This was turning out to be the kind of holiday that Dolly Parton would have called "a hard candy Christmas."
Dickens got it right when he wrote A Christmas Carol. Ghosts do not haunt us at Halloween nearly as much as they do at Christmas. Every Christmas, we are haunted by Tim, who stole a dozen dinosaur ornaments from the Museum of Natural History so that we would have a Christmas present. Every Christmas, we are haunted by Nurse Vivian, who may have given me that recipe for apple pie, but never did tell me the trick for getting the cream cheese cookies out of the cookie press. Every Christmas, well at least for the past two Christmases, we are haunted by Nana, who bought us so many gifts, that even two years after her death we haven't finished opening them up (this is a true fact: there is still, in our garage, an unpacked thirty pound copper unicorn weather vane that still remains in its wrapping).
And two days before Thanksgiving, Qp passed away, thus taking the last bit of estrogen out of the Bungalow of Lost Boys. This is how the holiday season started for us. And then Zane got expelled from the James Lick Middle School. And Aidan developed a sleep disorder, so we have one boy who cannot stay in bed, and another boy who cannot stay in school. In fost/adopt class, they do not tell you about the thousand heartbreaks, the ten schools your sons get kicked out of, the holes in the wall when you son digs through plaster with a spoon, the bonfire set in the bathroom sink with toilet paper, the ring that your grandmother wore being given away to a ten year old, the pencils in the microwave.
Brian (Papa) loves Christmas almost as much as Nana did but this has been the kind of Christmas that would make the herald angels panic. In thirty years, this is the first year that Papa did not take the Christmas picture.
This week, all four of our therapists cancelled. What are the odds? Were they really all that sick, or had they just figured out a few days before us that our theme song had become "If We Make It Through December"?
But haunting is not always so bad. Not really. Sandwiched in there between Tim and Nana and Nurse Vivian and the Pekes (Miss Grrrl, Diva, Wolfcub and Qp) there was Grandpa Harold (Hap).
Sometime in the early 1960s, Aunt Mildred, who lived in Glendale, just northeast of South Ozone Park, decided to take a holiday crafts class. Her sister-in-law, Nurse Vivian, joined her, and so the two of them learned how to make a snowman out of dry cleaner bags, and a Santa Claus out of back copies of Reader's Digest. The last project was a Christmas card holder, and it was made out of felt, upon which were sewn beads and sequins in various shapes (holly leaves, Santa stars, angels, reindeer...) Aunt Mildred finished hers in ten days, but Nurse Vivian struggled. She was raising three difficult sons at the time, Brother Not X, who never did what he was told; Brother X, who had he been born fifty years later would have been diagnose as ADHD, and me, who was, well, frankly, a nelly queen in a family of decidedly straight Irishmen.
Nurse Vivian never did finish that card holder, but for reasons that remain obscured to either the sands of time or alcohol, my father, Hap decided to finish the project for her. It wasn't too dissimilar to the beaded belt projects that he had worked with the Cub Scouts on, and mysteriously, the guy who climbed telephone poles for a living got the whole thing done. Everyone liked it, even Aunt Bea, and my father began sewing beads and sequins onto felt.
Hap was underrated for his creativity. He was the only man I know who could write about the Battle of the Bulge in rhymed couplets, and he started designing card holder for others, and then Christmas stockings. He sewed stockings for Nurse Vivian, and Brother Not X and Brother X and me, and all the aunts and uncles in the family. He did the creative part. Nurse Vivian took the felt cloth and sewed it and backed it, and made the whole thing into a stocking.
You knew that you were a Paulson when you got one of Hap's Christmas stockings. As Brother X and Brother Not X got married, their wives each got a stocking, and as Brother X sired Daughter of X and Son of X, each of them was bestowed a stocking.
You can say all you want about gay marriage, but really, the moment that I knew that Brian had made it into the family, was the year that Hap sewed a stocking with the name "Bri" No one has ever called my husband "Bri" other than Hap, but there was a chrysthanemum and a church sewn onto green felt and I knew that Hap was as all right with my marriage as he was ever going to get.
