Memorable

By CASS COLLINS
Posted 12/31/19

Everything I know about celebrating the holidays came from my gay stepfather. At Easter, he showed us how to blow eggs and marbleize them, while other kids used wax crayons and fizzy Easter egg dye. …

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Memorable

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Everything I know about celebrating the holidays came from my gay stepfather. At Easter, he showed us how to blow eggs and marbleize them, while other kids used wax crayons and fizzy Easter egg dye. My Easter bonnet was from Mr. John, milliner to the upper crust. We weren’t rich but that didn’t stop us from being fancy.

Easter was when we got new outfits that we only wore to church. Our baskets were artfully decorated with panoramic sugar eggs and marzipan fruit. Mom made leg of lamb with mint sauce and scalloped potatoes for Easter supper. Step-Dad made floating island for dessert.      

Lacking a strict religious upbringing, our holidays mainly revolved around food, gifts and attire. As Unitarians, we practiced marches for civil rights and against the war more than Psalms and Bible verses.

My most memorable childhood Christmas was when my Aunt Nell called on Christmas morning and I answered the phone. “Merry Christmas,” she said, “It’s a girl!” My cousin Jennifer had been born on Christmas Day, confirming my grandmother’s suspicion that her youngest daughter was the Virgin Mary incarnate.

For many years, Christmas was celebrated at Aunt Nell’s elegant townhouse with its 10-foot-tall windows facing Stuyvesant Square. Greenery decorated the balcony and staircase, and they always had the tallest, fullest trees. Dinner was a multi-course affair, with a turducken at the center. A turkey with a duck and a chicken inside, it was meant to elicit awe, but cooking it always seemed to hold up the meal-time until everyone was either starving or drunk or both.

By the time I had my own family, I aspired to the Martha Stewart model of celebrating holidays. When you think about it, it’s pretty much the same as the gay-stepfather model. It meant weeks of preparation, from making dozens of plum puddings from scratch for Christmas to writing dozens of arcane clues for an Easter egg hunt. I knew I had gone too far in the Martha direction when our 3-year old daughter stopped me in the midst of Christmas frenzy saying, “I got great idea.” “What’s your great idea?” I countered. “No Christmas!”

When a toddler wants to quit Christmas, you know you have gone too far.

We evolved into Episcopalians, because the Unitarian church was too far uptown and St Luke’s was nearby in Greenwich Village. They had multiple opportunities for pageantry, both at Easter and Christmas. Also, they were close to Li Lac Chocolates, which made the best candies.

I did want my children to know the origins of these holidays, however, so I enforced a policy of church services on those two major occasions. I think it only lasted a few years, but it assuaged my guilt at the glut of commercialism we indulged in.

This year is the first Christmas we spent at our Narrowsburg home. Two sons are in Brooklyn, as is the only grandchild. A son and daughter and son-in-law were with us. Aunt Nell is in New England suffering from a debilitating stroke. My uncle George died 10 days before Christmas as his daughter went into labor. She gave birth to a son the day of her father’s wake.

With all that was happening, we never got around to getting a tree until a few days before Christmas Eve. They were out of fresh trees at the Agway, so we bought an artificial one. My step-dad would have been mortified. My daughter made dozens of cookies and I made a simple dinner.

It was a memorable holiday without even trying.

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