Tuesday, December 22, 2009

moon light

Christmas is, in my mind, woman’s work. Not everyone does great heaps of holiday work, but when it is done, it seems to me it is done by women. Work that falls on top of regular, nonholiday work. And even though separately, components of work may be enormously pleasurable, when heaped, they can knock the wind out of even the hardiest.

Last night, I closed the shop after one of the busiest evenings ever. Oh, women have been coming in with lists for weeks. They’re finishing up now. Picking up the small items. Lots of stocking stuffers. Men, on the other hand, are fresh on the job. And they’re spending a very long time contemplating whether she will prefer lavender or rose. It’s a new worry, a worry of a novice. Men navigating the holidays are babes in a forest.

But I didn’t need moonlighting in the retail world to understand this. I’ve had years of stuffing stockings (sorry – of helping Santa do this; you know Santa – the CEO of Christmas) and planning menus and buying trees and making sure the tree stand is large enough.

When I first met Ed, I was not surprised that he, the man who wears guy shoes day and night, would have none of it. Christmas leaves him cold. Oh, he’ll tag along and he’ll help me saw off the trunk of the tree if I ask him, but the other stuff, the “girlie” stuff of shopping, decorating, wrapping, of figuring out when the yule log goes in after the cinnamon rolls come out, but before the hens need the oven, of nurturing, worrying, planning – that’s not for him.

Christmas is scary, he’ll tell me, even as I remind him that he hadn’t been terribly scared of it as a boy. (Like so many New York Jewish families that I knew, Ed’s was comfortable navigating the secular aspects of mainstream holidays. I suppose you could say that I came to enjoy holidays in the same backdoor way. The curious thing is that Ed and I passed each other by. My childhood Christmas – modest that it was, became a springboard for drawn out holiday festivities in adulthood. Ed, on the other hand, was happy to leave it all behind.)

In the dark hours of the early morning, I look outside to see fresh snow. I know there would not be time to play in it today, but that’s okay. I allow the noise of the plow out in the lot to slowly wake me up...


Over the years, I have become methodical, organized. As the plow rumbles and scrapes, I think to the day ahead. It’s well practiced choreography. I know what needs to be done.

The snow continues to fall – delicate snow, lovely snow.


By late afternoon, I am back at the shop, helping the men figure out if she likes lavender or rose.


I am at the corner shop. It’s not my evening to work, but the scheduled salesperson called in sick and so there I am.

A young teen comes in. He’s not looking to buy anything; he asks if he can use our phone.

Of course.

He spends a while on the call. He’s obviously upset. He gives back the receiver, then asks for it again.

The shop is full of customers, but I am curious and a little anxious for him and so I strain to listen. I catch phrases about being left behind. About being alone and wandering into a shop to seek out a phone...

He hangs up and goes outside where he sits, slumped in the cold against the wall. I think he’s crying.

The phone in our store rings. His family. I call him over. They confer and then the boy goes out. I see a man walking to him -- surely his father -- and I see him give the boy a great hug, and then another and anther.


My daughters arrived tonight. Reunited with family, with Madison.

Earlier, Ed and I struggle with putting up the tree. It’s always a struggle. One year it was frozen and snowcovered. Another, it was too fat and stubby.

This year we have one that sheds sap and grows sticky, but size-wise, it’s just right.


In the evening, after my work, my daughters and I put up the decorations. One at a time. With care and lots of happy smiles, until all the boxes are empty. The lights go on.

You're the perfect Christmas tree, we say. You can be no better.


We sit back and study the way our favorite ornaments catch the light.