Hap developed macular degeneration in his eighties, which meant that there were dark spots in front of his eyes. In 2003, Papa and I began the grand adventure called family, and Hap, living in an assisted living community in Saint Petersburg, Florida, went into action. Papa and I had taken in newborn triplets, and you all know the story of Vivienne and Joshua and Kyle. They moved in with us in April, and the first Christmas of their lives, Grandpa Hap was determined to make special. He could no longer see well enough to thread a needle, so he paid his next door neighbor a dollar a thread to thread a dozen needles at a time for him, and he sat in Room 222 (which he called triple deuce) and sewed and sewed and sewed, and each of them was given a stocking. The night they took the triplets away, the social worker refused to take the stockings with her, so somewhere in our basement rests the cloth of our dreams.
Grandpa Hap died a few years ago, almost exactly as he had predicted, dead in bed at 93. Of course, he had predicted that he would die in bed at 93, shot by a jealous husband, and although that was not quite how the event worked out, that is, in fact, the story we will one day tell our grandchildren.
That year I realized that there would no longer be a Grandpa Hap to sew stockings for his grandchildren. Family means keeping the tradition going, and in our case that meant that the Dad had to start sewing. Oh, I may regret this by the time that I become Grandpa Kip, but the month that Grandpa Hap died, I started sewing. Never good with beads and sequins, despite being the gayest of the Paulsons, I began to work in needlepoint. Why needlepoint? Why not? I liked it, and it was, mathematical in its beauty.
I just said that it was unusual for a man who climbed telephone poles to sew sequins, so I guess that it is not that odd for a Sheriff's Captain to sew needlepoint. Only I never realized just how complex the project would be. Ten thousand stitches. Ten thousand stitches. Took me a few years (Papa says four, but, frankly, I have lost count.)
Maybe it was that last ghost: the ghost of Normal. This was the year that Brian and I both gave up on Normal, that our lives would never ever be like the Hallmark movies, that the victories raising two challenged and spirited boys would always be small victories. For us, three minutes of order would be all the victory we would have in a year of chaos.
Zane had an almost perfect "F" average before he was expelled from James Lick Middle School Ruining that perfect score was one single grade in English. Mr. Brody, the English teacher, asked him to write an essay about Zane's own experience, and this is what he wrote:
Zane’s Christmas Memory
Sometimes the meaning of family can be found by something as small as cinnamon rolls. This story takes place in a royal blue home, somewhere in the southern part of San Francisco. The people involved are Dad, Poppa, Aidan and Zane, and the dogs. But that is not where this story begins. It begins in my crazy alcoholic birth mother’s womb. There was no happiness there. This story is about me getting adopted by two loving gay men.
My birth mother was a drug addict who left me in the hospital. She did not care if I was dead or alive. I was put into a foster home after my birth father was arrested for trying to rob a liquor store
When I was ten months old, I moved in with Dad and Poppa. They loved me and cared for me and taught me how to walk. Later, Aidan moved in with us, as well as the rescue dogs
My family taught me the meaning of love and care for those who are different from us. Love is expressed in little ways, like trips to Disneyland/Disneyworld, camping with friends and baking cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Christmas is very special in our family. We invite all of our friends over the Sunday before Christmas to sing and play and help decorate the tree. And on every Christmas morning, Dad bakes cinnamon rolls, just like Nana did when they were boys.
That is what family is really about, not the people who gave birth to you, but the people who love you. Cinnamon rolls bring people together, people like two orphans, a gay couple and four pekingese.
by Zane Fisher-Paulson
This was the only A this semester.
But this week was the week I was determined to finish. Not entire sure why, after it already took me years, I was determined that this be the year.
Papa, God bless him, took over Nurse Vivian's role and sewed all that felt together, and yesternight, while the boys watched White Christmas, I finished the hand sewing. Turns out that just like Hap, my eyes are starting to go, but thanks to the very strong bifocals and equal determination, the stockings are done. And now both Zane and Aidan have a felt needlepoint stocking that is filled with a father's love. Let's hope that wives and grandchildren do not come too quickly.
For those of you who live on the West Coast, this is as close as it gets to an invitation to the Ornament Party. You know we are not the kind of queens who do invitations. Here is what we do: on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, we go out and get a couple of boxes of cheap red wine and we mull it. We put up a tree on the porch, and friends come over and decorate that tree. And take the ornaments when they are done drinking mulled wine (or mulled cider). Our friends who like better wine usually bring it. Uncle Quentin, at some point in the evening, says, "Do you mind if I play the piano?" And somebody sings Silent Night. And someone sings White Christmas. And by the time that we get to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" I look like George Bailey in the last scene of It's a Wonderful Life. For us this is tradition.
May your Christmas be filled with cinnamon rolls.