The Christmas Box

By Register-Freeman, Victoria | Family Therapy Networker, July/August 1995 | Go to article overview

The Christmas Box


Register-Freeman, Victoria, Family Therapy Networker


IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS Carol, my childhood best friend in Jonesboro. Georgia. She was my age and most important she was geographically correct Living just one red clay hill away, she would frequently meet me halfway down the strip of bumpy, black asphalt that was Highway 41.

Carol wasn't perfect. She was often uninspired by my plans to spend a day-pretending to be Lash LaRue in the chinaberry tree. And, I confess, I was frequently lukewarm about her proposal to play Five Little Peppers paper dolls for still another endless afternoon. Nevertheless, we negotiated. We had to: this was America's agricultural period, the pre-takeout era that featured families dining together and no serious suburbia. Basically, Carol and I were stuck with each other. And we were stuck, too, with large blocks of free time. While rudimentary television existed, the only station we received featured many hours of the test pattern, an austere Indian chief with rays coming out of his war bonnet.

Another factor in our isolation was that the concept of mother-as-devoted-chauffeur was about 15 years in the future The mothers we knew could propel Packards, but seldom for something as frivolous as programmed playtime. So Carol and I got along most of the time. During those few seismic sessions when we didn't get along, we became our own best friends, or better buddies to our brothers and sisters.

Over the years, our friendship grew. We napped together on our kindergarten sleepmats, quizzed each other on phonic facts in first grade, and read aloud to each other from Singing Wheels, our basic reader, in second. In third grade, we took a dizzying leap into the large world when we began to ride the wheezing yellow school bus to and from our homes.

On these bus rides, we reviewed the current day and organized the next one. We planned our matching outfits, decided whether to bag or buy our lunch, and, if it was the weekend, we decided who would sleep over. We laughed; we listened: we fought; we compromised. Bumping down the highway, we practiced our fledgling friendship skills surrounded by the smell of sweat and the sound of "Knock-Knock" jokes.

Today, many miles and many years from Jonesboro, there are no Carols in my life. There is no one friend for all seasons Modem mobility 14 zip codes in 30 years has seen to that. Instead, my circle of friends consists of two groups of individuals: core friends and others.

Core friends are mostly folks I've known for some time an average of 15 years. They include an ex-sister-in-law a former college roommate, a teaching intern and a fellow faculty member. These people harbor no illusions about me; time has stripped them of those. They have seen me cut my toenails, pick my nose, date a man with a monster truck and feed my growing children Cocoa Puffs for dinner. While they are not universally approving of my choices, they always listen to me In their presence, I feel truly heard. I am funnier and smarter because of their listening; I am more able to turn events into experiences. Like tribal historians, they sometimes refer to dreary incidents from our collective past, but these are reviewed as lights for the life path, not wielded as bludgeons to kill confidence.

In general, all my core friends are realistic optimists and they encourage that quality in me. When I moved into my post-divorce hovel, the kitchen cabinets were so rusty that any attempts to wipe them free of congealed bacon grease created an interesting Swiss cheese effect. My hands went through crumbling tin. A neon-yellow extension cord snaking through a series of higher holes provided power for the 50-watt light bulb that dangled over the two-burner stove. My 12-year-old son referred grimly to the area as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Since all five home repair contractors who stomped through my front door waving clipboards quoted renovation estimates that left no money for bus fare, I decided to redo the kitchen myself. …

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