Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Weepy Stuff

By Cornelia

Like most of the people who parade around pretending to be hardboiled cynics, I have a soft weepy core of pure sentimentality.

I remember my mother's boyfriend Drayton--a major butthead if ever there was one--could be relied upon to start leaking tears the minute he tried to recite the words to a poem about a little baby "with eyes of blue" or something, that had hung on the wall of his nursery as a child.

Now mostly I hate Christmas carols, especially the incessant Muzak kind that gets piped in freaking EVERYWHERE, like you're wandering around the set of Brazil, for God's sake,

but give me a good rendition of "Silent Night" and I'm an instant puddle of lachrymose goo. This is because it immediately puts me back to being four years old, at the night-time Xmas celebration at my first school, Mahala Pua, a tiny Waldorf place near Hawaii Kai and Koko Head on Honolulu.

We had Father Christmas there instead of Santa. He was tall and skinny in long red robes, and gave us all oranges, and walnuts that had been painted gold. I still have my walnut.

The teachers built a spiral of white candles in the middle of the floor, starting with tiny ones at the outside tail and building inwards until the center candle was roughly three feet tall. Each kid in the school walked up to the spiral and lit one candle. The room was dark beforehand, and everyone in it started to sing that song as we solemnly walked along bearing our tapers. Frau Kudar, my teacher, sang "Stille Nacht" in German. I can remember how the plumeria blossoms of our leis smelled on the warm night air. Talk about Verklempt.

I was probably wearing this muumuu at the time,

and we were all barefoot. That's best thing about going to school in Hawaii--we only had to wear shoes on field trips.

Like the time we went hiking here:

When I went to boarding school, I got imprinted with a double-whammy on the whole "Silent Night" thing. Every year before we went home for Winter Break, the whole school gathered in an old house on campus called Estherwood. It had a rather grand double staircase, with a balcony around the second floor of the whole entry hall. Freshman and Sophomores stood on the floor beneath this. Juniors stood on the stairs, and Seniors looked down on everything from the balcony. We all sang carols by candlelight, and even at fifteen "Silent Night" turned me into a veritable ball of snot, thinking back to when I was four. Now I think of both.

Here's me on the staircase, during the annual "trunk show," when we got all dressed up in old school uniforms for the alums. This was a gym costume from the Twenties, complete with knickers and black hose.

They used to do the same holiday ceremony when Mom went to Dobbs in the Fifties, only in her era they'd also play a recording of Loretta Young reading "The Littlest Angel." We had a copy of the album when I was a kid, and listened to it every year on Christmas Eve. Our vinyl version is long gone, but I found a copy of the book several years ago and read it to all the grandkids on Christmas Eve. Or tried to. I got about halfway through and was so weepy I had to hand off to my sister.

This year, I tried to find a copy of it online. There was an MP3 sample I listened to yesterday, which I had to turn off before she even finished saying "he was exactly four years, six months, five days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes of age when he presented himself to the venerable gatekeeper and waited for admittance to the glorious kingdom of God." (click to hear sample).

Just remember that the next time I fictionally whack off somebody's head with a chainsaw, okay? It's embarrassing.

So, what horrifically sentimental stuff gets you all worked up, especially this time of year?


  1. I completely lose it at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, when all the Whos hold hands around the Grinchily denuded Christmas tree and sing their "we love Christmas" song.

  2. Being a Jew, I don't choke up about Christmas. The smell of latkes crisping and crackling on the stove, the Hebrew hymns you sing after the candles are lit, the sting of your cheeks pinched by relatives--now those I remember with a lump in my throat.

    Christmas was always sort of awkward, like everyone else was going to a party that not only weren't you invited to but you wouldn't be allowed to go to if you were asked. This is not a figure of speech; my sister quit the Brownies in 2nd grade because they had to go caroling. At my yeshiva, when you accidentally slipped onto your knees as a transitional thing between sitting and standing, everyone noticed and teased you.

    As a wild teenager, I celebrated Christmas at my friend Linda's house and I can remember once being dragged back from the festivities to have Shabbas dinner with my grandmother, who was never to know what I had been doing. This was the same year I wore cross earrings and my mother smacked my face saying "Do you know how many Jews have died for that symbol?"

