a required taste for the pretentious as all get out





christmas, 1983
December 25, 2002, 3:15 pm

It was, singularly, the greatest Christmas ever. The tree twinkled under the weight of the sophisticated ornaments that I had made in my kindergarten or at Brownies; my sister's ornaments were cute, in that preschooler way.

She was sitting under the tree on the right side, the side closest to the door. That's where all of my things were placed Christmas morning. In her yellow box, there was no mistaking who she was: mine. She had long brown hair in two thick braids; she was in a sweatsuit like she had been exercising. She begged to be pulled from her twisty-ties and cardboard.

Her name was Jeannella Tiffany (birthday November 1st); I would later, in honor of my mother's best friend, name her Jeannette. I thought it suited her much better than Jeanella.

Jeannette has been to Scotland, Canada, England, Hong Kong, and Puerto Rico. Jeannette has endured every bed I've ever had, including college. Jeannette has been through every boyfriend with me, with a limited change of clothes or hairstyle. She was the perfect Christmas gift in a year when she seemed IMPOSSIBLE to find. Not only did I get Jeannette, but the Official Cabbage Patch swing, tea set, and a few outfit changes. My sister also got Nicolette (birthday October 1st), who had light brown hair and hazel eyes.

Never mind that my father hadn't had a job in almost six months when Jeannette showed up under our tree. He had to work at Erol's video store and a meat-packing plant (night shift) to make ends meet. My mother was still only working as a P.E. teacher part-time because there weren't any jobs for specialized teachers then (a far cry from now).

My parents scraped EVERYTHING they had to give us that Christmas. All official Cabbage Patch doll merchandise at the height of its popularity...I wonder how many angels were looking out for them when they got those dolls...and to get ones that looked like us!

When I look at the pictures from that Christmas, I notice that the present piles are smaller than they were in subsequent years; the nightgowns my sisters and I were in were from the year before, and the looks on my parents' faces are mixed with joy and relief because my sisters and I had no idea that anything was wrong. Santa had visited us because we were extra good, we thought.

We had no idea we had that Christmas because my parents needed for us to feel safe.

This year, my parents went above and beyond the call of Christmas duty. I can't recall us EVER having a Christmas as lucrative as this one, and we haven't. I opened more presents this morning than I think I've ever had a right to, and it feels nice, because this is what they've always worked for: a beautiful huge house, tons of presents, and all of my family together at Christmas.

I may have gotten the most stuff this Christmas, and it is nice as it's our first in our new house, but it's too easy now. And although I do appreciate my good fortune with every inch of my soul, there's something beautiful and haunting about the Christmas we almost didn't, couldn't have. The Christmas that through their sheer determination, hard work, and pride my parents made magical for us.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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