasons. So why not?
I’m a believer.
When there is inadequate evidence to support something I want to believe–something which enriches my life in some way–I often choose to believe it anyway. I’m good with Bigfoot, psychic powers, magic, aliens, ghosts, and God. Most adults believe in at least one of these. But what about Santa Claus?
I’ve written extensively of my memories of Lonoke, Arkansas and Norman, Oklahoma, but my memory goes further back to Texas. In fact, my first memory is around one-and-a-half years old, and it involved Batman in a small way. We lived in a trailer home somewhere near Houston. One summer evening, my mother had some friends over for coffee. My twin and I were riding down the gravel drive of the trailer on little plastic scooters. No peddles, just powered by our sandaled feet. Mine was green and it was a nominally akin to a tractor. My mother had cut the rubber head of a toy tom-tom drum into a mask just like Robin’s from Batman. I recall coming in from the humid night air to have her retie it for me a couple of times. This tells you how deep my roots with the Batman franchise grows.
I grew up at a time when the brand of your clothes you wore was a major factor in you determining social status. Polo, Izod, Gant, OP, Jams, Guess, Reebok–it didn’t matter if the off-brand clothing item was identical; without the brand, it was absolute TRASH and you were better off not even trying.
I learned this in my days of middle school in Norman. I moved from a small farm town in Arkansas where I was aware of name brands, but so many of us were poor and I think we were more forgiving about clothes. In that town, Lee jeans were the standard. You looked for that genuine cowhide patch with “Lee” branded on it. They weren’t expensive. They didn’t promise any kind of status. We just liked them. But Lee was not cool in 1984 Norman. I was set straight very soon at Whittier Middle School. In a panic, I begged my mom to buy me a couple pairs of Levis, but I had to wait.
When we marry, we bring with us our own scripts, experiences, preferences, and needs. It may take quite of few years before a couple can come to a place of sufficient understanding of each other. We may not even know our own needs at first, but marriage is a great platform for self-discovery as well. We also come into a marriage thinking the way we grew up was normal. We may learn, however, that we all grow up with some peculiarities and biases.
That brings us to the topic of throwing up. I grew up believing that throwing up was a private matter. In order to protect one another’s dignity, my family of origin left each other alone to suffer through the event–saving each other from embarrassment. There is no dignity in the way I and other members of my family upchuck. It’s like listening to an exorcism.
Once in a while, my wife and I get asked how we met. We both love to tell it. It shares themes with many love stories–politics, prestige, perseverance, admiration, and hearts that went pitter-patter.
Our story begins with music. Jennifer and I both played instruments in the band at West Mid-High in Norman, Oklahoma. She played the flute and I played the tuba. She sat on the front row and me on the back row. Ninth grade passed without any interaction that I remember. Other, she was just one of the nameless gaggle of giggly flute players on the front row.
It’s a little early to think about Halloween, but this story is ultimately about growing up with an extraordinary father.
Eighth grade is a weird time for Halloween. Eight-graders are caught between childhood and adolescence. They want to enjoy all the fun of a childhood Halloween and also enjoy the teenage and adult age fun of parties. It was the last year I tried to trick-or-treat. Over the summer, I’d become a six-foot-tall bass-baritone. I wondered if I could still pull it off one last time. I blew what little money I had on a hobo mask. Yes, this was a day when dressing like a homeless person for Halloween was acceptable. The mask was replete with a tattered cigar protruding from a weather-worn, unshaven rubber face.