Heroes and Villains

My second grade teacher was my first villain.

Because I was often sick as a child, I grew comfortable in the quieter company of adults–my parents, older relatives, my doctors and nurses–and preferred their world to the noise and messiness of children. I was shy and timid, and my parents worried about how I’d be when I started school. They were able to entice me out of my shell by bringing a dog, our mixed breed Dopey Dan, into my life. Dopey was born to a dachshund whose owner tried to drown the puppies when he found out they weren’t purebred. My parents told me that as a result, Dopey was shy and afraid. I had to be brave so that I could teach him that it was okay to be around kids.

I had smart parents, and I was also fortunate to have other good adults in my life. Like the sweetest kindergarten teacher, Miss Harris, who acted like she didn’t know I once replaced my broken Crayons with Linda Bishop’s perfect ones. (Sorry, Linda.) Then I had a lovely first grade teacher, Mrs. Griffin, one of those ancient Southern ladies who smelled faintly of talcum powder and who had ample breasts that translated into smothering hugs in the most comforting way.

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For Marika

Dear Marika,

You must not berate me for not having them on display. They are safely packed away in the attic because it’s a zillion times more important to me that Tim be comfortable in his apartment than that these be displayed (and trust me, with a couple of hundred of them, there’s NO room inside my bungalow, but their existence is why the TimLair was formerly called “The Doll House”).

what the hell is she talking about

A tale for Rio

Dear Rio,

One time, I gave my friend Jeff a bunch of silly presents that included a marked-down Donna doll. (I wish I’d left the big orange sticker on her, dammit.)

In a very 90210 moment, he got mad and gave her back to me. Then he died. I don’t think the two events were connected, but I will say it’s never a good idea to mess with Tori, even Discount Tori.


Have you ever gone to one of those bingo halls located in some unfamiliar suburban location? A big utilitarian building with fluorescent lighting that makes everyone look ten years older? Where the non-smokers are put into a separate, smaller room because the majority of the bingo players are smokers?

My sister loves bingo and she wins. A lot. She’s been able to take vacations with her bingo winnings. She buys those little pull tabs at the bingo hall and wins with them, too. When she comes to Houston, I generally find one of those bingo halls and go with her. I do not win. But that’s okay. I’m not there for the bingo. I like to watch the people.

For one thing, this is the ONLY place in Houston where people gather quietly. We truly have the noisiest restaurants and stores of any city I’ve ever been in. But the bingo hall is hushed. Players are concentrating on their bingo sheets and the caller’s voice.

I enjoy checking out the good luck totems people bring and set up around their bingo sheets. It reminds me of when I travel. I like to carry favorite stones and crystals with me and set them up in my hotel room or condo. I usually have nag champa incense with me, too, and if I get a chance to buy cut flowers, I’ll add those. I don’t know why I started doing this, but it always makes me feel safer and happier in an unfamiliar place. When I did it on my first visit to New York, it made the hotel housekeepers smile at me and ask me questions. In countries like Bali, my friend Tandy tells me, hoteliers and innkeepers actually do this for their guests–leave little iconic gifts with fresh flowers in their rooms.

So I totally get why bingo players like to arrange their little space with their lucky charms, their dabbers, their ashtray–everything just so. I was sitting at my computer today when I suddenly realized that in my busy-ness, I’ve kind of let things collect on my desk. Though these things have no particular significance to me, I told Tom I feel like a bingo player.

I hope I win.

Stress ball from Tom, Happy Meal doll, champagne cork from New Year’s Eve, bookmark from our niece.

Lit Tree

Even though decorating a tree can be a pain, every year when I open the bins and trunks that contain ornaments, I am opening a door to my past. I have too many ornaments and too small a tree, so there are some that are never used because they hold no sentimental value beyond memories of when I’ve used them on past holidays.

We used to live in bigger houses. Then, before Tim moved here, we’d put a large, real tree in the apartment and only decorate our house with smaller things. Some years we didn’t decorate at all because we traveled. However, the year that Tom sadly hung a single ornament on a cactus made me feel so guilty that I think I’ve decorated ever since.

There are some ornaments that I use every time I decorate because they mean so much to me. Small glass ornaments that hung on my family’s tree from the time my brother (eight years older) was a baby. Ornaments cross-stitched by my friend Amy, as well as the AIDS Santa she gave me one Christmas after Steve R. died. A little hand-quilted ornament that my mother gave me after the Thanksgiving that she, my sister, and I worked on Tim R.’s AIDS Quilt panel.

There are ornaments that hung on Tom’s family tree when he was a little boy, and ornaments from his grandmother, who always decorated lavishly at Christmas. Ornaments that symbolize times that Lynne and I have shared over the past 38 years of friendship. (Yes, years before we were even born! Another miracle!) As I said last year, the two garlands that hang over two doorways are filled with the Star Trek ornaments Lynne has given Tom, and the Barbie ornaments she’s given me over many years. There’s a pink rhinestone pig that Lynne says is ugly but which I love that was from her son Jess and his wife Laura one Christmas.

There are little picture frames with pictures of my family and Tom’s nieces and various dogs. There’s the ornament I bought in December of 2001, a fragile ball of cobalt blue with an American flag on it, and each year when I take it out of its box and hang it, I honor everyone lost on September 11. There are several handcrafted ornaments from Tom’s mother, an artist, as well as ornaments she and his father have bought us when they’ve traveled. And there are plenty of Winnie the Pooh ornaments, although most of these stay out all year on an antique set of shelves that bear the name “Pooh Corner.”

Since we don’t have kids, there’s no knowing what will happen to all this stuff when Tom and I die, but I don’t care. It’s enough for me that our ornaments aren’t just glass, plastic, metal, or pewter, they’re memories of and gifts from people too many to mention: people who taught me about love, friendship, and the comfort of tradition.

As you unpack your own ornaments or decorations this season, why not take the time to photograph a few of them for a site that I’ve listed on my sidebar for a while. God’s Nightgown publishes photos of things that matter to you, along with explanations of why they’re special. When your items appear, you can even send links to them to people who might appreciate knowing why certain things are meaningful.

Holidays can be hard when they remind us of better times or people we’ve lost. The real gifts though, are that we had those moments and those loved ones in our lives. Try to carve out some quiet time to cherish your memories and honor your past.