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It’s that time of year …

when the world falls in love …

The velvet voice … Frank Sinatra

And it’s also the time of year for Ralphie

There’s a good reason so many of us have fallen in love with this time of year. Time to watch A Christmas Story marathon, to catch thirty days of Holiday movies on the Hallmark channel. Time to dust off my copy of It’s a Wonderful Life, drag out the CD’s and tapes … hum and skip through the rooms like a fool. Even when alone, I am true to my calling … a total Christmas chestnut.

Speaking of nuts … they never fall too far from the tree and I am certain that Norman was a distant Italian cousin.

This was posted three years ago and for me it never gets old. Enjoy another of my Christmas archives.

A Christmas Tree Story …

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There they were … my dad and the big guy … shrugging into flannel and wool … off to buy the tree.

She went to the door and called after them. “And don’t pick the biggest one this time.”

While my mother made more Christmas bread or cookies, the middle one tortured me with the existence or non-existence of Santa, the knowledge of whether I’d get that one special gift or just because he was the middle one and felt compelled to torture me. I’d duly whine or kick and after an hour of ignoring us, someone got the wooden spoon on the leg.

“Ah, Ma. That hurts.”

Then it started. The two big guys would lumber through the front door with the closest replica of the tree at Rockefeller Center a Brooklyn dad and son could find. It took forever to get the darn thing up three flights, turned through the door and put to rest on the kitchen floor.

Of course, it was always too tall. The hack saw was produced,and with jackets and flannel shirts stripped off, they’d start hacking from the bottom.

The big guy handed off the discarded branches to the middle one, “Make sure to save the longer branches in case we have to fill in.”

After the first hour, the stand was attached and the next round of negotiations and ruminations began with a complaint from my mother, “I just waxed that floor.”

The big guy stopped. The tree held suspended in one hand, the other hand holding the floor for ballast. “You knew we were going to get the tree tonight,” he said. “Why did you have to wax today?”

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A short dialogue in two languages, a loud protracted huff from my mother, and the tree was ready to stand upright … it’s tallest branch brushing the ceiling. “Don’t worry, Ma. I’ll trim that down a bit.”

It was a real tree. A real smelly, messy, beautiful tree. Not the artificial nightmares of the fifties that looked like petrified tinsel, not an anorexic horror that resembled green pipe cleaners directing traffic.

No, we had the real deal. And the real deal shed pine needles on her freshly waxed floors. The real deal needed lots water, patience and love.

Branches were tied with clothesline to the middle to make the bottom fuller. The top was clipped to fit the angel. Negotiations continued as the middle one handed off tools and I ran for fresh cups of coffee. “Ma, make another pot.”

Oh yes, there is a very good reason why so many of us are in love with A Christmas Story.

Because it’s our story.

The story of the lights and decorations, of cookies baking, and the long anticipated morning when a kid finds wonder and miracles under a tree.

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Naturally, each year the two men would promise that when the tree was disassembled this time, the lights would be stored carefully and not thrown haphazardly into the bottom of the cardboard box that held our precious decorations.

Naturally, each year they would be long absent when the tree was finally taken down the morning after “Little Christmas.” I came to believe it was her small revenge against the sweeping of pine needles, of watering said tree, of cleaning around and behind the massive piece of the forest to simply yank off the lights and dump them in a tangle.

The lights on the tree … the fine art of unraveling miles of thick electrical cords and big clunky bright-colored lights. Curses under and over their breath in two languages and in several octaves ensued while I fell asleep on the sofa, and the middle one curled on the floor with a book, occasionally looking up to see it it was done yet.

When the job was done, it was still not done. There were three blues too close together, those two red ones needed to be closer to the top, and of course a white one had to shine against the angel topper. Everyone was rosted to survey. “Don’t you think we have too many green?”

And it never failed. When they had finally found the right mix of colors and had everything finished and ready to go, one of us would see a dead bulb. “I hope we have another red one to replace it.”

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“Ma, where did you put the small shoe box with the extra bulbs?”

“Do I have to remember everything?”

My dad pointed to the kitchen. “I put that shoe box under the sink.”

“And I supposed you think I’d leave a box of Christmas bulbs under my sink?”

One year he found the shoe box with the extra bulbs in the bottom of his wardrobe, “This is not the place for bulbs.”

“Neither is the bottom of my sink.”

The deed done and all dead bulbs replaced the tree was finally ready for decorations …

Wait … what was that sizzle, that spark from the bottom of the tree? Could it be an electrical fire that might consume our wonderful Rockefeller Center replica? No it was a blown fuse.

“Get the extra fuses from the hall and be quick about it.”

Yes, I know there are so many wonderful advantages to our modern, real look-alike trees … the ease of assembly … no need to tie extra branches … they are uniformly fat at the bottom … … and those skinny, cool, LED lights can be set to twinkle or not. And even if one hundred of them go dark, you can just string another two hundred in there and no one will notice.

And what about that tinsel? “You put too much on that branch,” the big one instructed. “Put it one strand at a time.”

“No, don’t throw it.”

