The Night Buckminster Fuller Came To Dinner- part 2

Oh, no, not THAT story again. You have to admit it is a good one. My father and Buckminster Fuller conspired to make Christmas magical for thousands with the Ford Rotunda. And Christmas should be a magical time for children and it is, of course, a miracle time for Christians. It’s a great holiday even if you’re not because it’s about getting a GREAT BIG GIFT for nothing and the very thought of it can make you feel special. For ME??? That’s for me?? Whether it’s Emmanuel or a new Wii Fit Plus, it’s big.

The Christmas season when I was 6, maybe a year or so after Buckminster Fuller passed ever so briefly through my life, was another time in my childhood that left a big impression on my life. In Detroit, where I was growing up, there were two major Christmas events. The Ford Rotunda Christmas Show was one and the other was the Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day parade. At that time, in the fifties, there was the Macy’s Parade in New York and the Hudson’s Parade in Detroit.  The J.L Hudson Co. was the tallest and second largest (after Macy”s) department store in the country. Preparations for the parade began each year in the warehouse on Brush Street and it was from there that the floats and the giant paper mache heads that predated balloons would begin the parade route, ending in front of the main entrance to the store on Woodward Avenue. There, Santa would climb out of his sleigh and mount the steps up to the podium where he would be given the keys to the city and tell all the girls and boys everywhere to be good, because he was on his way. The night before the parade, the floats would be fitted onto and over the tractors that would drive them through the streets of Detroit. Long time readers will recall that my father worked in sales and marketing in the Ford tractor division and in the same way that his position got us access to the best of the Ford Rotunda, it also got us within arm’s reach of Santa’s sleigh being readied for the big parade. That year when I was six my father took my brother and me down to the warehouse the night before to watch the parade preparations and the next morning, Thanksgiving, we had front row seats to watch Santa arrive. I don’t remember my mother in this scene; perhaps it is just my memory or perhaps it is that they were dividing and conquering the holiday since there was still a baby at home or perhaps it was that they were already beginning to drift apart, even in their care of us children.

That year I also clearly remember the gift that I got and the gift that we did not get. I got a bride doll, almost as tall as I was. She was quite stunning, in a cheap plastic sort of way. The gift we didn’t get was the giant coffee table book (just coming into vogue back then) called The UnderSea World. Sometime between the parade and Christmas my brother- two years older and far, far wiser- had us snooping around under my parent’s bed looking for hidden presents and we found the book. What a magnificent book! We were so lost in looking at the amazing photographs of jellyfish and octopus that we didn’t even hear my mother come in to discover us with the goods in hand. Lord, was she angry. That is my first memory of my mother losing her temper with us in a crazy irrational way. She raged and raged and ended her tirade with, “And don’t think that book is a Christmas gift for you!”  I’m not sure what was fueling her anger but now I realize that married life was beginning to sour for her so it’s likely that we were just collateral damage. In any case, we never did see that book again and even now I am amazed and dismayed by that. Aren’t all things forgiven when Christmas day finally arrives? Isn’t there peace on earth and goodwill towards all?

Apparently not. Family life can be brutal and nothing brings it out quite like the holidays. Christmas stirs up memories and swells expectations and involves a lot of hard work. From that year on, until almost the time that my mother died, I remember mostly the stress of getting ready for Christmas. She never stopped wanting it to be perfect and she never stopped trying to make it so and always, inevitably, something went wrong. Marriages failed, finances plummeted, moves created distances too great. The roast burned, the tree dried up too soon, the scotch tape ran out. And damn the half-burned out strings of lights.

This year, even as I quite ironically miss my mother right now, I am flooded with the memory of that time when innocence went poof! and I saw the downside of family life at Christmas. And I see, in my life, some of the same hopes and expectations and disappointments that my mother experienced. I suspect they are universal.

This year, after I made my grandmother’s chocolate cookie press cookies I wrapped up the cookie press and the recipe card that my mother had written out for me some 30 years ago-“Grandma Moe’s cookie press cookies”- and gave it to Abby. I also gave her a big beautiful book, National Geographic Great Migrations. Every year I give a giant glossy book to the kids. Our family that will visit has come and gone and that’s sort of sad and sort of a relief. In other years I would be, right this minute, living out my mother’s Christmas aspirations, still wrapping gifts, matching paper to ribbon to tags and trying to compose just the right message, because, you know it’s not enough to just write “Merry Christmas.” It has to be erudite and memorable. But I’m already done with all that. The packages are mailed, some will arrive late. The cards are sitting on my desk, not yet written; maybe tomorrow I’ll do that. We had our Christmas dinner tonight and the roast was perfectly rare, perfectly tender. I’m not in a kerchief, but I am under warm flannel sheets with Rich and two cats on the bed and everything is easy. Tomorrow we’ll call the children and then we might go to the movies or just sit by the fire and read and eat leftovers. Peace and goodwill will prevail because we are not soured on marriage and in fact, we’re quite in love with one another. It will probably snow. And since there will be only the two of us and it will sort of be just another day, we’ll have that much more time to consider that it’s Christmas.

