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A survivor's true tale of getting ready for Christmas

By Minx McCloud

Somehow, in spite of the fact that I was supposed to be resting, we got the house decorated for the holidays.

This was no mean feat, since Jim had to tackle the tree himself for the first time in 27 years. We're pretty good at doing the lights -- a task we used to find daunting. We get through it each year with only a few curse words. This is a vast improvement over the days when I used to try to plug Jim into the outlet instead of the lights, because he simply was not hanging them properly.

This year, he did it alone while I sat on the couch and criticized every move. "Those are too high. No, put those lower, Jim, and farther inside the tree to give it depth." By this time, the only "depth" Jim was thinking about was a grave six feet deep, with me in it.

Now that I'm older and more mature, nibbling on a Nativity scene made out of gingerbread, frosting, Q-Tips and glitter seems downright tacky. I did find it funny, however, when my cousin labeled her vegetable side dish "peas on earth."

It's likely that we'll all go to hell.

After the lights were all on the tree, they blinked out in unison, as if they had been planning it all along. They were not supposed to conk out completely if one failed, so we were befuddled. Unsuccessfully stifling epithets aimed at General Electric and Underwriters Laboratory, we searched for the problem for five minutes, ignoring the obvious.

Finally, I noticed the cat, innocently preening herself behind the chair. When she does that, she's usually been up to something. I plugged the extension cord back into the socket from which she had yanked it.

We have beautiful ornaments that we've acquired over the years -- from Hallmark "collectibles" to Ukrainian painted eggs. It has taken us years, but the tacky mass-produced ornaments we bought the first year we were together have finally been consigned to our "garage sale" bin in the basement. Jim didn't have much trouble with the ornaments, but there were a few adjustments to be made afterward.

"Who's Leon?" I asked him mischievously.

"I don't know anyone named Leon," he said, puzzled.

"Then would you mind turning the stained glass 'Noel' ornament around?"

We used to put tinsel on the tree until we adopted a cat. Spending Christmas Day in the veterinary emergency room while the doctor removed tinsel from our kitty's intestines ended that. So the tree was pretty much done.

Jim placed the "star" on top of the tree. It is a cheap (99-cent) red plastic ornament we bought 27 years ago when we were paupers, but I've never had the heart to replace it. I've mended the cracks and decorated it with small circles of wrapping paper where the gloss has worn off, but I just can't throw it out. Not a sentimentalist, my father gave us an angel one year and told us to "get rid of that crappy thing" (such tact!), but the angel sits underneath the tree, and the old ornament still has the place of honor on top.

Finally, I sat down to do the Christmas newsletter for our friends. Yes, I confess that I'm one of those people who updates our friends and family during the holidays. However, while most people's newsletters are full of accomplishments and wonderful events, ours is pretty dismal. It's usually an account of the various pieces of bad luck that have hit us during the course of the year. This year it will include my mother's increasing dementia, my dad's ill health, Jim's bout with food poisoning and my hysterectomy.

Add those to the Sept. 11 attacks, a continuing war, and depression throughout the country, and it's probably a real downer. However, I received a couple of approving e-mails, and because I wrote everything with a sense of humor, I'm told that everyone actually enjoyed reading it. Apparently, they couldn't contain their mirth at the thought of Jim upchucking in the middle of a business meeting. It was much more amusing than his promotion to project leader.

And the accounts of my surgery had them rolling on the floor laughing. I'm so glad I chose to write about that, rather than the fact that I received a writing award in June.

See, newsletters can be fun if you choose carefully what you'll tell your friends, otherwise they hate you. Nobody wants to know how well you've done, especially if you "puff up" too much. You have to convince them that they've had a very good year compared to yours, and you have to do it with humor and self-deprecation. Then they empathize with you and may even send pity gifts.

Sunday I have to prepare the food that we'll take to my parents' house, because eating is what Christmas is all about, right? You can go to midnight Mass and sing all the carols you want, but when all the rejoicing is over, it's time to chow down.

In my parents' house, you show your respect for the Baby Jesus by eating for seven hours straight. I loved this challenge when I was a child, but now that I'm older and more mature, nibbling on a Nativity scene made out of gingerbread, frosting, Q-Tips and glitter seems downright tacky. I did find it funny, however, when my cousin labeled her vegetable side dish "peas on earth."

It's likely that we'll all go to hell.

I also have a bit more shopping to do. I've dragged out last year's leftover wrapping paper and if there isn't enough, I've saved all the comic sections from the Sunday papers for the past three months. I call it "creative"; my dad calls it "cheap." (He's one to talk. The man strains and reuses bacon fat until it grows hair.)

If only I can get the cat to wear her little antlers and Santa hat, it will be a perfect Christmas.

Now where did I put the Band-Aids and iodine?

Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with both her permission and the permission of The Princeton Packet.

May we also suggest:
Leave trimming the tree to the professionals

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