Mary Bogue

Mary Bogue is always wondering about how we walk through life, and sees it as a dance; sometimes we're wearing high heels and doing the tango backwards in a man's arms, other times we're line dancing in flats while picking up after kids, and when we're lucky, we're barefootin' it freestyle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

If you decorate a tree, will Christmas come?

Christmas has been my defining holiday all my life. As an adult, there wasn't a room untouched with a sprinkle of Christmas cheer for my family. The tree went up early so that we could enjoy it longer, presents were bought in September and tucked away, and our Christmas cards were actually mailed the day before Thanksgiving so that ours would be the first heartbeat of the Season.

Yet this year, I barely brought the tree from the garage. No cards have hit the mail. I never even bought any! Was it the winter cold that caught me and robbed me of enough umph, or had the meaning of Christmas lost its charm without a man next to me in bed to snuggle-in with, children to surprise with a little Santa magic or the thought that ham for one is just wrong?

Torn between putting it up or forgetting it altogether, I actually thought, maybe this is the first year I don't put up a tree and settle for a decorated mantel. Who will possibly notice or care if the tree stays in the box in the corner of the garage? And as far as that goes, I never even heard back from my over-the-top Christian sister and her family about the gifts bought in their name last year - shoes and a uniform for a little girl in Africa so that she could go to school, a goat for a widow with kids in Rwanda to start her own business and a well for a village to have water. You would think charity would be a cool gift.

Screw it, I thought. I had the Christmas blues. And then the realization hit that maybe I could be on my way to "old ladydom?" What's the point of hoisting your cleavage into a steel foundation, red 16 hour lipstick, or leopard high heels, if you start acting your age? No, I could at least put up a tree and best to do it before the anticipated rain storm hit. I ventured in the cold air to the garage, and there it stood on its end like a toy soldier next to the fortress of red and green tubs. I brought it in the house, plopped the three pieces together and plugged it in. Magic. Part of me was content to keep it just like that. It would be so much less work; just one, two, three and it would be back in the garage in a couple of weeks. Who cared in the end if my prized collection of Christopher Radko ornaments each took their designated place on the tree?

You see, over the last 25 years, this house has held 16 foster children, a husband and wife, father and mother, children, step-mother, step-children, adopted mother and father, and even a 'grand daughter." But times have changed. Life is like a Christmas box of ornaments, marked FRAGILE on the outside, and inside - breathtaking contents to be admired, but very breakable if dropped - even shattered.

The kids grew up and even grew away. My husband Rob passed away from a stunning accident doing what he loved, and even the family pets came and went. The number of presents under the tree dwindled, more Christmas storage boxes stayed in the garage than came out and even more left in garage sales. Away went the animated black angel doll, the moving Dicken's character of Tiny Tim on his dad's shoulders, and all the Santas and Mrs. Santas with their metronome-like rhythm of moving candles held in their hands. I slept on it overnight. Not the tree, the idea of keeping it as is. Screw the ornaments. The house was freezing, and I went to bed, bringing the covers up under my chin and falling asleep.

Somehow, I woke feeling better and with reluctance, dodged the raindrops and opened the garage again. Methodically, I brought in each box of ornaments and then I discovered something. It wasn't just decorating a tree with expensive blown glass figures meticulously painted over a weeks time in an Italian factory. My hands held the tattered brown construction paper bear made in my daughter's kindergarten class, and a picture of her five year old face smiled back at me in place of the bear's. I found the "Our First Christmas Together" plastic ornament with two swans engraved and remembered the joy of buying it for our tree. Our tree. There was Rob's white moose ornament with "Studmuffin" in calligraphy on it, and the one he bought me with "Sugar Britches," emblazoned (my God, Rob was irreverent) and there was a little cat ornament made of flour and baking soda and salt. It was the very first ornament in the collection, made by hand because it was all I could afford. I placed it next to the Radko cat honoring breast cancer survivors - my way of acknowledging my grandmother and mother.

