Unrest in Christmas Village

Each holiday season, several weeks before Christmas, State Farm would send home a catalogue for employees to choose a Christmas gift.  The catalogue was sectioned by years of service.  For instance, an employee of one year may choose from section one.  In that section, they may have a few fancy holiday ornaments, a nice cookie press, candle holders, boxes of nice stationary, etc.  Employees of two to five years service could choose from section one or the next, section two, which may have items slightly more expensive: faux silver serving tray, potpourri dispenser boxed with lovely holiday scents, and so on.  Progressing up the price point were employees of five, ten, fifteen, and twenty or more years.

Each year Mom would ask me to help her chose her Christmas gift.  She would always begin by saying that I should choose something for myself.  “I don’t know.  They look like they’re being kind of cheap this year,” Mom would say, rolling her eyes.  I would tell her that she was the one working hard, that she should have the gift.  Back and forth we’d go with that.  The first several years Mom caved and ordered a little gift for herself.

By 1997, Mom had worked at State Farm more than fifteen years, so the gifts got really good.  That year, Conor was almost two years old, and Mom was really encouraging me to pick out something for myself.  We sat at my condo on the couch as Conor was napping, and Mom brought the catalogue out of her purse.  She sniffled, as she sat down.  Mom always was fighting allergies.

“Come on, let’s pick something, shall we?” She smiled.

“Oh, honey, look.  This is so nice.  And look here, you could find something for your kitchen.”  Mom wanted me to choose.

We combed through the catalogue and got to the section for fifteen years.

“Oh, Mom, look!”  I pointed.  We both loved Christmas Villages.  We would always go into Joy’s at the mall and look at all the different houses.  Some were lit up from within now.  I remember when we first saw those.  We were so impressed!  The lights gave the little houses an extra special something.

That year State Farm had something so special to offer the long-term employees.  In celebration of their 75th Anniversary, the company had commissioned “State  Farm Main Street Memories Office.”  Dept 56 was chosen for its production.  This one was gorgeous!

“Oh, Mom, you have to get that!” I beamed.

“Okay!  And we can share it,” Mom smiled, putting her arm around me.

“No, no..” I insisted, “You have to have this at your place.  It’s State Farm!”

When Mom unwrapped it, it was just as beautiful as anticipated.  We finally had begun our own Christmas village!  I suggested Mom get more pieces, but she prefered to keep things simple.

“I don’t want a ton of things out that I’ll be putting away by myself after the holidays,” Mom said.

“I’d help?”  I suggested.

“No, honey, thank you.  All that decorating is something your father and I would do together.  In Westlake, he’d take a whole day off work from when you were in kindergarten.  We’d spend the whole day fixing the house all up, so when you kids came home from school, it would be a surprise.  And then when it was time to take it down, it was a repeat of the same thing, backwards.  We so much enjoyed decorating together.  You father never had any of that when he was growing up as a boy.  His mother and father didn’t make a big deal over Christmas.  He didn’t even get presents.  They said he was a good boy each day, and shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas to enjoy toys he might want.  It took me years to convince your father how much fun it all way.  Finally, when he saw the surprise from you kids, and how happy you were, then he understood.  Then, no one loved the whole business as much as he did.  He loved the decorating, the wrapping of gifts, all of it.”

Since Dad wasn’t there any more to be a part of things, Mom prefered to keep decorations to a minimum.  She’d have a tree, which John, Grandma, and I would help her decorate- mostly Grandma B and I.  John may hang one or two things before heading back upstairs to his room.  A couple of years, Ron came over to help decorate.  Mostly there was no one to help bring home the tree.  John may not be feeling the Christmas spirit, and Mom would say to forget the whole tree business.  She would suggest getting a little, tabletop tree.