I hope your Christmas has all the magic and delight of your earliest childhood memories. If it falls short, well, maybe there’s still the possibility of peace on earth and goodwill toward all. Merry Christmas!

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10 responses to “The Night Buckminster Fuller Came To Dinner- part 2

  1. Merry Christmas Vicki. Sounds like a peaceful and lovely day.

  2. Merry Christmas, Vicki and Rich! Our family has come and gone too (except our baby, who decided to spend the night). Our turkey and ham were tender, the cider hot and spiced with cinnamon, the rest of the foods were scrumptious and all the children were happy with their presents – and are Jim and I. It was an altogether satisfying (if not quite magical) Christmas Eve and we are looking forward to tomorrow, when we can rest and do nothing.

    I’m sorry about your big undersea book. I would have loved getting that one too!

  3. I’m with you on those aspirations of a perfect Christmas. For today, Denny and I are starting a new tradition since we are celebrating sans children and grandkids. It will be a peaceful Christmas, it will be a different Christmas and that’s perfectly all right. Merry Christmas!

  4. Vicki; this post certainly stirred up memories of visiting your family in Royal Oak. Your Dad always gave us tickets to the opening night of the Christmas Display at the Rotunda and my parents would always wear their very best clothes. After being in the Rotunda for what seemed like 2 minutes in my youthful mind, we were whisked off to your house with a baby-sitter to stay with the you and your siblings and my brother and myself. I am remembering that your mother gave us a large book, but I am not sure what it was about. My brother, being the eldest and somewhat intimidating took most of the books with him when he got married. I am going to call him during this holiday season and ask if he still has them, now, I am very curious. I never thought, that in a million years, I would be thankful for a internet connection, but I am. I am thankful that I have been able to reconnect with family members I haven’t seen in 55-60 years (makes me sound really old) and we have been able to share stories. This morning I received a “Merry Christmas” from your Uncle Bill and he asked that I pass the greeting along to you and your sister and brother. I wish for you a joyous “New Year” and many fulfilled moments on the mountain. Beth Ann

  5. Ah, the wish for perfect Christmases. Having spent some of my teen year Christmases apart from my parents, I am just glad to be in the presence of family and friends.

  6. With my brother in Japan, it was just the four of us today. And Nyssa has to leave on Monday and I thought it was Tuesday so I broke down in tears while trying to say grace. But, now it is snowing and… it is always possible that the ten to twelve inches they are predicting will actually come through and they cannot handle it and the planes will be grounded. It won’t hurt for her to go to Chicago a day late. I miss those little girl days.

    I hope your quiet day was all you expected with the added touch of new fallen snow… and perhaps a bear sighting or two!

  7. Very beautiful, Vicki. Your words “Family life can be brutal and nothing brings it out quite like the holidays. Christmas stirs up memories and swells expectations and involves a lot of hard work.” sum up the tumultuous experience of most of us at some point in our history with families and holidays. Your writing and your wisdom become ever more impressive. The home in the mountains, your marriage, and your graceful aging (well, we all are aging, some of us not so gracefully though) seem to be wearing on you very well. I’m so glad – Peace, Goodwill, and good health!

  8. Finally, you post on the Fuller named Buckminster!
    It surely must be Christmas, though you seem a tad sinister.

    And, in the same sentence – Emmanuel and Wii Fit?
    Allow me to be honest? This put me in a wee snit.

    How I love the photo of Santa; Let it snow and let it snow.
    As for your complicated/amazing mother: Let it go and let it go.

    As for me and my house – my cup doth overflow.
    All are here and so I must do many a vinyasa yoga flow.

    Epiphany is coming! Put a Baby Jesus in your Kings’ cake.
    It’s simplicity reminds us of God’s grace that we can take.

    Your perfection and erudition make you who you are,
    But I’m glad to hear that you finally found rest and could ponder on that Star.

    And so, ala Obama, may you enjoy a fine vacation.
    I, ala Buckminster, will embrace ephemeralization.

    I just love thinking about his great Rotunda Dome
    (Except the part when it burned to the ground) – Om, shanti, shanti, om.

  9. I am very late to the commenting party. Bonnie never disappoints, does she?

    Nor do you. You sound so damn wise and philosophical.

    And I love the construction of this pair of sentences:

    “Marriages failed, finances plummeted, moves created distances too great. The roast burned, the tree dried up too soon, the scotch tape ran out.”

    Enjoy New Year’s Eve with your Rich.

  10. Vicki's sister, Betsy

    Great post – honest and accurate. But I’d trade all the many years of Christmas stress and distress to be trying in vain to calm Mom down and watching Bud burn the Christmas morning sausages. I’ve never missed my family more than this year.

    Well, it’s my turn to be late with packages, feeling less than full of peace, a bit blue. (Someone in the family has to do this each year, yes?) But packages are on their way now, we’re off to see Bud and Laurel et al. tomorrow, and we wish you and yours continued peace and contentment and love.

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