When my Mom was pregnant with me, her father died of a malignant brain tumor (We're pretty sure it was caused by a leaky gas mask at Allied Chemical where he was a chemist testing mustard gas.) At the same time her mother was institutionalized for senile dementia at the age of 47. It wasn't diagnosed as Alzheimer's until the autopsy.
It is because of this that I was Momma's littlest baby (at 6.5oz)and that Tommy became a blurrily titled family member.
Technically, Tommy is my uncle but he's always felt like an older brother to me. He always defended us and never turned me in when he busted my cousin Shannon and I smoking cigarettes at the age of 13, walking down Hertel Avenue.
When Brian Hogle ran over my sister's legs as she sat on the curb drawing with a stick in the dirt, he hung him by his collar from the lamp post across from the street. "You dangle there for awhile and think about what you did"* he told Brian, walking away.
I also remember my sisters and I leaving a note announcing we'd "run away because Uncle Tom was mean". The missive informed my mother if she wanted to talk with us, we were all hiding out behind Jennifer's bed.
That introduction now in place, I get to the point of the story.
Uncle Tommy or just plain Tommy, depending on my mood and level of sentimentality, is an avid reader, obsessive watcher of C-Span and a West Coast Progressive activist.
We have hour long chats usually once a month wherein I'm informed of depressing current event topics I've missed. (I go through periods of activism followed by apathetic depression due to a feeling of overwhelming powerlessness.)
Throughout the conversation I make notes of articles I should read, books he recommends and random websites or cd's to look out for. I tell him about my illustrious comedic career and this Christmas, my disturbing inability to muster up anything that could remotely pass for "holiday spirit".
It was my intention not to buy any presents this year except for my nieces and nephews - both real and extended. However, I always spend Christmas at my brother's house and he and Nicole were not about to let me have a presentless Christmas. And of course, I couldn't leave Kelson out of the loop, as I enjoy our annual Christmas celebration more than most of the seasonal hoo hah.
The list kept going and soon my AMEX balance was $2200. So much for not spending too much and excercising some degree of self control.
I usually make gifts each year and the time spent making them is usually the part that makes me feel "Christmasy". So it could be that my lack of creativity this year submerged my holiday feelings even further. It could be that I was anxious as hell about the debt I'd racked up in two months time. It may even be that I spent most of the holiday season thinking that this could be my last Christmas with my mother. Whatever it was, I just couldn't wait for the whole thing to be over.
One of the points of interest in my last conversation with Tommy was about the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
Perhaps my lack of seasonal creativity coupled with the ever changing environment of my hometown (now dotted with Kmart, Walmart, Target and Walgreen's)was part of what depressed me this year. I also found myself only putting forth one third of my usual gift giving creativity as I resorted to thoughtless generic sweaters and fuzzy outerwear.
The Reverend Billy has me thinking about my failed attempts to embrace Buddhism and my inability to stop feeling like if I only had this or that... I could do... or I would feel ...
None of these objects - no matter how coveted, expensive or seemingly necessary is going to give me the answers to my questions or fill me up in the way I need most.
I'd like to dedicate this year to the spirit of Reverend Billy and his mission to help us reclaim the things that are most important. Self sustained communities with individual character, fair wages for workers and a return to gift giving with meaning.
Wow, convoluted Sunday morning rambling...
* paraphrased due to lack of memory.