“It would be okay, just to have a little Charlie Brown tree.  Your father and I used to have a small tree when Steven was a baby, at that little Jeep House.  We’d set it up high, out of reach.  That house was so small, your father couldn’t even fit his feet under the bathroom sink.  He had to point his feet sideways just to wash his hands,” Mom would laugh.  When there was something particularly sad, like Dad not being with us to bring home the tree, Mom would often bring up a lighthearted story.  It might barely relate to the situation, but she would want to see me laughing.  Sometimes I would look at her, and nothing needed to be said.  She knew.

“Honey, you can either laugh or cry,” she’d say, putting her arm around me.

Somehow, each year, we got a tree.  Mom would bribe John, or ask Uncle Bob, or she and I would make it a team effort.  Then, after I aquired my car, I would get the tree myself.  The first year, it was such a surprise.  Off to the Christmas tree lot I went, picked out a tree, and tied it down.  Then, once home, I hoisted it off the car and into the house.  I felt triumphant! Grandma B remarked, “Oh my! That you’re so strong!” and help me steady it.  I screwed it into the tree stand, getting my hands all sappy, which I didn’t like.  Mom came home from State Farm, and her face lit up.

“How did you get that home?!”  Mom stood back, looking at me with delight and pride. “Wait a minute,” she reached across, pushing up my shirtsleeves, “Let me see those muscles!”  It was the best feeling.  Maybe Dad was not here, but his heart still beat within my own, and by God, he’d want Mom to have a Christmas tree.

One year, a fellow I was dating, named Paul, helped us to get the tree.  Paul was a tall, silly, Lake Sherwood recluse.  He kept handing Mom and me Life Savors, the tropical kind.  The more Paul went on and on with his stupid Life Savors, the more Mom and I saw the humor in it all.  It was not always easy carving out this life without Dad.

But in 1997, Mom got her State Farm Christmas village piece.  It sat on her end table, right next to peek-a-boo Mary.

That same year, Mom told me she wanted to help me start my own Christmas village.  We went to Joy’s in The Oaks Mall to have a look.  Mom said each year she would buy me an addition to my village.  Before long, I’d have a beautiful little scene.  Mom got me the nicest, blue house.  It lit up from inside and had a snow-capped front yard and roof.  There were skaters outside.

By 1999, Mom had given me three houses.  I cushioned them in cotton snow atop a small bookcase in the dining room.  We added an ice skating rink, Christmas extras like trees, mailboxes, and animals, and also a fill-in piece I found at a drug store, a toy store piece the kids had liked.  It looked really cozy.  We were off to a good start.

Maya was a newborn, and Conor was three and a half.  He had watched the Christmas village going up, and he offered to help out.  The next day, Conor decided it looked a little boring.  The figures were collecting mail and packages, gazing off bridges, ice skating, and walking side by side.  Before long, there was trouble in Christmas Village we didn’t see coming.

For months now Conor had been diligently collecting monsters from McFarlane’s “Spawn” series.  At some point, a variety of these creatures from hell descended upon Christmas Village.  Some carolers were joined in song by someone who’s mouth resembled a gaping wound.  An ice skater had slipped on the ice and was being eaten by the undead.  And from the “hellspawned” corner  “a savage brute with no soul, whose pleasure comes from the pain and terror of others” descended the snowy Christmas hill, promising a challenge bigger than the Grinch come the holiday.  Tendoned creatures peeked from windows and hid behind trees.  One joined the merriment, hanging an ornament on the town tree.

“No, no, honey,”  I heard Mom telling Conor in semi-panic, “Honey, this isn’t a toy.  This is about good cheer.  Oh, no, we can’t do that!”

“It’s okay, Mom, I want Conor to help decorate the town.  It should be his vision, too,”  I explained.

“But honey, no!  There are….. creatures here… they don’t belong in a Christmas town!”

“It’s okay, really… really, it is…”  I explained.

Back and forth we went and finally, Mom relented.  It took some time, but eventually Mom’s remarks grew to amusement.  Conor was so pleased with the way he’d dressed up the town in real little boy fashion.  His amusement won his Grandma over.

“You rascal you!” Mom exclaimed.  “I’ve never seen the like of it!”

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