It’s Christmas so it’s only appropriate to write something uplifting and joyful in keeping with the spirit of the season. But instead of doing that, I’m going to tell you about the strangest Christmas present ever given in my family, and I’m betting yours too.
Many years ago, my mother was desperately casting about for appropriate gifts to give to her three children. At the time, we were all either single or between marriages. Being Italian, she was sure this meant we would die alone and be buried in a pauper’s grave. This may seem to be an overreaction for those of you who do not understand a certain type of Italian psyche. But in my mother’s world, if the phone rang between 10 PM and 8 AM, you immediately pulled out the box with the black crepe and started hanging it around the doorways because it was bound to be bad news. And if your kids weren’t married, they surely faced a life of loneliness and despair.
On this particular Christmas morning, as we sat in our homes opening the envelope that had come from our mother, my siblings and I had limited expectations about what they could possibly contain. Mom sometimes hit the nail on the head. But sometimes she could be way far off, like when she sent me a blouse two sizes smaller than I’d asked for and included a note that said it looked so big she knew it would fit me. It didn’t.
This particular year she surpassed even herself. Upon opening the envelopes, we found that we were now the proud possessors of burial plots at Holy Cross Cemetery in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Yep, mom had given us each a gravesite for Christmas. Ho. Ho. Ho. And happy holidays to you too!
Her family had a plot in this cemetery and each aunt or uncle that died was placed there, eventually with their mate. The family name, Zeccardi, was writ large on each tombstone and the married names added in much smaller letters. Mom had apparently found out that the grave sites around the family plot were going like hot cakes and this worried her. Clearly if my sister, brother and I persisted in our unmarried state, we would need someone to take us in when we died. So in her own fairly bizarre way, she was looking out for us in death as she did in life. At least, that’s what we told ourselves in between the hysterical laughter on the phone as my siblings and I discussed the gifts.
After mom died, we all agreed we didn’t want to be buried in these plots since we planned on cremation. The decision was made that I should go back to the cemetery office and return the grave plots. I don’t know how I got voted into that job. I think my siblings felt I’d lived in Alaska long enough that nothing would faze me, not even a cemetery’s return policy.
So I dutifully went to the cemetery and told the nice lady behind the counter that I needed to return three unused plots. She went and found a gentleman who explained to me in a very kind but very firm way that they did not allow speculating in grave sites. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He then explained that I would only get back as much money as my mother had paid for the plots and not what they might be worth at that moment in time. I found myself staring at him in awed disbelief that there could possibly be people in this world who bought graves on speculation in the hope that the price would rise and they could make a killing selling them. (Pun a happy coincidence.)
Mom is long gone now but while she was alive, none of us were gutsy enough to challenge her choice of Christmas presents. I find it interesting that the two presents I remember the most from her are the gravesite and the extremely ill fitting blouse. A therapist would have a great time with that.
May your memories of gifts and giving come with the same laughter and joy my family shares when discussing the Christmas of the grave plots. Happy holidays… and I say that with all sincerity, not just to annoy the viewers of Fox News.
Just knowing how many Fox viewers that are annoyed whenever I say Happy Holidays makes my holiday merry.
As you are wrapping the last of the presents and spending the last of your money, please don’t forget Bird TLC. Go to birdtlc.net and make a donation to the birds. Remember, we’re the organization that puts the non in non-profit. We can use all the help we can get!
I know Stephen Colbert is coming back in May to replace Letterman. It’s the only thing that’s making Letterman’s retirement bearable. On the other hand, how do I survive between now and then without him? My heart aches. Maybe Prescott Pharmaceuticals has a pill for this…
It’s the smell of Christmas for anyone Italian. My nonna’s kitchen started to smell of it at least a week before Christmas Eve as she started to soak the salted cod in order to have it ready to cook on Christmas Eve. I find that in my old age, just the smell brings me back to my childhood Christmases… and how all us kids HATED the baccala and the ensuing battle as mom insisted we just try it, even though her heart wasn’t in it either because she wasn’t exactly a big fan. As we grew older, the amount of baccala at the Christmas Eve dinner table gradually shrunk until it was just a little dish shared by my dad and his mom. Such is progress.