    Not to be a buzz kill or anything, guys.

    ANyway, when I grew up and married a Gentile, we celebrated Christmas for a couple of years (unbeknownst to my parents, I might add). It turns out to be a lot of work to make a holiday special with no family and no traditions of your own to draw on. So it was a big relief when my husband decided to convert and insisted we give up on Christmas. Being almost 3, my daughter's main concern was, of course, "Will I get fewer presents?" Within one month of the decision, she was saying about Christmas decorations, "Don't these people realize it's not everyone's holiday?"

    That year we instituted a new family tradition of going to the Big Apple Circus for Christmas Day. Come to think of it, that's the thing about Christmas that makes me choke up.

  3. Luminarias.

    Charles Brown's "Cool Christmas Blues."

    My sixty year old cousin still referring to the guy in the manger as "the baby cheeses."


  4. There are times I think your upbringing was so must have made it up.

    "Frau Kudar, my teacher, sang 'Stille Nacht' in German. I can remember how the plumeria blossoms of our leis smelled on the warm night air."

    I also think "Lachrymose Goo" would be an excellent name for a rock band.

  5. Knowing how often you and i have shared weepies (I'm sure half the people here know this one - you're not even half-way through the email and you're sniffling at something she said, and vice versa), i so totally HATE this time of year, that i have to stand back as the person who is least likely to get get weepy. I HATE this time of year, big time. Do NOT like. The weather sucks, I'm not Christian (and insert here the 20 second version of "and Hanukkah is really a minor holiday" which we recite annually, Stu to co-workers (even those he's worked with forEVER as they forget. They forget Jews don't do Easter either.) (and I'm a really bad Jew.) and I hate plastic and muzak (which is arguably a form of plastic), which increasinglly fills the air - in stores, at the coffee shop, aieeee. Feel like I'm wearing my iPod 24/7 lately in self-defense against Perry Como attacks and children's choirs chirping "Little Drummer Boy" in painfully high ranges.

    don't get me wrong, i'm super weepy about some things. If I read about oh, say, someone deciding to build 150 houses in the Ninth Ward (famous or not, thank you, Mr. Pitt) I get sniffly. Hearing that version of "Oh, Holy Night" they played on "Studio 60" and which I downloaded, makes my heart soar. But mostly? I'm getting lachrymose waiting for it to be over! I'm not having fun, so I try to stay out of everyone's way.

    Paul. "Lachrymose Goo" is the opening act for the next Sad Anorak tour. How'd you know?

  6. I could read about your life growing up all day long.

    I'm a sucker for all things Christmas. TV shows from the Grinch to Rudolph. Carols from choirs to Perry Como. Decorations, good cheer, kids, Santa, Jesus, ANything fom the season.

    And this is the best time. Just starting.

    Thanks Cornelia.

  7. Well, this is what's so weird about Silent Night making me weepy. I HATE Christmas. Can't stand it. I would like to shoot out all the speakers every time they play Little Drummer Boy anywhere, anytime. I can't stand the decorations, especially big plastic creches on people's lawns. I don't even like the food much. Candy canes: feh. Like old toothpaste that's gone hard.

    Even as a kid, I far preferred going over to Jody Richter's house for dreidels and latkes (and I make a MEAN latke in my old cast-iron skillet, let me tell you. Heavy on the sour cream and applesauce, too.)

    I really need to get my act together and convert at long last. Ari's husband and I can hang out together and be the self-hating WASPs.

  8. In high school I memorized the entire The Littlest Angel book and recited it in front of the Eastern Star lodge ladies.

  9. Oh, Patty! I'm so glad I wasn't there. I would've needed a barrel of Kleenex. But I bet you were brilliant.

  10. You would have needed Kleenex, all right, because you would have been laughing really really hard.

  11. In Australia, guaranteed to make any one of us weepie is The Seekers singing their hit "Morningtown Ride". I grew up on it, as did the generations before and after me. A few years back, The Seekers reformed and played this song at the Myer Music Bowl Christmas Carols right before Christmas. Tears were streaming from almost every eye in the audience was teary, and parents sang along,singing it to their kids. Standing ovation and encore had thousands sharing in a moment of absolute togetherness that was unparalleled. I wish I'd been a part of the audience that night. The song is a rocking lullaby, and I recall golden afternoons, the Moonshot, dancing with my mum in the kitchen to the radio, and big Christmas day homecooked feasts at my grandparents home. My Grandma's Christmas pudding was huge and hung from the kitchen ceiling for a month before it was then reheated and eaten. My dad still misses that pudding...

