Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The What If game...

Thanksgiving, 1987.
Top row(ish), left to right: Uncle Jim, Cousin Scott, Aunt Janet, Dad, Nana, Mom, Karen. Seated: Jenny, me.

If your family is anything like mine, you must start thinking about Christmas over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Of course, once I got out on my own, I bucked the family tradition, and got indignant at the commercialism associated with the holidays, and generally trudged through December out of obligation and fueled by the promise of cookies. Cookies are my favorite food.

Part of the reason why I dragged myself through December was that I always had to go someplace else. The holidays are much more special if you can remain in your jammies a bit longer, curled up on the couch, hanging with your dog. I never got to do that, because I was shocked awake by the morning shower, and the need to wrap some last minute presents, and then load everything into the car, on what is usually a very cold morning, though here, seldom white. Also, I think my poor mom had a very unrealistic concept of who we were as people, and thought she'd be able to have a holiday similar to what was pictured in say, Martha Stewart Living, even though she never read that magazine. But instead of the storybook holiday, where the family gathers around the fireplace to sing, or admire gifts, my sisters and I played the extreme holiday version of the "what if" game, where we'd force each other choose which kind of parasitic infection we'd prefer, botfly or tapeworm, and why. Or, we'd have to make the hypothetical decision to have sex with a grossly unattractive man or a beautiful woman, to find out how far we'd go before turning gay. One year, we played a variation on the board game, Taboo, but we didn't bother to pull out the board; instead we just used the cards. In one memorable exchange, my sister Jenny looked down at her card, and grunted in disgust, and exclaimed, "UGH! I HATE this person! HATE!" And we had to guess who she was talking about, and I raised my hand excitedly and said, "Demi Moore! Demi Moore!" And Jenny said, "YES!" And Karen said, "I hate her too!"

After all of these holiday guessing games, my mother would inevitably leave the room, disgusted. Once, she dramatically tossed her cape over her shoulder and demanded, "Come on, Mike, we're leaving."

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving. While we were growing up, my dad had a ridiculous habit of getting up way too early on the weekends and singing songs he made up himself to irritate us out of bed. Since he was a man of music, he always chose the holiday music on Thanksgiving morning, and I remember hearing Andy Williams down in the living room, and it urged me out of bed, way too early, of course, but at least it wasn't an irritating made-up song. No offense, Dad. And he'd pull the tree out of the attic — or we'd get a live one over the long weekend — and spend the day decorating it.

This year, without my mother, and with a new baby, I am filled with many conflicting emotions about the holidays. My mom, with her unrealistic expectations about this season, was a time bomb set to explode around 11 a.m. on Christmas morning, but WOW, I miss her. These days ahead feel empty without her. And at the same time, it's so exciting to watch Matthew discover his world. Glen came home with a new Christmas tree over the weekend — an enormous 9 foot dealio, with lights built right in; he put it together and we admired it, with no decorations, for a good long while, and Matty seemed intrigued by the tree. Or the lights. I'm not sure which, and he's not saying. Even though the cast of characters is different than in years past, it felt strongly like family, and really good at that. I'm really looking forward to starting our own family traditions with Matthew.

So, as much as it pains me to hear Christmas music in November, I'm happy to crank up the carols for the sake of my boy. And I miss the old standards — Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, et al — so I spent some time this week buying some of that music from iTunes.

And then I remembered another music service I've used in the past, Magnatune. Magnatune is a music label that splits the proceeds with the artist 50-50. And you can listen to everything online, just to listen; or you can listen before you buy. Really a cool company. What's best is that they are home to some talented musicians, many of whom aren't heard on regular, commercial radio. And I hate commercial radio because radio commercials are so freakin' stupid; of all the advertising in the world, radio is the worst. Plus, Magnatune has this great new deal where you can sign up for a membership — as low as $15 a month, though I believe you can set your own price even lower, if you need to — and you can download all the music you want. Awesome. So I signed up, specifically in the hopes of finding some new, unique holiday music. I'm nostalgic for the old standards, but I'm not a fan of the holiday crap that's played on the radio these days. So, I decided to poke through Magnatune's vault for some alternative/world holiday music, and there's not tons, but they do have plenty. I downloaded Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroek's Christmas Carols album, which is filled with lush, rich viola versions of all of the classics. I also snagged Cheryl Ann Fulton's The Airs of Wales, which isn't specifically a holiday collection, but is festive and evokes an image of an Elizabethan holiday banquet.

There's a lot of other great stuff in the Magnatune library, too. So, check it out. I'm looking forward to having a new soundtrack for a new chapter in my life, though I hope my sisters and I will continue to play "Choose your parasite" for all of our holidays to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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