December 21, 1998
The Christmas Tape


Working on it, in my usual *piecemeal* fashion. I write a couple of sentences, then I take a shower and burn some toast for breakfast ... sit back down at the computer and write another paragraph, then wander off to watch the news for a few minutes (the local TV *Weather Puppets* are all in a frenzy over those eleven snowflakes that fell on the Bay Area yesterday.)  Eventually I'll get something written ... if I can just sit still long enough. In the meantime, you know the drill: click here to read that last fabulous entry ... and then check back later.

Later That Day:

OK  ...  so it really IS cold today.

Not as cold as it would be in Oregon, or in TicTac  --  as evidenced by my mother's phone call last night, wherein she advised me to "dress like an Eskimo" when I land in TicTac later this week  --  but plenty cold enough for California.  I will grudgingly admit to that fact, as I cram another bath towel into the crevice below the front door, dig the rag-wool socks out of the bottom of the closet and crank the little portable heater to "Inferno" ...

Bear in mind that Mr. "What-The-Heck-Do-We-Need-*Heat*-In-California-For?" has still not called PG&E about having the gas turned on.  So The Castle sorta feels like a meat locker this afternoon. In addition to the rag-wool socks, I am wearing two T-shirts (including the Bob Dylan "If you've got to believe in somebody, believe in yourself" shirt that Shell Pile sent me a coupla years ago), some sort of plaid flannel shirt/jacket configuration of David's and a hideous pair of green leggings (leggings being something I generally try to avoid, just on principle: plus they make my thighs look like dock pilings.)  And I'm still cold.

At least,  I'm cold on the outside.

On the inside, I'm enjoying my annual ninety-minute burst of holiday *warm & fuzzy,* as I sit here and listen to ...

... The Christmas Tape.

Otherwise known as "A Bunch of Stuff I Taped Off The Radio In The 1980's & Have Thereafter Referred To As 'The Christmas Tape.' "

This was a project that began innocuously enough, seventeen years ago. During the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy with Daughter #1,  in early December 1981,  I was wildly uncomfortable, physically, but nonetheless suffused with Christmas spirit.  My husband and I were newly married and didn't have extra money to spend on holiday music that year  ...  basically, we didn't have "extra money" for RENT or FOOD  ...  so I spent a lot of time nestled in the big armchair, right next to the stereo, where I would listen to my favorite M.O.R radio station and tape Christmas songs whenever they played.

By the time we brought our new baby home in the middle of that December, I had one side of a cassette filled.  Bing Crosby. James Taylor. A silly Glen Campbell ("Little Toy Trains") that still makes me cry (shut up! shut up! shut up!).  I got into the habit of popping the tape into my little portable cassette recorder, and recording our 2 a.m. nursing sessions beside the Christmas tree ... complete with her newborn gasps and gurgles and sated hiccups  ...  my murmured comments to her  ..  the song her musical teddy bear played when you wound him up.  A sweet portion of that recording wound up on the permanent tapeage.

The next year I continued the tradition.  More songs taped off the radio  ...  an occasional scratchy album cut  ...  the sound of Daughter #1's one-year-old voice, imperiously demanding juice and attention and a dry diaper, dammit.

The following year, nine-month-old Daughter #2 was added to the *mix*. I had a dual cassette tape deck by then, so I was able to add some songs from cheap Christmas tapes I picked up in the bargain bins. Beach Boys. Bobby Helms. A totally absurd Frankie Avalon that I love for reasons I cannot explain. The tape expanded to two tapes, and then to three.

One year when the girls were ages four and two, I sat at the piano and played Christmas carols while the three of us sang along. This was a gift for my grandmother. I ended up putting many of those songs onto the tapes.

When Son #Only joined the family in 1986, his belligerent little voice joined the Christmas tapes. (His growly "MERRY CHRISTMAS SANNA CAWZZ!" was the highlight of the '87 tape.)

A couple of years ago I sat down to catalog and label the tapes. By that point there were eighteen in all. It ranged from the sublime ("Requiem" ... "Little Drummer Boy" -- many versions ... an incredible Emmylou Harris that still gives me shivers) to the ridiculous ("There's Something Stuck Up In The Chimney," "New Kids Got Run Over By A Reindeer"). It took most of a weekend to listen to them all. I realized, at that point, that I was spending more time cataloging and labelling the silly things than I ever spent listening to them ...

... so I took all my favorite stuff from the bloated "collection" and edited them down to one super-condensed ninety-minute tape. And that is the tape I brought with me when I moved to Oregon a couple of years ago ... and again, when I moved to California this fall.

For most of this month I have stalwartly refused to play the tape. Until this afternoon.

A lot of you know that I am struggling like a madwoman to get through this holiday season in one piece. I'm not unhappy, mind you. I'm happier and healthier and more optimistic about everything than I've been in years. I'm sober. I'm madly in love. I'll be seeing my family in a couple of days. Life is good.

But there is still a lot on my plate right now.  Needing to find a job, for one thing. Dealing with that emotional *baggage* I was telling you about a few days ago, for another. And I figured that the best way to do this would be to totally ignore Christmas. Just sit here in The Castle and work on the job search stuff and write about the weather.  Doing everything, basically, except thinking about the fact that the holidays are right on top of me.

Then (during a moment of weakness) I quite stupidly put The Christmas Tape into David's tape deck. The rest, as they say, is history. I have been a quivering pile of emotional holiday *goo* ever since.

Pouring another cup of coffee ... and hitting "rewind."



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