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January 12, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 02
 
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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Cold and Solstice
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

A COOL YULE IS CRUEL
Here it is Christmas, that time of year when many of us feel the need for soup and toddies and companionship; then again, after the terrible windstorms we had recently, hot anything and any kind of warmth is likely to be more attractive than at any other time in our lives. The Northwest is an area where camping - roughing it - is supposed to be such fun, but doing without electricity and heat for day after day after day, is no fun at all when it isn't voluntary.

One gift a lot of us are hoping for is the comfort of nice boring weather and city conveniences. This may not be anyone's favorite Christmas, but I hope that folks at least have some happy memories...

THE THIRD BEST TIME
In 1970, a snowy year in Bloomington IN, I had my first calm Christmas. Up to that point I had been used to a season often suffocating - despite the parties and school projects and gift-finding of course (and my father's general gloom) and the wonderful music, in which I didn't mind religion - it often felt false being Lesbian and hearing all this enforced love of family in which religion had written me out. Then too, there was something else.

As a child it had been the music I had looked forward to at Christmas, even above [most of] the presents. Hearing the Messiah, my heart would nearly burst... but at ten I had to realize that what I loved in this season in the churches and temples was music. That what I had actually believed in was music, not in God. Here too, I felt the pressure of being false.

And then came the Christmas of 1970.

Not counting the decade before the Civil War, there has seldom been as sharp a divide between generations as existed then, and that year, with the idea of Christmas vacation came the realization that many of us students didn't want to visit old BackHome. For one thing, many of us in that first era of Gay Liberation had Come Out to our families -- who were determined, by and large, to fix us again. Then there were the outright fights over Vietnam, which led to many straight kids staying around. Home represented contention, and we suddenly wanted to be comfortable among ourselves. Ten inches or more of snow fell, and we were able to stay exactly where we wanted to.

That turned out to be the last season the University would decorate. The old limestone buildings wore trees and wreaths; their colored lights made rainbows on the snow. The bars and restaurants welcomed us in a way that our families would not have been able to do; Gay friends and I walked hand in hand singing carols -- and show tunes, naturally. "Counter-culture" students sang and drank with us. They warmed a little toward us, and we found a few more things we had in common.

SECOND BEST
And then there was my first Christmas out here in the Pacific Northwest. Then-Lover and I were years from any idea of parting, we had close friends living across the street, our closest friend was expecting, and we would finally be able to be together both Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Every Christmas before, I had gone for a while to my parents' house. Some years Lover had gone to DC to her family.

But the Northwest wasn't so bad a place to celebrate. My favorite bar, the Crescent, was decorated with such awful taste it seemed sweet and naive, the way children's lopsided snow flakes look on Christmas trees. Unlike most of my working life, I wasn't employed somewhere in Medicine, so I wouldn't be scheduled to work till my job reopened. I cooked to my heart's delight: vanilla walnut cookies, kugel, ma'amuls, rich foods of all kinds. I invited everybody we knew, unaware of this region's dislike of visiting (as the city's grown, this tendency has lessened).

AND BEST
The best Christmas I remember was in the fifties.

I remember it as in general a lonely time; my father had been on strike all fall and we were starting to feel the pinch. I was told there would be very little for Christmas; it was understood that the little kids would have to get Santa Claus things. We had a tree, but few lights; we did make cookies and such, but we had moved far from our extended family and we didn't know anyone. And it didn't snow.

I was as prepared as an nine-year-old could be for a joyless Yule. I thought I'd get underwear and a book or two. That night I was unenthusiastic about another Union meeting.

But it was for strikers. There were yams and potatoes and meats and pies and cakes; the heavy benches and tables were vividly made up and there were clowns and red-faced servers who just loved kids. I was high on sugar cookies and Baptist eggnog when a large package abruptly appeared in front of me. The hall was bright and mellow and the food was rich and good, so I didn't tear the present apart till another kid tried to take it: it was a Lancelot doll, something like nine inches high. He had complicated armor, saddle, shield, arrows and lance and a handsome sexless horse. It had never occurred to me to like a doll-like thing, but now that I actually had one I was passionate -- dressed and undressed him for battle, fed and watered his horse; I galloped the thing all over my brother David. The nicest thing I would get that year - and from strangers.

On the way home, even Ohio looked nice.

EPILOGUE
This season inspires us to draw together and celebrate. It's not just because of the dark of winter; not just the various holidays, though both contribute. This has become a family time of year, and some of us find ourselves locked out of that.... Let's not play. Let's make overtures toward our folks, of course, but remember that where we live is now our Home. We have the right to make traditions that fit our way of life. All we have to do is embrace each other; and if we haven't already, to redefine what family is. (And what our pleasures are.)

'Tis the season, Mary. Joyous season to us all. Here's hoping your electricity comes back on.

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