Monday, December 19, 2011

A Child's Birthday in Chicago

by Julia Buckley

It always starts to feel like holiday time a bit early in our house, because my son, born on December 23rd, starts off the round of partying with his birthday celebration. Inspired by Dylan Thomas' wonderful story "A Child's Christmas in Wales," I thought I would relate some of the highlights of the day that will at some point be merely part of a tapestry of memories in my son's mind, or as Thomas put it "the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep."
It starts with endless cleaning, shopping, and decorating; a harried mother telling her sons to leave their junk off of her tables, to keep their muddy shoes from her floors, to stop wrestling near the tree and jingling the ornaments in a dangerous fashion. And then there is the laying out of food: cheese and crackers and organic apples from Trader Joe's; little tangerines in tall glass containers; chocolate-covered cherries and almonds in candy dishes adorned with angels. And then there are the main courses: Italian sausages, browned to perfection with green pepper sauce, and a tray of mostaciolli with meatballs. Giant loaves of Italian bread and sliced Artisan loaves, which my youngest son could not stop sneaking away from the table.
There are sliced melons and fresh strawberries and a cheese round crusted with cherries and almonds. There are candles everywhere, because candles have always meant celebration in my family. This is the house before the party, and before the chaos.
My mother, all but silenced by her battle with aphasia, still loves to sing and hear music, and my son and his cousin Dan, fine musicians both, surprised us all with a lovely guitar and ukelele version of Silent Night which was particularly beautiful.
Here is my lovely mother, sitting with her youngest niece Pammy, loving the music and the chaotic jubilation around her. Luckily today's music is the beginning rather than the end, since we'll be singing all the way through the New Year.
This is a time of Christmas-like anticipation, and Ian has become used to a Christmas tree as a backdrop to his growing older. It is a time of joyful antics, including trying the Santa hat on both cat and dog.


Dylan Thomas wrote "There are always uncles at Christmas--the same uncles," and this is true of Ian's birthday as well. There are Uncle Kevin and Uncle Chris and Uncle Bill (and sometimes Uncle Jim), and below Uncle Bill shows his avuncular support by creating an i-Phone flame in response to his nephews' impromptu concert.
Thomas wrote of "the useless presents," which were also the most fun. Somehow, inexplicably and much to everyone's surprise, the false mustaches emerged just as the party was winding down, and the family paparazzi responded to this fine display of faux facial hair and ironic haberdashery, perhaps inspired by their immigrant ancestors (in their case, both Irish and Hungarian).
The beagle, worn out from the barking which dominated the first half hour of the party, has only energy left to beg for sausages at the foot of the table. As usual, he is fed more than is appropriate, and will sleep like a small brown log all night long.
Ian, who solicitously helped his grandfather set up his Kindle, who poured hot coffee for both of my parents when their mugs were empty, and who appeared to take their coats the moment they walked in, now basks in his pile of presents, his company gone. The King of all presents is a new guitar--an Ibanez, transparent blue sunburst acoustic/electric with an on-board tuner--and he is playing gentle tunes as we all flop on the couch and content ourselves with the knowledge that he is seventeen now, nearly adult but still our son and here with us, and healthy: the best of all gifts.

And so this day blends with all the other days in our memories, and as we drift off to sleep tonight in what Thomas called "a close and holy darkness," we will be glad for the chance to observe these rituals which remind us what family is for.

43 comments:

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Wonderful, Julia. I love A Child's Christmas in Wales. Somewhere we may still have an LP record of Dylan Thomas reading it himself in his rolling, sonorous voice. Your line that the dog "will sleep like a small brown log all night long" is worthy of Thomas himself.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Liz! It really is one of my favorites, and I watch the PBS version every Christmas.

Sandra Parshall said...

Sounds like your family does things right, Julia. Your kids are lucky. I'm not sure the pets feel all that lucky when they're dressed up for the occasion, but in fact they are fortunate to be part of a happy household.

Julia Buckley said...

We have our moments. :) But this does tend to be a happy time of year.

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