I have established an odd connection with Christmas Eve and Frankenstein. In the early 1980s, a black-and-white Frankenstein movie was on television for a couple of years. I’m not sure it was actually on Christmas night, or a few days before. I remember specifically the part where the deformed assistant drops the correct brain, the glass shattering when it hits the floor. Then he goes back and grabs a criminal’s brain so that his boss doesn’t get mad. This might not be the right storyline—I’ve never read Mary Shelley’s book—but that’s what I remember from the film. The moral of the story is that you should keep more than two brains on hand, or that you should store the criminal and non-criminal brains separately, or that you should hire a more reliable assistant when you are reanimating corpses.
My family decorated our television with two angels that my great-grandmother, Minnie Ingraham, made out of old dish soap dispensers. She glued glitter on the bodies and attached heavy paper wings.
I loved lying in bed at night during Christmas, when my parents were still up and the tree’s lights arched through the crack in the door—you could never close our bedroom door all the way—and the lights flickered on and off. It’s one of those memories that makes you want to believe in everything—that there is a purpose in every little detail.
Some more cynical folks might say that Christmas is only a good time to waste electricity with all those useless lights, and to watch a tree in your living room slowly die.
We always bought real trees, or cut them down from a road ditch. Sometimes we purchased a pine from the rows at the front of Hy-Vee. I met Santa Claus for the first time there.
Then Christmas was over and the tree came down. Its absence was depressing. I associate it with fire. They used to show educational videos on television about what happens if you don’t water your Christmas tree and leave it up for too long. At Mike’s Barbershop just off the square, Mike kept old pistols, pop cans, etc. to decorate his shop, and he had a poster up—it seems like it was during Christmastime—for the Drew Barrymore movie, Firestarter. Then, one of the days after my parents removed the tree from the living room, leaving brown needles in a circle on the wood floor, I watched a movie about a forest fire. I learned that fire is bad.
Then our bright Christmas tree’s brown skeleton got tossed over the west fence.
But before that, there was a little time of music and light. When I was in elementary school, my favorite carol was Silent Night. We used to play it in Mr. Jackson’s music class, in the lunchroom. I heard that when someone was dying of cancer, the family sang Silent Night together. I can understand completely why. My brother’s girlfriend owned a cat, Maddie, and he used to sing Silent Night to the cat—in meows. He called it the Maddie song. Grant was the one who told me about the family that sang Silent Night in their loved one’s hospital room.
At home, a few evenings every year we would turn off the overhead lights and that song would be in my head as we admired the lit Christmas tree. Gradually, more presents gathered beneath. My mom made many of the ornaments. One was a red bird with white stripes, which I took for show-and-tell in Mrs. Johnson’s kindergarten class. Eventually, when I became decorator of the Christmas tree, this dove found its place at the top, every year, just below the crown and the star. My mom still remembers, and it’s in its proper place this year. The star stopped working after a while, but I continued to place it on top until my mom threw it away. There was also a store-bought plastic A-frame manger scene that had become somewhat sacrilegious, as Mary was at some point in storage decapitated. I still placed it on the tree for sentimental reasons. I believe we still have it stored somewhere. I would hang it up if I knew where it was.