Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas 1955

Christmas 1955 - I was seven years old and my little sister was age two when this photo was taken of our Christmas tree and all the loot underneath it. My Dad was a veteran of WWII, he had just gotten a good paying job as an engineer and we had moved out to the San Francisco suburbs only a few years earlier. My Mom was the stay-at-home kind.

The motivations for practicing Duck-and-Cover drills at grade school were beyond my comprehension; I was living in total middle-class heaven. Needs I didn't even know I had were met with excess. I could look through the Sears Catalog toy section and be reasonably assured that some of those treasures would end up under our tree. The only downer for the season was when I opened a gift that turned out to be a shirt or sweater - I felt gypped.

I must have gotten an new bicycle every-other Christmas. The toys were always cool - Erector sets, Tonka trucks, Lionel train, even an Atomic Canon once. These things made up for my Dad drinking too much on Christmas Eve and my Mother going to be crying. I took the toys in my room and played by myself with the door closed. These were times of excess - materialistic and alcoholic... and everything in between.

My parents struggled. My mother went to a psychiatrist and took Milltown. My Dad drank. There were no marriage counselors (other than the Catholic priest) and no self-help empowerment books. My parents foundered in guilt, self-pity, anxiety and cruel words between them.

A Christmas of "stuff" never really seemed to make up for it, though it did provide escape. I wasn't able to truly escape until I went away to college. And even then, I had to return home during Christmas break. Nothing had changed.

Today my wife and I spend practically nothing on Christmas; we don't buy gifts and we don't even attempt to compete with the other grandparents showering our grand kids with toys. We put up lights on the house and a lovely Christmas tree... it even has an angel on the top. We Atheists celebrate the holiday like most everyone does, with family and friends and good food, wishing for peace on earth and good will toward us all.

27 comments:

Rain said...

My husband and I quit giving gifts years ago to each other but we do give to the kids and grandkids. I enjoy doing that although this year we won't get to see them open their gifts due to other family responsibilities. I don't believe in the holiday as such and do more decorating with a Solstice theme as that's the biggie to me-- every day from now on will be a little longer ;) We are over the hump even though our weather won't really show it for a few more months.

Rubye Jack said...

God Robert, this is a rather melancholy post. I'm close to your age and probably share a common history what with all the drinking and I even remember Milltown. My parents decided to get a divorce on Christmas Eve in 1963 after my dad didn't come home for a couple of days. Isn't it funny how we atheists still need to believe? No, the stuff never did compensate.
Thank you for being real.

History Doc said...

Coming from good Jewish stock, we don't do trees or decorating. We just get everyone together and have a fabulous meal and enjoy our last few years together, before they all spread to the winds.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain We've tried to give gifts to our grand kids, the other grandparents (or parents) beat us to the punch. After a couple of duplicate gifts, we just contribute to their college fund.

rubye I had other pictures from my past I sorted through before deciding which one to post. My parents didn't divorce... instead they stayed together and continued to ridicule and hurt each other until one died of cancer.

On the other hand I found a way to enjoy alcohol without having it ruin my life and a second marriage (26 years) where we are still so much in love it brings tears to my eyes. She's in the kitchen at this moment making food for the family who arive tomorrow. Even an Atheist can be "blessed".

Doc I was under the impression that Jewish folks went out for Chinese food on Christmas! Enjoy your family, my friend... whatever the meal you choose to share together.

Kay Dennison said...

I can relate to your Christmases all too well.

I tried to do better with our kids.
I still call myself a Catholic but I'm not particularly devout in my practice anymore. I've always been a questioner (and got my knuckles rapped in school more than once). I don't think that will ever change. One thing I thank my parents for is teaching me to respect others' beliefs or lack thereof. My late cousin (the irreverent altar boy and my partner in crime) used to say, "Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer." when we were in college and foolish. He was always my reminder not to take it all too seriously. I miss him and need him today.

You are blessed to have overcome your parents' legacy and I applaud you.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay You always have something sweet to say in your comments. Thank you.

Many of the Atheists I know are former Catholics... But that frequency is probably not indicative of anything as it's a very large denomination. And yes, there was a time I believed I would have another beer also. :)

And yes, my parents provided good examples of what NOT to be. They were not bad, just flawed; and during a time in recent history where the way to deal with problems is to ignore them and pretend outwardly that everything is OK. We know NOW that this doesn't work. The next generation gets to learn from the mistakes of the previous.

Paul said...

Merry Christmas Robert and Happy Hanukkah. :-)

billy pilgrim said...

1955 was a very good year!

my father and his brothers who grew up in the depression always had excellent parties at christmas. dad's accounting clients always showered him with liquor so all the guests at our parties got rip roaring drunk. those were the days. i miss those days.

Sightings said...

I read that back in the 1800s when people first started decorating Christmas trees, a lot of devout Christians objected to the idea of cutting down a shrub, bringing it indoors and then worshipping it. They thought the whole thing smacked of pagan ritual.

But I'm with you. Whatever your belief -- I myself am not so sure I believe in God, but I DO believe in Santa -- a Christmas tree is a festive focus of the season.

Tommykey said...

Many of the Atheists I know are former Catholics...

I'm another one of those ex-Catholics turned atheists too.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul Thanks, Paul... but you forgot Kwanza.

Billy I remember my parents having Christmas parties when I was a kid. I had to go to bed, but I would always listen through the wall. I remember them being like something out of "Mad Men".

Sightings There are still people today who feel the Christmas tree is a Pagan ritual... but then they also think celebrating Halloween is "satan worship". People should lighten up, life is too short.

Tommykey Yeah there was something really medieval and dark about Catholicism when I was young. No one did more to turn me away from religion than those very unchristian Nuns.

Antares Cryptos said...

