As a child growing up in the seventies to mid-eighties, my life experiences were varied for someone of my humble beginnings. My friends were of all races, public access shows like Sesame Street and Electric Company actually helped me in early school years and because I was only child, I was forced to think of creative ways to occupy my time.
When it came to the holidays, my kids’ newsletter, pretend marriage to whatever teen idol was hot at that moment and other things from my own make-believe world came to a halt. This pause would go from mid-November to early January and though I was happier to have days off from school, nowadays I wish to bring back those childhood memories just one more time.
In no particular order, my mother or grand mother and I would make trips around different parts of Los Angeles, usually to other family members and friends who were like family. Some houses were elegant with color-coordinated holiday fixtures that cost more than my tree at home (these were also the households that served adults champagne and their dressing contained oysters), other homes that were more earthy smelled of collard greens and pork and sometimes had a small, plastic tree in the corner (this tree was there the year before, in the same spot with the same decorations).
The real finale to the holidays was going to visit my great-aunt’s home. Compared to Beverly Hills or Malibu, the houses in her neighborhood were just large, ordinary places that might have a double-garage and guest house attached. Yet it was during this time that all of the homes went all out with outrageous lighting schemes, never-ending decorations and religious holiday themes displayed on their homes and front lawns. People would come from all over Los Angeles County just to get a look and take pictures. It got so popular that where it once took less than 10 minutes to get to my aunt’s house, it now took an hour to arrive and find parking.
Now my aunt’s driveway filled rather quickly before dinner was even served and being that they were pretty well-off, made getting seconds mandatory – even if you arrived later. Of course, if you came too late you could look forward to getting read (or just embarrassed) before all who had the stamina to stick around for more than a couple of hours. See, my aunt was a tall, sturdy woman with a loud mouth that carried a sharp tongue and even after she had a stroke, was very perceptive to all things around her. She once yelled for five minutes at her grown son, a police officer, because of the way he led grace which sounded like he was speaking another language it was that fast. Then there was my openly gay cousin who always had to wear the new 70’s fashions (it was like a Black Elton John showing up), accompanied by whoever he was dating at the time and just being who he is. This could be doing the latest dance steps, dishing about Hollywood or defending his right to live as a man who refused to be tucked away in a closet. Then there was another man, whose name I don’t know to this day, who sat in the same spot with his bespectacled face and moving from side to side, like he was at a tennis match, while steadily chewing and saying very little that didn’t have to do with church. My other family members had different ways about them as well but it was quietly understood that it was just they way we were as a unit – regardless of shade, income or sexual orientation.
After a while, what may have been perceived as different behavior turned ugly as we all got older and though the love for family didn’t die – the desire to be around one another diminished slowly. Around the time that my aunt became seriously ill, others had left our social circle due to relocation, misunderstandings or even death. Around this time, I was in college and someone who entered my immediate family, who was already the polar opposite, insisted on healthy alternatives for holiday meals, discussing politics and playing Trivial Pursuit. My aunt passed on shortly after and things were never the same again. Everything from extended family dinner invites, drive-by meals and Thanksgiving courtesy of the local supermarket have persuaded me to create my own unique holiday traditions.