There is something about Christmas that causes me to think about things most of us try not to think about.
More and more it seems the United States is a country that operates on a foundation of lies. We all pretend to be honest and aboveboard. We all admonish our children from toddlerhood on to always tell the truth.
But, for the most part, we are a nation of false storytellers and hypocrites.
Start with Christmas. There is nothing parents of young children enjoy more than deceiving their children into believing things that simply aren’t true. Think about how many lies my parents and grandparents had to tell me to get me to believe that an obese and ancient man could fly around the world in 24 hours, not missing a house where children live, in a wide-open conveyance powered by a team of cloven-hooved ruminants that defy all we know about the animal kingdom, and fly?
…and a fairy with a tooth fetish who somehow knows when we’ve lost a baby tooth and sneaks into our rooms as we sleep to swap the tooth for money?
…and a mammal known as a rabbit, for reasons completely inexplicable by scientists of the world, not only produces eggs, but also dyes them brilliantly and deposits them in candy-filled baskets on Easter Sunday?
Something Joan H. wrote in her current Our Salon post reminded me of one of the non-traditional acts of hypocrisy that was repeated year after year in my childhood.
Back in the 1950s my family was what we would now probably call lower-middle-class. We were just a notch or two above the poverty line, mostly because all the adults in the extended family were employed in some way, but none made much above what would become a minimum wage.
My mother was obsessed with setting us apart from The Others, Those People who were “on the dole.” Even during periods when we would have been wise to apply for a little help from the government, she would find a way to keep the charade going. Come to think of it, I now understand the origin of the concept “beg, borrow or steal.”
Begging and borrowing went on a lot, but only between my mother and her parents, who lived directly across the street. And nobody was actually stealing anything…directly. That would be so unbecoming to people like us.
I did, however, learn early on that there were multiple meanings for some pretty common words …like “hot” and “fence.”
Every so often, a neighborhood guy would knock on the door just after sundown, when the shadows were more plentiful. My mother, who was usually pissed off by anyone who had the audacity to come to our front door instead of the back, would peek through the door’s glass and kind of light up when this guy was on the other side.
The man would have a suitcase with him, as if he were coming to spend a few days with us. But I knew that wasn’t happening! No, he would kind of tiptoe inside and place the suitcase gingerly on my mother’s highly-polished and seldom-used dining room table.
My mother would gaze into the bottom of the suitcase with a critical eye, sweeping over the contents until something tickled her fancy. She would unfold the garment, hold it up to herself to assess its chances of fitting her and refold it. If she put it back into the suitcase, it was over for that piece. The one’s she wanted to keep she would place on the table, near her elbow.
Sometimes I would sidle up to the table while she was distracted and glance at the price tags on the garments. Most of the time, the prices were laughable, as in who-the-hell could afford-to-pay-so-much?
It would be at that point I was usually sent out of the room to do some make-work errand. She couldn’t have her little-miss-perfect overhear her dickering with the “fence” about what she would pay.
Yes, many of the clothes my friends both envied and hated me for were, in fact, “hot.” I always laugh a little when I hear young people today talk about a hot dress or a hot pair of shoes. I’m pretty sure they don’t mean they purchased stolen merchandise from professional thieves.
As much as all these untruths have bothered me over the years, I never even hesitated to introduce the myths of childhood to my own child. I guess, in the end, keeping him from experiencing the magical mysteries of Christmas, Easter and tooth-shedding was too big a price to pay to remain entirely truthful.
I actually think these myths are harmful. I wish I had had the courage to be truthful with my son. He would have enjoyed his toys and his Easter baskets just as much if he knew they had come from Mom and Dad from the start. Wouldn’t he?