    The other song that brings me to tears is Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys" - about two brothers who joined up in World War 1. the soaring finale just about breaks your heart.

    Contrary to that, Rolf Harris' "Six White Boomers" is a must listen for me every Christmas to remind me of home. Listen to it if you want to find out what Santa does when he gets to Australia...


  12. Imagine ....

    you know the rest.

    And because my Dad loves it, Nat King Cole singing, "Chestnuts roasting by an open fire" can also get me going.

  13. This is so cheesy but here it goes:

    There was a commercial on TV a couple years back...might have been for Folger's coffee. This soldier sneaks into the door of his childhood home early on Christmas morning and a little kid comes down the stairs and he whispers "don't wake them up." Then he goes in makes coffee, which brings the whole clan clomping down the stairs. Hugs kisses, blubbering etc.

    I got so I had to leave the room whenever it came on.

  14. Oh yeah...I forgot.

    The roll-credits ending of the movie "Love Actually" that shows real people filmed greeting each other at airports.

    I love watching people at airports.
    Especially during the holidays.

  15. PJ, I remember going with my mom to the airport once to pick up a friend's kid who was visiting in NY. We watched 27 planes debark, and Mom cried every time. Then we found out the kid had missed her flight.

    I still love Mom for that.

  16. We aren't Jewish but the founder of the church my crazy parents joined read his bible and concluded that Christmas was a pagan holiday. It was wierd not celebrating it when everyone else around you does and hard to explain. I got a lot of crap about it at school. One kid was really horrified that we didn't have Christmas.

    Fast forward to adulthood and my
    sweetheart of over 20 years loves Christmas, thinks it's the best holiday of the year--decorates the house (both inside and out), watches every X-mas movie on TV, and basically wholeheartedly embraces it.

    Honestly, I preferred not celebrating it--going to the movies, having lunch at a Jewish Deli, or taking a walk while everyone else was stuck with their family eating turkey or ham. Those are my best X-mas memories. But we all make compromises for the ones we love, eh?

    I can't hear Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven without tearing up.

  17. When the bell rings and Clarence gets his wings in the last scene of It's A Wonderful Life. I watch it every Christmas Eve as I'm wrapping and taping in a panic and I have to stop when I get all hiccuppy and drippy.

    Can't wait.

  18. Almost any story on NPR from "This I Believe" can make me cry.
    The TV commercial for Dog Food that sounds like it is narrated by David Duchovny and shows sad shelter dogs in cages just destroys me. Any Animal Planet/ Animal Cops show on cruelty and neglect of animals. From childhood, Born Free and The Sound of Music, super schmatlz & cry fests.
    Christmas-- hate it hate it hate it, but will allow for Jimmy Stewart and Charlie Brown music and spindly little tree.
    Still annoyed I can'y buy CRAZY SCHOOL unti AFTER the obligatory gifing day is past. Silly marketing C.! MBH

  19. Oh yes, that little sad tree of Charlie Brown's. Grew up on that one as a kid. Heartbreaking when he puts that big ornament on and the tree flops over. Then, the sound of Linus' voice telling the Christmas story.

    And of course, Silent Night. At the end of my high school's Christmas pageant, the chorus would sing it softly outside with two-part harmony in French. Magical to sing it and to hear it from inside.

  20. Dude! We had an old Victrola (the type you wind up by hand) at this old farmhouse where we spent summers in Minnesota. My sis and I listened TO THE SELFSAME RECORDING OF THE LITTLEST ANGEL.We had no TV or radio so our only entertainment was books, and winding up the old Victrola till our arms were sore. We must've listened to that LITTLEST ANGEL recording every July for years and years and years. Only we were missing some of the records, so we never did learn how it turned out.