My collection of ornaments, it turned out, is more than that. It is a time capsule. A little gold castle from San Simeon reminded me of our family trip there, a cable car from San Francisco, an Eiffel tower for our Parisian vacation, and Tinkerbell from a trip to Disneyland. The family of elephants circle the tree because Rob so loved them that each year I would buy a special decoration for him. The year he died, I "accidentally" found a little tin elephant with a halo. There were angels and mermaids from my sisters, a glass bee and honey comb for my brother the beekeeper, a clown with an AIDS ribbon reminding me of friends long gone, and at the top of the tree the religious ornaments and the star. Jesus and the gang looked down at me, and my hand-made stained glass window of Mary and the Baby Jesus - too heavy for the tree - stands on a easel next to the computer monitor.

Now, maybe this trip down Christmas Tree Lane would be enough to suffice, but truthfully, it wasn't yet, and there was no way of knowing if Christmas would show up. That is, until yesterday. Christmas came on December 15 in the way of a phone call. Out of nowhere a voice announced itself after a little more than ten years. "It's me, Charity."

You see, about 25 years ago a little two year old girl showed up in our lives. Rob's son Jeffrey (now estranged) came through the door holding in his arms a tiny bit of a toddler with platinum blond hair. Turns out his girlfriend was doing drugs and busted, was now in jail. Jeff couldn't keep care of her and rather than see her go into foster care, Charity came here to live for a while. Rob became "Grandpa" and though 32 years old, I became "Grandma." You should have seen the scrunched up faces of women in the supermarket trying to do the slut-math when they heard her call me Grandma. Off and on for many years, Charity would call this home until her mother would get out of jail - again - and whisk her home with her. Then those teen years came and Charity moved on. Life goes on.

"How are you guys doing?"she asked. I had to tell her that while I was fine, her grandfather had passed away seven years ago. Both of our voices were filled with that gasping for air thing and punctuated with sobs. I could hear in her voice the invisible sound of remorse for time gone by and the chance for reconciliation and renewal gone. "Charity," I told her, "You were the reason your grandpa said yes to foster kids. Because of you and the love you brought into our home, we had 16 foster kids. You did good, kid. You did good."

There's no fooling ourselves that Rob would have loved to have seen the emails that followed our conversation, and the attached family pictures of her four children. There, right in the midst of those three young dark-haired boys was a little blond creature looking just like her mommy did all those years ago. The kids stand in front of their respective Christmas stockings, names emblazoned in silver glitter and in their eyes is the sparkle of Christmas hope.

So, if you're a quart low on faith this year, let me be the first to wish you a little Charity in your life. And with a pint of hope, perhaps our new year will measure up to what we create it to be. Find your own charity, make some calls, reconcile while you can and let's measure up to our potential.

Yes Virginia, if you decorate a tree, Christmas will come. And by the way, that Tinkerbell ornament - Charity bought it at the age of five with her little fistful of allowance and gave it to me to hang on the tree so I could always have a little magic. You did good, Sweetheart. Real good. By the way, if you're wondering, a little Charity is a cool gift.

Nuts and Chews

Here's the deal. I'm a dark chocolate chick. Give me dark chocolate in any combination of fruit, creamy center or nuts and I am there. My mom on the other hand is strictly milk chocolate and "chews." Polar opposites, yet I love her. She will swear to you with all the conviction in the world that milk chocolate is better, and I, armed with the latest research and my passion for all things dark chocolate, will attest to the benefits of dark chocolate and even act indignant at the "opponents" view.