Peace on earth would be nice, good food with family and friends is plenty.
Wish you and your family the best.
2012 will be a very busy year, we have much to debunk;)

Jerry said...

Somehow through all this (including the Lionel Train that I remember so well) it seems that you have found a comfort in life...maybe it is that knowing yourself thing.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos The debunking never ends; and with an election year coming up... [sigh].

Jerry I still have my Lionel locomotive, I ruined the rest of the train when I was a kid. I was tough on toys. But I have assembled a complete train around the old battered loco. It goes around the Christmas tree every year.

secret agent woman said...

You just don't hear about Miltown anymore, although there is certainly widespread dependence on the benzos that followed. Sad to me how quick we are to medicate as a distraction from the real problems.

This atheist LOVES Christmas. But I shy away from the focus on shopping and focus instead on the joy and peace aspects of it.

Snowbrush said...

Robert, you and I have much in common. We're only a year different in age, are atheists, don't spend much money at all on Christmas, and spent a lot of childhood hours looking at Sears catalogs.

You were sent to a shrink, suggesting that your family had more money than mine and that you lived in an area that had shrinks (rural Mississippi didn't). Also, you were Catholic, while I grew up Church of Christ (an ultra-fundamentalist church), and envied the Catholic kids because they had prettier churches and little statues on their dashboards.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent As cautious as I am around medications, Alprazolam has been great one or two nights a week when I can't find any other way to attenuate the chatter in my head exacerbating my insomnia. Is Miltown still prescribed at all?

Snowbrush If you have seen the TV series "Mad Men" then that is like a page out of my youth. Mom was stay-at-home, wore dresses around the house, took Miltown and saw a shrink. Dad commuted to SF on the train, we lived in the burbs. Dad eventually went to Mass only on Christmas and Easter. Mom was Episcopalian so there was seldom peace in our house. We did have a St. Christopher medal in the '57 Chevy, though.

KleinsteMotte said...

Robert do you not think WWll played a roll in the drinking issue? My belief is that any war has a very negative influence on those who were in combat. I used to hear my dad talk of the horrors he saw and how much he hated about what went on. Our Christmas time was kept fairly special. But the rest of the time after my dad's death(1962) was pretty tough. My mom just kept herself drunk and even tried suicide once. She finally reformed her ways in 1976.
That bike looks huge for a 7 year old!.

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte I do think that WWII era and 1950's culture put a lot of emphasis on alcohol. We are watching the "Mad Men" series on Netflix about the 1950's-60" advertising executives and there is a lot of drinking going on. It was pretty much the drug of choice during that period. I believe you are spot-on!

Snowbrush said...

Why was there conflict over religion if your father wasn't religious? Was your mother religious?

Murr Brewster said...

I was really hoping you'd have a picture of your solid pink flocked Christmas tree. Sounded like petrified Pepto-Bismol. Merry Christmas, Robert. I still wave in the general vicinity of your daughter's apartment (I think) when I'm walking that way...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Snowbrush This is a long story and worthy of a blog post itself. But briefly: My mother (or perhaps both parents) were required to sign a document stating that any children will be raised Catholic. When I was young my Dad took me to Catholic church (when he went) and I had to go through Catechism to be "confirmed". Both experiences were big turn-offs for me. I then started to go to mom's Episcopal church, much lighter and and more friendly. Still, it was church.

However, my Mother never went to the Catholic church and my Dad never went to the Episcopal church. There were any number of marital issues that came up between my mom and dad, a lot of blame and recriminations hurled at each other... the difference in religion being one of them.

My Dad's family dispised my mother for not converting. When my dad died, his Catholic sister (my aunt) was out for the funeral. As everyone left the grave site, my aunt told my mother that Dad will spend time in Purgatory because my mother did not convert to Catholicism. We never had any contact with my father's side of the family from the day he died.

Murr Somewhere I have 35mm slides of that tree! I just need to get busy and scan those slides. There must be a bushel basket of blog material on those old photos. Yes, Kara's condo is right across the street from the Catholic church on 9th.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Merry, Merry Christmas, Robert. Sounds like your adult holidays are much better than your childhood celebrations.

Snowbrush said...

Funny how people can fight over a religion that they only marginally support, if that.

Cognitive Dissenter said...

I remember experiencing that Christmas letdown as a kid along with the emotional distance. At some subconscious level I knew even then that the materialistic side of Christmas was all emptiness.

My husband and I are like you. We have everything we need and want. We put out a little garland for the pine smell and enjoy the warmth of family, delicious food, a little wine and great beer. We've never had Christmas so good.

Jayne said...

Robert- I always appreciate how you get right to the heart of a matter. (That tree, with its tinsel and garland, takes me right back.) My husband and I have a $20. limit for each other at Christmastime. But I think even that is too much. And though we do not have the means to get the kids anything their hearts desire (not that we would, anyway), I'm beginning to feel they still get too much. I consciously don't get items they ask for (even if inexpensive), to be sure they understand that this is not what Christmas is all about.

Kids make Christmas special, but after the paper's been shred and excessive amounts of empty boxes are laid by the fireplace for burning, one tends to get an empty feeling. It feels so much better to pare it down.

Wishing you a happy 2012, Robert. Peace. :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn My childhood was not all innocence lost, but yes I am quite enjoying my adulthood.

Snowbrush I think my parents used religion more as a weapon against each other, a way of encouraging divisiveness between them. Yes, it is sad.

Dissenter I know, I practically feel "Un American" buy not going into debt to support the Consumer Economy each December. But I refuse.

Jayne We have noticed with our grand kids (their parents and other grand parents shower them with gifts) that they appreciate each item less, it's just another toy. This year one of my grand sons played with a toy all day that he got LAST YEAR!