For as long as I can remember, which is more than 60 years, I’ve been both excited and disappointed when Christmas rolls around. As a kid growing up in Queens, New York, I was excited because this time of year meant the snows were coming and the sled runners would get waxed and there would be plenty of hot chocolate after several hours of long downhill runs on 21st Ave., out in the cold. It meant school was out for 10 to 12 days, so freedom was here. It meant presents were coming, and we were going to have stockings full of cool stuff and cousins from Pittsburgh were going to visit for a few days. It meant we were halfway to the next summer and a real vacation.
Of course, the snows didn’t always come, so the sleds didn’t always get used. And the presents were almost never what we –– my brother, four sisters, and I –– asked for. We’d ask for a horse all year, but it never showed up. We’d ask for new Schwinn bikes, and our dad would instead buy used ones and clean them up. We’d ask for new dress shoes and instead found our own shoes under the tree, spit polished to a high gleam, but still our own shoes. We’d ask for a dozen different things each, and we’d wind up with a few of them and a new ping-pong table to be shared by the whole family.
And then one of the relatives would always show up with one of those rock-hard fruitcakes, damn it.