Yesterday, my dogs attended a doggie birthday party at Happy Dog Day Camp. I supplied some snacks. They brought their unlimited enthusiasm. And as I drove away, I thought that probably my nonna, wherever she may be, is spinning madly in total disbelief.
The murder in Barrow last week is one of those horrible, horrible moments in time. Most of us can’t imagine walking into someone’s house and blasting a shotgun at another person’s face. So while psychologists may be able to help us understand the mind of someone who does, comprehension will never translate into any empathy. That action will always remain over a line the majority of us will never cross.
Because this happened in Barrow, it feels very personal to me. I still think of Barrow as home. I’ve known the alleged murderer since he was a very young man. I know the rumors and quiet whispers that can often follow someone with a criminal record like his in a small town, the things said in private but never discussed in public.
On the day that Bun Bun Fischer was first arraigned, his family sat in the courtroom in mute support. They’d been advised they could not speak to him in the courtroom. And they didn’t because they respected the courtroom and what it stood for. When the hearing was over and the press asked for comments, Bun Bun’s sister stated that while he had his problems, he was a loving father and a good family man. Earlier in the news article in which her statement appeared, there was a list of Bun Bun’s recent run-ins with the police. Those run-ins included an incident in which he held his 6 year old daughter up as a human shield when faced with being tasered by police. There are some who might argue that that action is the antithesis of a good family man. And they would be right. Most fathers reading this right now would instinctively push their daughters behind them to protect them.
So what’s reality here? Is this just a loving and distraught sister protesting that her brother is more than a murderer, more than the picture the charges against him paint? I have a brother so I know my instinct would be to always stand up for him. But is there more to it than that? Is this an example of the mentality that exists in communities in which domestic violence is so commonplace that calling someone who abused his family a “good family man and loving father” is viewed as true and appropriate? Is this the new norm? All you have to do is hunt and feed your family. Is that our new minimum standard that forgives all violent acts?
Last week I wrote about my belief that if the good men in our villages do not take a visible and vocal stand against abusers, then the abuse will never stop. Bun Bun’s court records show over twenty years of involvement with the criminal justice system, with most of those encounters involving harassment, domestic violence or other violent charges. Yet Bun Bun was a member of a whaling crew. I’m willing to bed that not one of the men on that crew ever suggested that a man who beat his significant other or was generally so violent should have such a place of honor. Yes, he needed to whale to feed his family. But what a powerful message could have been sent by those whalers if they’d told him he couldn’t have the honor of being a whaler unless he started acting like a true Inupiaq, respecting his cultural values. And then those whalers could have brought his family an extra share of their take to make sure the family did not suffer because of his actions.
Instead, he hunted and whaled during the day and committed repeated acts of violence at night. And again the question must be raised. Why would the good men of any community allow someone with his history to be part of their crews, their hunting parties, their world? Had he been shunned years ago when he first started accumulating a two page criminal court record, had his actions caused him to be ostracized from his peers, maybe he would have had a greater incentive to clean up his act and become a real man. Instead, everyone looked the other way. Now one man is dead and the other will likely spend the rest of his days just remembering what it felt to be out on the ice in spring, because he will probably never actually be on it again.
How many times can you hear the same Christmas carols without wanting to run naked into the icy night to make the pain stop?
How can I be such an amazing chef for main meals but suck the big one when it comes to deserts? I am totally incapable of getting it right… ever!
Here’s how you know you are a total captive to the world of the Internet. You lay in bed at night and use your iPad to send yourself e-mails about ideas you get late at night so they’ll be available on your computer the next morning. Too bad that system doesn’t also work towards making those ideas any better than you’d expect from something that popped into your mind at 1 AM. Half the time, they don’t even make sense to me.
For years, whenever I had something big that needed to go into the trash can upstairs in my kitchen, I would instead walk it right down to the garbage can outside because I didn’t want to fill up the trash can too quickly. If I did, I reasoned, that would mean extra trips to the garbage can to empty it. Except, of course, it occurred to me today that I make so many more extra trips bringing the big things down to the garbage can that I was probably doing more than if I just dumped it in the upstairs trash can in the first place. All of which is to say that it is not easy to be an obsessive compulsive, especially when you so understand why what you are doing is crazy but you keep on doing it.
Today I learned that Reisling is not a beer. I learned that when the nice man at the liquor store explained to me that wine doesn’t come in a six pack.
Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallot has ensured himself a unique place in Alaska history as the first Alaska Native to win a statewide office. As such, he holds a very singular position from which to do good for all Alaskans. Given the limited duties of the Lite Gov, I’d like to make a suggestion on a really great use of both his time and his influence.
We saw our former governor create a campaign that insisted Alaska men choose respect. Despite the marches that ensued, this slogan alone did not create a huge ground swell of Alaska men actually choosing respect. Now, another study has come out from Alaska’s social services division that shows Alaska Native children continue to be astronomically over represented in the foster care system. These numbers are directly related to the continued epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault that is all too common in Alaska Native homes.
This problem is a chronic one in our state and especially devastating to our Alaska Native cultures. Each time I’ve written about this, I’ve asked the same question. Where are Alaska’s Native men in this story? Are they only abusers? Are they only part of the problem? Why do we not see any of them as part of the solution? Why do we not hear from male Alaska Native leaders about the destruction this epidemic is causing in their villages? Why are they not taking a stand and demanding a change?
Men seem to still think they have more important tasks to accomplish than getting involved in domestic disputes. That’s for women, right? Women are the victims so they are the ones who have the most at stake in quelling this epidemic. It seems as though women fight this battle alone. Men might support them, but if they do, it is the most silent and distant of support.
Meanwhile, for every Alaska Native child in foster care, Alaska Native communities can count another shareholder with a strong chance of growing up to not be a productive member of society, their culture or their corporation. Because for a child raised amidst drinking, sexual assault and domestic violence, those are the things that become their cultural heritage.
Men who engage in abusive behavior need to be publicly shamed and shunned. Lt. Gov. Mallot can lead the way in creating an atmosphere among all Alaskan men, but most especially among Alaska Native men, in which violence is not tolerated in any way, shape or form. I challenge the Lt. Governor to make it clear that anyone who engages in any form of domestic abuse, alcohol abuse or sexual assault is not welcomed in his home, his circle of friends, on Native corporation boards of directors or in an executive position within those corporations. Men who drunkenly beat their wives and children on Saturday night should not be welcomed as part of a hunting party on Sunday morning. They should not be welcomed to sit as a member of the city or village council. They should not be allowed any position of influence, power or honor.
Additionally, the decent men in our villages need to make sure that those families affected by this scourge are cared for properly. This means providing them with subsistence foods if the hunter in the house is not capable of doing that because of his problems. This means making sure that if abuse is occurring, the village has a means of actively and quickly intervening so that the victims have a safe place to go where they will be properly cared for and receive any help needed.
For years I’ve watched as good Alaska Native men have turned the other way while their hunting buddies, corporate board members and relatives have abused their families. That this has gone on for so long shames both the abusers and the men who let the abusers get away with no penalty. These are their sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters… these abused women and children are all members of the extended family that is any Alaska Native village. Why are their men not doing more to protect them?
You have the power, the voice and the platform to make a difference Mr. Mallot. Please use it to stop this epidemic before there is nothing left to save.
Because their computer system is older than dirt and every time I go there they tell me I don’t own my e-mail address even though it’s the same one I’ve had for twenty years. Then they tell me they fixed it and that lasts until I try to make my next purchase one department over and they give me the same run around.
Then there is the fun delivery system. They call you and give you a number to call if the time they’ve set to arrive isn’t convenient. So you call and reschedule and they still show up at the original time and then cop an attitude when your not available and claim that they NEVER told you they changed the delivery time and if someone did, they were wrong. Then they leave a number for you to call back again and you call the number and it’s some guy’s phone and he doesn’t answer but you get a message saying that he doesn’t have a mailbox set up so you can’t leave a message. So you call the 800 number back and they give you the royal run around about not being able to reschedule for another week… until, that is, you suggest they take their damn bike back and put it where the sun doesn’t shine. At that point, they surprisingly find time to deliver it later the same day… you’ll just have to sit home all day because they can’t even give you the vaguest of ideas about whether it will be delivered in the morning or afternoon or at midnight.And the delivery guy who calls you back to confirm they will arrive sometime between 8 AM and midnight has an attitude about how you are apparently inconveniencing him.
I’m having a bad day and that seems to be the person everyone blames everything on. So I’m blaming my bad day on him. Shame on you Barack!