Friday, December 30, 2011

A Christmas Memory with Author Alan Zendell

We're rounding out the end of the year with another Christmas memory from Alan Zendell as he remembers how the holiday changed for him and his family over the years, with both joyful and bittersweet times. Read on!!

On the December 9th episode of TV’s “Modern Family,” Jay (Ed O’Neill) addressed the chaos that their pre-Christmas gathering had become by suggesting that they find a good Chinese restaurant and celebrate a good old traditional Jewish Christmas.  The only thing wrong with his characterization was that he left out the part about seeing a first-run movie after dinner on the only day of the year on which there were no lines to get in.

That comedians have turned the notion of a traditional Jewish Christmas into a cliché makes it no less true.  It’s a perfect description of my view of Christmas for the first thirty years of my life.  It could hardly have been different growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, a Jewish kid living across the street from a Catholic church.  People, especially Jews, were more aware of their differences than their similarities in the years following World War II.  We derisively called Christmas trees Chanukah bushes, and we laughed that we got eight days worth of presents while the Irish working class kids on our block only got one.  But truth be told, that was as much a reaction to feeling left out as anything else.  We teased them mercilessly about having to be dragged off to Christmas Mass, but I secretly always wanted a Christmas tree.

Everything changed when I moved my family to Seattle.  Surrounded by an incredible forest of fir and cedar trees, and far from the prying eyes of parents and grandparents, December became an excuse to keep a beautiful, aromatic douglas fir by the fireplace.  We wrapped several strands of multi-colored lights around it, each strand blinking on and off independently in a wonderfully random psychedelic pattern – it was the 70’s after all – and my next eleven Christmas memories became family and friends lying on the floor on throw pillows, mesmerized by the constantly changing colored light pattern on the walls and ceiling, with Pink Floyd or Moody Blues playing on the stereo.  I loved it.

Moving back East changed things again.  The kids went off to college, left home for good, (if you don’t count all the times they came back,) and my wife and I were working far too many hours to let Christmas slow us down.  Thus passed twenty years of memories which didn’t include Christmas at all.  For me, holidays had lost their religious significance, and Christmas became the season of re-runs on television and crowded shopping malls.  And then, a few years ago, it changed again.

Both of my sons married Catholic girls, and rather than the separatism of my growing up years, I experienced a merging of family traditions that was surprisingly enriching.  Sharing our differences brought us all closer together, and I discovered that there was something magical about a bunch of people gathering around a Christmas tree and exchanging gifts.  So many smiles, so much happiness and caring.  My new memories are of my house being a base of operations for the holidays when the kids come back, of my daughter-in-law taking over my kitchen to do her holiday baking, and the dog reveling in the snow.  The Christmas tree in my living room and the fire burning in the fireplace were the same as they were in Seattle, but the experience was very different.  Pink Floyd was replaced by Beethoven and Bocelli, and the nearly hallucinogenic flashing lights have morphed into a soft, warm glow…

…but last Christmas (2010) is the one I’ll always keep in my heart.  My living room was again the focus of the holidays.  Everyone was there and it was a loving, emotional time, but there was something else.  Our wonderful golden retriever was recovering from brain surgery.  We’d invested everything in caring for her since October, and I for one, was exhausted.  She was happy and playful and loving, and it was easy to be optimistic about a full recovery, but deep down we knew.  Brain tumors always win in the end, and it would be our last Christmas with Haley.  So we loved her just a little more that Christmas (if that was even possible) and we pretended everything was okay.  I know I’ll never experience a Christmas like that one again.

Alan Zendell spent more than forty years as a scientist, aerospace engineer, software consultant, database developer, and government analyst. He spent two years working on the first manned lunar mission, then moved on to a variety of near-Earth satellite projects, and Pentagon support for anti- ballistic missile systems. As the aerospace industry became more oriented toward the military, he applied his skill set to health care and social service systems, and ultimately branched out into software and database consulting.
For more on Alan's books, please visit the links below. To see my review of The Portal (a fabulous story!), click HERE.

He always wrote a lot, but it was generally really boring stuff like proposals and technical papers, reports, business letters, and policy memoranda.  But in recent years he has written several short pieces in a variety of genres and completed five novel manuscripts, three of which have three of which have found their way into print and e-books. “Wednesday’s Child” is hard science fiction with a different twist on time travel; “The Portal” is a science-fiction love story set in a dystopian twenty-second century America; and “Critical Focus” is a contemporary political novel that addresses the major issues facing present-day America.  You can read more about them and find sample chapters on Alan’s website:


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