But we only called the fire-brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet and smoky room, Jim’s aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said: “Would you like something to read?”
— Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953
Welsh poet, playwright, and fiction writer
from A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Tomorrow is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent. It was the traditional date for my Holiday Open House Extravaganza, the first of which was held in 1990, only a few weeks after I picked up a Pillsbury Quick and Easy Party Plan book at about a quarter to five one evening in the checkout line at the supermarket, flipped through it, read the step-by-step guide for how to give a party for “multiples of 25,” and said to myself, “I can do this.” I had the party, with a few gaps (1992, my first semester back in graduate school, and 1993, when the holiday season began just two weeks after my mother died) until 2006. In 2007 I was in Wyoming until December 13, and in the years that followed, I just never did it again. I miss it, some years, like this one, more than others.
In 2000 I used Miss Prothero’s polite inquiry to the firemen on a hand-lettered card that I hung from the handle of a basket that held copies of Here Are Poinsettias: A Child’s Christmas in Harrisburg, a 7500-word memoir of my childhood Christmases that I wrote and self-published as a 32-page saddle-stitched paperback booklet. Everyone who came to the party got a copy, and I mailed it to others on my holiday letter list as well.
I’ve written before about the poinsettia song that gives my work its title. In 2006 I recalled Sister Mary Rita, who taught it to us, and in 2008 I repeated most of that, because I had nothing to say that night.
I come to the composing screen late again tonight. I think this is a good year to serialize my memoir. I can divide it into 9 segments, each one a complete vignette on its own. This will accomplish two things. I’ll have something to post on days when busy-ness or gallivanting make it difficult to post something wholly original, and I’ll have a freshly-typed version of it, since the original typescript, if I even still have it, is on a floppy disk!
For tonight, here is the Preface:
This memoir began as a three hundred-word version of the concluding section about the crèche. That was 1986, and I was creating personal rather than academic writing for the first time in nearly twenty years. The piece failed to achieve recognition in the “Holiday Memories” newspaper contest that started it. I hung onto it nevertheless, and began adding to it, rearranging and expanding until I believed it contained every Christmas memory I could muster from my first fourteen years.
“How much of memory is imagination?” asks poet Linda Pastan. Only one outright fabrication has been included: although the incident of the card from the motel owners is authentic, their names and the name of their establishment have been invented. The rest is as faithful to facts as memories more than forty years old will allow.
I thank my husband, Ron, and my daughter, Lynn, for encouraging my writing, and for their love and support in all things. My sister, Rosemary Yakimoff Cappelli, provided valuable insight, even if she doesn’t remember the fire drills. And I offer a deep and gracious bow to Dylan Thomas, whose memories spoken to “the close and holy darkness” have carried me here.
And, as I end most of my quick notes to friends, More later!