Chasing Down the Muse: No Scrooge in the Doty household

Bah! Humbug! For days, the words of irritation and disgust just kept echoing in my head at the oddest of times. Was I being haunted by old Ebenezer himself? What was this? Did I too believe that Christmas was a fraud?

I went for a walk to ponder the questions and, hopefully, clear my head of the negative message. The fragrant smells of a Christmas tree lot wafted on the breeze as I passed, bringing long-ago memories to the fore.

In my childhood home, preparations all started about two weeks before Christmas and built from there. Cleaning came first, and from top to bottom, the six of us — parents and children alike — began in earnest to turn our home into a place deserving of the holiday decorations and the visitors to come.

Rugs were rolled up and taken out, furniture was pushed back to the walls, and, on hands and knees, the floor polishing was begun. First, we put down the wax in a circular motion with clothing rags. Then came the part we each waited for with much eager anticipation.

Our father would get out an old pair of flannel pajama bottoms and, starting with the youngest, each of us would sit on the wide hip part of the pants as Dad took hold of the legs and pulled us around the floor. There was absolutely no pattern to this shining of the floor, for it was truly all about fun. Being last was excruciating, as I saw my father tire, but I always got a turn.

As the oldest child and the one most interested in the decorating, I sought to enlist my siblings in creating magic in our house. As the baking smells began to emanate from the kitchen, we would gather up whatever we could around the house and yard to create small shrines to the holiday from our own imaginings.

A round mirror came off the wall to become a skating pond in the center of the large oak sideboard. Cut juniper and toyon berries became bushes and trees around the edges of the pond. Ceramic figurines became skaters that whirled and twirled on the "ice." Toy dogs, cats and even the occasional cowboy or zebra were added to the mix. A pasty glass cleaner became the "snow" needed to complete the scene.

This was only the beginning. We would go on to hang branches and berries throughout the house. Humming Christmas carols, teasing each other with "You'd better watch out" warnings and tasting the many cookies and candies being prepared added to the festive feeling. There was no tree yet and presents were wrapped and stashed in the back of closets and cupboards, but we were oh so ready.

At last, Christmas Eve came. We would hang our father's long black socks on the mantle and set out cookies and milk for Santa. Then, with giggles and poking at each other, we would all head upstairs to snuggle down with those "visions of sugarplums dancing" in our heads.

On Christmas morning, gathering in the upstairs hallway, the four of us would knock and enter our parents' room to jump on their bed with shouts of "Now! Now! C'mon!" Finally, they would acquiesce and rise. We waited at the top of the stairs until one or both of them said, "OK, you can come down now." Oh, the tension!

Turning the corner at the bottom of the stairs, crowding together as one, we would peer into the living room, breath held.

Aaaaahhhhh! Santa had not failed us. He had brought the Christmas tree, and there it stood all aglow with lights and dripping with silver tinsel. The year's presents had come out of the closets, and there was some wonderful surprise from Santa himself for each of us.

Christmas a fraud? Bah! Humbug to that! Christmas is made up of the memories that come with the smells and the sounds and the colorful twinkling lights.

I hope for my grandchildren the same delicious memories — simple and pleasure-filled — for some distant day. I am thankful for mine. After all the "goods" are long gone, these memories are what last.

Here's to your own joyous holiday memories, however you celebrate and wherever you may be.

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer and director of the Sawdust Studio Art Classes in Laguna Beach. Always fascinated, inspired and titillated by the beauty and the ever-changing mysteries of life, she can be reached at cherril@cherrildoty.com or by phone at (714) 745.9973.

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