“And that red ball shouldn’t be too close to the other red balls,” he critiqued. “Space out the colors.”

Our tree never really looked exactly like the one in Rockefeller Center and it didn’t look like the one in Westchester in the center of town square where the big guy raised his family.

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But it was all ours, all real, and each year as I prepare to match up the colors to get the artificial tree in perfect order, I feel a twinge of nostalgia remembering our Christmas tree story.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I think I need a stiff eggnog and another round of Ralphie.

Stay tuned for more Christmas fun.

How about you? Are you one of the few left who has the real deal?

Which member of your family was the “chestnut?”

fOIS In The City

Christmas.Maxine.03

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Christmas Memories …

Like my collection of trees and ornaments, the tiny villages and figurines I have saved since I was in second grade, the images they recall are what sustains me.

And of all the artists who have captured the true essence of this time of year … none have done it better than Norman Rockwell.

Today, I give you another bit of my collection and frame it with but a few of his hundreds of precious images.

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Last week I posted my most enduring memory of the Holiday season … my three angels. For all of us, this is the time of year we reflect on times gone by, or think of those we miss, those empty chairs at the Holiday table … the ones we can never fill again.

For each of my original nuclear family there is a Christmas song or movie, a special place in New York City or a particular tradition that calls them back to me each year.

I have but one member of the original four left, the one magic-man who resides in Scarsdale, New York … the one I call the Big Guy.

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As a child did you ever have a daydream about what you might say if you won an academy award?  Or as a writer or the reader of many books and stories, do you think about the dedication you read in books, the one you might put in yours?

It could be to your loving spouse, your small or grown children. Perhaps there was a great love in your life and only you would know who the dedication is for, or you might want to thank the ones who brought you into the world.

In loving memory, I dedicate this post to my parents.

Salvatore Augustine Fois and Maria Carmella Fieore Fois:

My father, came from Carloforte, a small fishing village on the island of San Pietro, seven kilometers off the southwestern coast of Sardinia, sailed the tall ships, beginning as a cabin boy at age twelve, until the day he saluted the Italian flag aboard his merchant ship and walked across the docks of New York to a new life.

Salvatore sang off key with the abandone of a frog during mating season. His favorite music was opera, yet he adored Dixieland Jazz and Big Band music. He cried at sad movies, or when Mimi died in Aida, he adored American sports, cowboy movies, radio, television and Broadway musicals.

He was our own personal Hopalong Cassidy and his absolute hero was Perry Como. Since he spent half of each holiday season sniffling for the loss of his family, his favorite Perry song was There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,

A a tall imposing figure of a man, he looked like an ad for Brooks Brothers, his thick wavy salt and pepper hair highlighted by his pale blue eyes. Dreamy and intelligent, my father was literate in four languages, read three newspapers daily, tutored me in mathematics and taught me about the importance of history and politics and their relationship to current events.

He adored all the holidays, but Christmas in particular. He shopped for all his favorite treats and for all the ingredients for our Holiday meal, he did not, however, trust himself to buy our presents. Because of a funny incident on my parent’s first wedding anniversary (something about a sexy nightgown that made my mother blush) he only gave gelt. Gelt as my mother’s gift, gelt to my mother to take care of everyone else.

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My mother was a short, chubby, what might be the stereotypical Italian Mama, with lovely dark brown hair and eyes and a feisty, indefatiguable spirit. She was born to a share cropper and my namesake on a farm in Dutchess Country, New York.

Mom was the enforcer who weilded a wooden spoon and smoked non-filtered cigarettes, cooked, worked in the factories of Bush Terminal after my parents moved to Brooklyn New York, and wore the uniform of the Italian Mama, shuffling around her kitchen in paddle slippers and her “housedress” barking orders like a drill sargeant.

They loved to cook together, he chopping like a sue chef, she like the head chef, ordering more chopped garlic, more sliced apples for her pies. The homemade pasta or ravioli were a team effort and together they baked for weeks before and cooked all night on Christmas Eve for our feast of the seven fishes.

All day on Christmas she shuffled in and out of the kitchen, and not until late in the evening did she stop to rest. Naturally, my two brothers and myself were the pot washers to these two cooks and while the family took an afternoon nap or the men gathered for a game of cards, I did clean up in the kitchen. More than once she came out and helped so I could join the family in the dining room for café espresso and cannoli.

 

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These were the two who raised us three, who set the standard and raised the bar to instill in their children the image of the successful first generation Italian-American. I miss them always, but never as much as this time of year.

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad!

Who is that special someone you miss each year?

fOIS In The Ctiy

Christmas.Maxine.02

 

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Once more with a smile …

I have posted this one three times since 2009 and I never tire of it … the images, the fabulous memories, and the unmatched wonder of a child’s world all grown up.

Enjoy if  you will my first Christmas re-run.

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Today I give you my homage to the magnificent edifice of Rockefeller Plaza and my cherished memories of the Radio City Music Hall.

As a child, I cannot remember a Christmas when we did not go to The City, walk around Rockefeller Plaza to see the tree, and the show at the Music Hall.

