Two VCR Tapes, One Lump of Plasticine, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Last Friday was a blah day.

You know those times when you feel blah?

I haven’t felt Christmasy this year. Forget Merry Christmas and ho ho ho. More like Grinch stepping on Whoville.

To perk up, I thought I’d watch Christmas videos from yesteryear. My “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament would state 1990. Growing up, I was a Jehovah’s Witness. But in theory, we weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t string Christmas lights down their driveways.

In 1990 my older sister, Jenn, and I whipped through gifts like rabid badgers. Leaving a pile of pastel Regal floral wrapping paper. Making up for past Christmases. I clawed the paper off an Ice Capades Barbie, yelling, “I knew it,” and I predicted it’d be a collector’s item in 20 years.

It’s not, but it’s pretty.

There isn’t much footage from 1991. Only about 10 minutes, give or take. There’s my little sister dancing by the Christmas tree. And me, standing in front of the wet bar, 11 weeks post-op from my first brain surgery. Luckily, I could cover my half-shaven head with a hair-flip. Not long after my older sister and I started to open presents, we coaxed our dad to nix the camera and open gifts. Later, I’m on camera duty, capturing my mom wearing white furry slippers with black claws, then zip across the rec room. And my dad’s saying, “Too fast, Tammy. Too fast,” with fast panning that would make my documentary instructor recant my “A”.

By the early-90s, our house was known for its Christmas lights. My dad would place a star atop the tall TV antenna and white lights on the house. There were lights over the skating rink, on the barn, workshop. Looped down the driveway.

One Christmas, a radio station wanted suggestions for must-see houses. A caller recommend our house, comparing it to the Griswold’s. Our bi-level fireball could be seen for kilometres as you approached one of the main intersections.

Christmas 1992 started with my older sister and I opening … no way … Nintendo! The first generation. Plus two joysticks. What a time to be alive! Then, I coined the “Rachel” before Friends hit the airwaves. My then-boyfriend received a card – with a letter.

“Wow,” he said, flipping pages. “It’s … eight pages.”

“Read it now!” I said.

“I’ll … *checking to see if it’s double sided* … read it later,” and he glanced at my sister’s ex, as though saying, “Help … me!”

My dad used a tripod for the first time that Christmas. But he shut the camera off due to low battery or lack of light. Either way, the red button was flashing. Later, dad video’d my sister’s ex playing “Please Don’t Go” from Dance Mix ’92 on my new boom box. I nearly lost my mind when I opened that gift. Top load CD, radio, double cassette. However, there’s a candid photo which captures the moment.

During Christmas 1993, I was quiet as a mouse – this time 11 days post-op from brain surgery. On and off mute from temporary aphasia. That night I was given the first gift and everyone watched me. Awkward. Dad said, “Psst,” indicating to face the camera. The gift was a silver ring. During that pinch of time I could talk. But I have a TV grab of me where I fell back into aphasia while opening a musical skating ornament. Meanwhile, my older sister added to her never ending clown collection. “See my clown, see my clown … see my clown!” she’d say.

My mom compensated for the silent night when she squealled. Dad bought her a Braun juicer. Then she said, “We’ll have apple juice tomorrow.” We did not have apple juice on Christmas Day. Mom said she used the juicer once, and it made a huge mess.

In 1994, I gave my little sister a hot pink and purple robe, and she pranced around the living room. Today, she loathes pink and purple. Meanwhile, my older sister’s ex laughed at the VHS tape from my parents. He said, “I haven’t even used the one you gave me last year!”

Later, my little sister held up two identical packages.

“Tammy and Jenn, which one do you want.”

We took the closest box, giggling. When we opened the gift, a small ball of Plasticine plopped into our hand. We laughed and squished the Plasticine. After all, it’s Plasticine. But, the gift-giver screams.

“My masterpiece!” she said with the passion of a second-grader. “It’s broken.”

“Is it?” asked Jenn.

My little sister nodded. I asked, “Did I squish it?” and she nodded again, and the room burst into laughter as we consoled her.

During the taping of Christmas 1994, the video camara’s battery died. In the last scene though, we seemed happy.

After all, it was Christmas, right? Who wouldn’t be happy? And if we weren’t happy with our gifts, we hid our disappointment.

Whether it’s a juicer, a VHS tape, or a clump of Plasticine, what’s inside the box shouldn’t matter.

It’s happiness that counts.
Portions originally published on (defunct) on December 28, 2009.