I’ve been meaning to tell this story for some time. Partly because it is one of the many tales that explain how it is I ended up this way, and partly because, as of today, March 27th, we still have our wee plastic tree perched precariously on a box of old LP’s by the front door. I was never entrusted with any festive family heirlooms (the hippie wanderer and breaker of valuables gene in me runs strong). So our tree is a glorious random collection of Star Wars figures, Hot Wheels, owls, ever beloved members of the Fellowship of the Ring, and a solitary lonely pickle. The exception being Buddy the Elf. He is welcome to grip his light anywhere and anytime. Even if it’s on our late March 2017 Comic Conzaa tree.
One of my Mom’s ears sticks out more than the others. She says it’s the one that the nuns used to drag her around. None of us children ended up with a wonky ear, so maybe she’s right. We were raised in a somewhat Catholic-Lite with lime style. Baptisms, first communions, confessions, church on holidays, etc. Once we were confirmed and had the Holy Spirit riding shotgun, it was kind of a laissez-faire affair. If you wanted redemption, it was up to you. And you had to walk to church to find it. Plus you had to bring the donation envelope because my Mom said they wouldn’t bury or marry us unless we showed proof of attendance.
Christmas was another story. From the time we could walk, we went to Midnight Mass because it was less crowded and reliably fell in the start to finish 45 minute time span that my Dad could tolerate. All business. Once Pops popped the wafer, he was out the door and had the car running out front to usher us off into the night. The dangling carrot that kept us going year after year? We got to open a present when we got home. Nothing like childhood greed to spark the flames of piety. I would sit quietly through mass hoping that my new pony wouldn’t eat the reindeer carrots. It never did…mostly because it was never there…but it kept me quiet in mass for a few years.
All that changed when, on a lark, my dad decided we could choose from the random boxes and open a gift before mass. I got a 3 pack of white socks (not kidding…but in my defense they were wrapped super fancy). I don’t remember what anyone else got, but Christmas changed when the last bit of wrapping was torn clean from its innards.
My dad’s gift? The VHS director’s edition of Godfather I.
His eyes lit up like our friend Buddy the Elf. He said when it first came out he wanted to lean out of every window and scream “F&*k you world! I’m Italian!!!”. And promised we would want to scream it too. Except we had to find a non swear word. Or say it in Italian so people couldn’t understand. We weren’t raised heathens after all.
And just like that, my dad decided that exploring our Italian roots Coppola style would substitute for Xmas mass.
The following year brought VHS Godfather II. The next year? Godfather III which we all decided had ruined the tradition and we would have been more entertained and/or redeemed at church. Awful awful movie. I fart in its general direction. I’m not entirely sure, but I think the floaters in my eyes are the scar tissue left over from watching Sofia Coppola’s incessant hair flipping. The pattern is eerily similar.
After dinner the next year, my mom handed my dad a VHS tape shaped bundle of gold and silver foil wrapping. We eagerly anticipated and yet dreaded the course of the next few hours. What could it be?
Gentle readers, if any of you guessed The Deer Hunter- I applaud you. And caution that we should probably never meet in person.
As the popcorn hovered seconds before the too burned to eat because too much wine had been poured mark, my parents set up the movie only by saying we would appreciate it because it was set in a town much like the one they called home before heading west. We should know what their lives had looked like when they were young. Plus it had Fredo and Don Corleone in it.
183 minutes. I don’t remember much of anything other than the movie playing and then somehow for some reason they sang God Bless America. I looked around and all of us were in a strange quiet daze. My dad sprung out of his chair, clapped his hands, and announced it was ‘present time’. My sisters’ boyfriends grabbed their coats and headed for the door. My parents laughed and laughed at their candy ass California kids. We skipped gifts that night and all went to bed. I remember my parents still laughing downstairs as I frightfully tried to keep Walken from entering my dreamscape.
The next morning, shockingly, my sisters’ boyfriends showed up again. Everyone was quiet as the gifts were passed out. It seemed strange to open and marvel at a sweater or singing wall fish after that night. We all sat in a circle with an unopened box on our laps and nobody wanted to start the rotation.
And then suddenly there was a tiny murmur. Di di. I looked around. Di di. And out of nowhere my sister’s fella yells “MAU” and slapped the box on his lap.
It could very well have been the fractured remains of my psyche, but I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed as hard as I did that morning. Every tear of paper, every unraveling of a bow, or opening of a box came with a side of Di Di Mau.
For some reason that made it all dysfunctionally ok again.
The tradition lasted as long as the boyfriends did. Once they were gone it was too awkward a story to try to explain to a new face trying to find their hue in my family’s strange off color kodachrome pallette. Plus it really wasn’t funny. Still isn’t. But goddamnit it still makes me laugh.
The next year we went back to the log with songs channel and pretty much stuck with that in lieu of church (except for the year my dad taped the evening horse races over the log so I wrote into the local tv network to get a copy and they fedex’d a tape that I gave to my mom that eve thinking I’d saved Christmas but really it was just a silent log burning for 6 hours).
Another di di story for another di di time….