The ghost of Christmas screen presence
What is Christmas in 2021? Dickens was the Disney of his day, and he colored it in 1843 with familial nostalgia, an allegory of greed versus giving, and the weight we each must bear for the chains we forge in life. It was both secular tale and Christian parable. All that, and Tiny Tim, plus an enormous fowl whose fate was less upbeat than the Cratchit family at their feast.
All these years later, and the Hallmark Channel mines movie after movie in the spirit of the season while Christmas cards still pepper a trace of snail mail, but most of us have gone over to digital greetings if any. With each holiday, I have watched my pile of cards, once the joy of our mantel, diminish until they are but a trickle tickling the mailbox from diehards such as I was. Like Scrooge, I have given up the ghost, and forsworn the cards. It’s lonely at the bottom.
What I can’t give up on is people. I am a notoriously bleeding-heart Christmas tipper. Once a year is not too often to let people know I appreciate their efforts, whether it is delivering to my door the morning papers — yes folks, good old print hot off the presses, that’s how I still roll, digitally turning the pages — cutting my gray hair with fond remembrance of when it was dark, picking up our garbage or helping train my wayward body so I don’t sink into the sofa. In an oft thankless world, I give thanks for such dedicated toil.
Yet you who know me, at least through these columns that pin my thoughts to the page like Nabokov’s butterfly specimens, realize that I have waxed a bit sad recently due to my mother’s passing. She would have hit 100 this month, and my newly orphaned status is a twilight zone in which I visit in dreams my mom and dad. I see them in the stars, in the rain and the corners of my brain.
When shadows fall and we watch for the umpteenth time “The Grinch” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I miss the days when presents lined the tree and the morning brought the boys surprise and joy.
Yet it still does, providing that we awaken on the top side of the dirt. My father began his days by scanning the obits in The New York Times and congratulating himself on not being named in their number. His answer to every “How are you?” was “Tired of living, scared of dying” and, like Ol’ Man River, he finally rolled along to Arlington National Cemetery, where I visit to chat with him of a Christmas morning amid the thousands of wreaths laid there.
If we join the reformed Scrooge and remember Christmas in our hearts, we cannot go on as a nation as we have done. Biden still can’t get seniors’ teeth and vision into bare Medicare, while the price of everything soars, so infrastructure bills and billions won’t save him. We vote our bodies and our wallets. We’re failing our kids in school. Perhaps I’ll teach. I’m nothing if not pedantic. We need to shake up what has been baked into our civic institutions. Gerrymandered districts guarantee a House rout next year, and the Supremes are anything but.
To keep from pondering the ponderous state of affairs, I lie back and enjoy the Montana ranch machinations in lemony tart “Yellowstone,” particularly taciturn Kevin Costner and his acid-tongued daughter, played to the hilt by Kelly Reilly, scarred facially and psychically, and giving more than she gets. Her best lines are not repeatable in a family newspaper but, trust me, you’ll get a kick out of them. You’d wish her on your worst enemy. I don’t feel so bad about not having a daughter.
And if you want to really dive into a latter-day Western, there are more than 200 episodes on Netflix of Alberta’s “Heartland,” enough to satisfy the cowboy or cowgirl in you long into the new year. Its lovingly fractious family ranch is awash in horsepower. Another season drops sometime in 2022. It’s Hallmark to the nth degree.
Although the final Bond entry with Daniel Craig promises “No Time to Die,” you know about Hollywood promises, dontcha. I’ve written before of the Jamesian Bond imprint on my boyhood. So I braved COVID fears and bought a ticket.
I got teary in the near-deserted movie theatre not just for the film’s denouement, but for the loss of a lifelong routine of moviegoing in a streaming era. “There is a march of progress; but who shall beat the drum for its retreat?” Thus spoke the epistolary Charles Lamb in 1830, prescient shepherd that he was.
Brush up on your Dickens, and they’ll all kowtow. Modern Christmas still starts there.