I spent my childhood Decembers in the dark, dank, basement of our Ohio family home. I was watching my father make intricately designed silk-screen print Christmas cards. Year’s before he married my mother, his journal (1939) began with a Christmas card list. He’d only dated my mother Alice once, but her name was at the top of his list that year, foreshadowing their marriage.
Spending December in a concrete block basement sounds gloomy, right?
It wasn’t. My father welcomed my older sister and me to stand near him and watch him work with a little fine carving tool to cut green print stencils. Out of nothing came carolers, tree-lined lanes, a reindeer prancing.
He let us into his secretive world during the month of December. Once the stencils were adhered to the silk screen we could carry each freshly inked card from the workbench to a card table and lay them out to dry. Many times this ritual was repeated with several colored overlays.
He kept up this ritual for twenty years, until the year my sister’s baby was dying and the whole family fell into chaos. (Read the chapter on Stephanie in My Father’s Closet) I was already grown and out of the house that year.
Right about now, the second week of December, I yearn to be back in the basement with my father. Here’s a bit more from the chapter called, “Our New Basement” from the memoir:
“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the basement came out of its doldrums and entered the cheerful spirit of the holidays–and so did my father’s alter ego. Dad posted an invisible welcome sign outside the basement door. We were hired on as elves to work at the McClintock family Christmas card factory.
In the month before Christmas, we got a whole year closer to Dad. He called us “his girls.” We got to be alone with the crazed genius mixing his concoctions in the basement. We were his co-creators, left to smell the ink and his cologne and see him smile–big broad smiles that were so fleeting at other times. As winter days darkened, the basement and my father came alive with light and joy. The old dingy place was transformed, and so were we.”