I cherish those moments spent with my mother, Mary Fois, and her two friends, Josephine Chiappe and Beatrice Napoli. These were my mom’s cohorts, confederates, her closest and dearest friends, and they were, among the six women who became our chaperones, the greatest fun to play with.

The Radio City Music Hall was to my mother the holy grail of events. Not wind, nor storm nor dead of night could keep her from her appointed mission, to herd eight to ten children with her two girlfriends as point and rear guards to the Christmas and Easter shows at the Music Hall.

It was not “are we going this year?” But “on which day are we going?”

We gathered at dawn with blankets, pillows, coffee, hot chocolate, and buttered rolls, and took the long subway ride from Brooklyn to Rockefeller Center. Soon the early hour and the motion of the trains, lulled us to sleep, resting our heads on each other’s shoulders or their laps.

With a round of hands clapping, we woke at our destination, yawned and rubbed our eyes … we were almost there.

Walking towards Rockefeller Center was always a delight. We were no longer sleepy or hungry and turned slowly in a circle to capture all the sights and sounds around us.

Rockefeller Center is an art deco marvel consisting of nineteen commercial buildings covering eleven acres in midtown Manhattan from Forty-Ninth Street to Fifty-Second Street, from Fifth Avenue to Seventh Avenue, with smaller buildings in a rectangle.

CHRISTMAS

On the first floor of these buildings are exclusive shops, their windows lit up and decorated for the holiday season. The tall building in the middle, Thirty Rockefeller Plaza, or as it is called, 30 Rock, looms over a golden sculpture of Prometheus which sits below the giant tree as a symbol of opulence for tourists and native New Yorker’s to enjoy.

Inside the open rectangle of buildings is the ice rink, and on the street above, a balcony with a steel railing. We ran around the circle above the ice-skaters, mesmerized by the sights, the music and the smell of the fresh chestnuts, the three mothers “simply could not resist.”

At Christmas the tree-lined pathways of the arcade are decked out in their holiday finest and lead to the giant tree in the middle and along the pathway from Fifth Avenue, the row of Herald Angels.

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The Radio City Music Hall

Hundreds of excited children and their parents mulled in the enormous vestibule of the theater enjoying the spectacle of it all.

The huge triple wide staircase lined with thick, rich carpeting, the sparkle of the chandeliers, the vendors selling their wares, the beautiful color program guides the parents purchased for each child, ushers dressed in formal wear and the giant Wurlitzer organ playing holiday tunes.

We whispered reverently, our eyes transfixed on the ceiling. My mother grabbed my collar. “Will you get a move on. I want to get orchestra seats.”

The majestic stage is encased in a dome in shades of gold liken to a sunset, a golden curtain across the back. The rows of seats curve upwards from the bottom of the stage … over five thousand soft, wide seats that push back for comfort.

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The three women rushed to the middle to give each of the children, even the shortest, a grand view of the show. Carefully the mothers took hats, gloves and coats and began folding and stuffing clothes in their large bags. For an added measure they put pillows and coats under the shortest children and stashed the rest under the seats.

The Christmas show at the Radio City Music Hall is an extravaganza of incredible proportions with live animals onstage and the Rockettes in synchronized, syncopation, organ music and a movie.

We sat in one long row with the three mothers positioned at the beginning, the middle and the end. It was hard not to admire their organization, their stamina and the den-mother patience with each trip to the bathroom, spitting up, the constant and persistent flow of questions, giggles, interruptions and tantrums of eight children aged six to twelve.

As the show began to unfold, we became uncharacteristically quiet and still. Not wanting to miss one second as the stage moved up and down in three parts, revealing Christmas scenes like real ice skating, the Nativity with Joseph pulling Mother Mary on a real donkey, and a giant tree, rising from below to the squeals of the audience.

In the darkened theater we sat mesmerized by the sounds, the lights and the best of all, the Rockettes as they slowly began their final routine; arms and legs in perfect unity, kicking one, two and three … one, two and three … kicking and circling … kicking and fanning the length of the magnificent stage … adults and children, babies and old women fascinated by the perfection in their dance.

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There were three more trips to the bathroom with the youngest children as the Wurlitzer was winding up intermission. When we heard the announcer warn the audience to come back to their seats, each child got the second half of their chocolate bar. Then the final delight, a full length movie.

My fondest memory, the year White Christmas premiered at the Music Hall.

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Thanks to Peter Allen, a wonderful Broadway entertainer and many of his friends and patrons of the arts, the Music Hall was saved from the wrecking ball, saved from the same fate as the old Metropolitan Opera House, and preserved for generations of adults and children to enjoy.

My trio of angels …

In Loving Memory, to Mary, Josephine and Beatrice.
Your image lingers, like the twinkle
Of freshly fallen snow
Always new, always beautiful,
My trio of angels. Together again.
From the pest, la “rufiana,”

Tell me, who was your angel … that one special

person who remains in your heart?

fOIS In The City

Christmas Maxine

Crabby Road

Rockefeller Center Wiki

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