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Zan Thompson

It's Time to Give Santa the Hook

February 07, 1988|ZAN THOMPSON

The rain on Tuesday flattened the plastic holly garlands and soaked the red bows. I meant to bring it all into the house the day before and stuff it in a large plastic bag. Now I can't because it's wet. In the meantime, whoever comes to the front door will conclude we are even more eccentric than they thought.

The holly and the bows were festooned along the front walk and looked properly Dickensian for the recent holiday season. I cannot really tell you that we are unusually late in taking down the Christmas stuff, but we almost always have it down by the first of February. This year we were only a couple of days late.

We leave everything up so long because it takes a week to put it up, and besides both Patsy and I enjoy looking at the tree and seeing the lights sparkle on the ornaments, ancient and new.

We had four trees this year. I must tell you that they are all fake trees, which I never thought I would come to because I always thought they were in the same category as plastic flowers. Of course, even those are acceptable now. But when my friend, Barbara Maple, a true traditionalist, bought a phony tree, we decided to try it.

Fake trees have no fragrance but the last couple of real ones we had didn't either. They had been hauled out of the forest along about Labor Day, and were so dry that a heavy breather could have caused them to combust.

I have ornaments that go back to my childhood and to Tim's childhood and some awful World War II ones that grow more precious every year. A couple of them are small, clear plastic balls with gum pink stripes and the hangers are cardboard. And there are some figures which are made of wax. They are no longer figures. The Santa Claus ornaments are just blobs of red and white wax, owing to their 11-month sojourn in the attic. But I put them up as carefully as the shiny, gauzy new ones.

They remind me of Christmases from 1942 to 1945 in that grim little house a block from the theater where I had to move when gas rationing came in so I could be near work. I am reminded of the Christmas box I sent to Doug in Europe, which held a tiny ham and some cheese for which I had used all of my red ration stamps. I also used Galt Bell's stamps because he was the director and producer at the theater, a rare human being and a friend of Doug.

After the war when Doug was home, he told me that a truck had delivered his Christmas box to him in a foxhole on the front line on New Year's Day. And the next day was the Ardennes breakthrough in the Battle of the Bulge and he didn't even get to open it. They left things behind when the snowy field in front of them was full of German soldiers in white jumpsuits yelling, "Die, you Yankees."

Bill Windom, fine actor and good friend, said, "Zan, did you ever think that the German kid who ate that ham was as cold and scared and lonesome as Doug?"

Bill was in the European theater, too, a paratrooper, and he has a jeep, a real one, painted olive drab and bearing the numbers of Bill's company stenciled in white on the back bumper. He bought it last year when it was announced that the old classic jeep would not be made anymore. He drives it because it delights his actor's soul.

And that's why the melted wax ornaments go on the tree--for all the young men who missed a couple of Christmases playing a horrible game called war. It is small and niggling of me to resent that Christmas box and to bear a 45-year-grudge.

We buy at least one new ornament each year. This year, it was a fine lion I saw in a catalogue. He is about 4 inches tall, stands upright and wears a long red robe and holds a small lamb. He also wears a wreath of greenery.

Now that two-thirds of the ornaments, animals, garlands, wreaths, bells and ribbons are back in the boxes, taped and labeled, we are going to snooker some kind young man into putting the boxes back in the attic. There are at least 30, including the great big one that holds the creche Doug bought for me one bright day in La Paz. It's a three-margarita creche because it took that long to convince him that we could get the unfired clay figures home unbroken. We did and the creche is displayed every year in the entrance hall on a walnut chest of my mother.

There is a large plastic sack of ailing strings of lights which will be carefully returned to the attic, not that they'll ever light, but Patsy said, "We always save those lights."

And so we do. The boxes are all stacked and piled along the walls in the hall, forcing me to walk sideways down the hall, like a lady sidling along to find her seat in the dark of a theater.

I'm glad the next holiday is Valentine's Day. We only have two boxes of stuff for that one.

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