Kind of like tonight. I went to my Monday night haunt - the Italian restaurant where I occasionally sing and depending who you asked about the venue, they either want the TVs louder and the live music softer, or the musicians want the TVs off. Both are vehement. Nuts and chews. Dark vs. light. They're both candy. But bottom line is, which pays the bills? The television/bar patrons seems - oh, so very droll, so I root for the live musicians and the singers. Then I look at the row of empty tables and the broke-ass musicians coming in to play and sing, while nursing a beer costing $3.50, and by the way, the restaurant gave them a coupon worth $4.00 in honor of their "gift" of talent. On the other side of the plastic spit guard/room divider, is a row of loud-mouth patrons hooting and hollering over the football game. Plebeians, I think. Yet, upon reflection, those ARE the folks paying the bills tonight. I hate it. I want the arts to win every time. But complacency is a disease, and now too comfortable to see the picture, the house band pianist shows up with old marinara sauce on his tie and a smirk of imperialism. The folks at the bar don't pretend to give a shit, don't apologize for it, and the truth is, it is they who pay for the lights, Workman's comp, busboys, waitresses, and so on. Both are candy, but one is nuts and the other - chews.

Change! Change! Change! "Turn off that TV and listen to us. " Really? Why? Because your music is so esoteric, so thought provoking, so intellectual? How intellectual can it be if because of its very complacency it sucks the air out of the place and extinguishes itself. Oh, crap. You mean, this wasn't a high school party where we could just come hang out and play and sing and not pay the piper? Truffles cost money. You want the best? Sure you do, but are you willing to pay for it?

The truth is, the really great musicians worked last night and Saturday night too. Maybe even Friday night. Tonight is their day off. They rest. The "jam session folks" come in, nurse a glass of Rose or a cold Coors for three hours, spread their instruments across a clean tablecloth and want a round of applause when all is said and done. Nuts and chews. Is it plausible to think that one's talent is so great that the restaurant should stay open in order to satisfy their high school "jam" sessions which sound more like a practice session? Do I want to get up and sing my ass off? Absolutely. Do I think I should get up there and do it for free - gracing all who come to eat and are lucky enough to find me singing? Yeah, I kind of wish. But the truth is so far from that. And yet I hear others complain, "The owner is cheap." Wow, I think. Let's review. You came in, took up a table, screwed up the linens, dirtied a water glass, left no tip for the help, soiled a linen, kept the lights burning by the very nature of showing up, used the restroom , tp, and soap and still didn't even bring a chart for the bass player, let alone the pianist, and had the nerve to be flat or read your lyrics while "singing" your heart out to no one in particular, because you didn't even think to bring anyone who might order more than the free bread. I guess what I'm bitching about is the air of entitlement I see in so many folks these days. Doesn't matter if its your kids or your co-workers, it's lame, people. The truth is, we all need each other to co-exist in the arts or in the restaurant business in such hard, economic times. And then to hear someone whine that they got $50 for the night; while crappy pay for the "professional," it leads me to wonder what is it that makes that this person's work so much more valuable than the poor woman who stands in her sensible shoes all night long, working the tables or the guy in the back, washing dishes and not a place to sit and take a breather for hours.

While we may all like the candy, some of us need to remember that it costs money to keep the store open, the candy lady passing out the darks and lights, chews and nuts, truffles and hard candies and pay the cashier, the rent, lights, insurance, Workman's comp and so on. Where are you going to get your dark chocolate fix, your milk chocolate high and your nuts and chews if the candy store goes belly up because you want more free samples and walk out with a couple of suckers instead of a pound or two of candy. We have become so of the "let the deep pockets suck it up" mentality, that we are the nuts. Chew on that my fellow singers and musicians who fail to market their craft, press the flesh, engender customers, forget to asks for requests, or shake a hand, asking them to make reservations for your upcoming show. Then we can all sit around and talk about the good ol' days when restaurants had live jazz every night of the week. But we won't be sitting around a white table linen having that conversation, and chances are as this Titanic sinks, there won't be any musicians playing as we sink into the depths of a dark chocolate sea. And all the while you'll be remembering when someone asked if you would like that gift wrapped. No thanks, I'm waiting for my sensible chews.