Smith Brothers Restaurants
HomePublicationBurbankChris Erskine: A Pleasure Within a Pleasure

Chris Erskine: A Pleasure Within a Pleasure

I love Christmas the way the Viennese love waltzes.

It’s a December sunset. Juicy. Succulent. Pink.
There is fizz to this day … And anarchy and helium — to borrow a bit from the great Tina Howe.
Traffic is insane. The parking lots resemble a Chris Nolan epic.
But the enormous butcher case at Bristol Farms looks like what capitalism is all about.
I stand before it in awe, like a boy staring at an elaborate train set. I mean, if only. If only I could afford any of these treasures — the marinated duck, that slab of salmon, that crown roast. I’d have to sell the house. But, man, oh man, oh man, this butcher case.
Maybe it’d be worth it?
Hello, Compass? What can I get for the house? Three bedrooms. Used to be a drive-thru Wienerschnitzel …
Do you ever see something a bit out of reach — a sailboat, a mansion — and think to yourself, “if only I had studied a bit more in college, or doubled-down on Apple stock in 1984, maybe that could’ve been mine?”
I don’t. But some people do.
“Christmas is a baby shower that went totally overboard,” noted wise-guy Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker.
Listen, I don’t aspire to the things I don’t have. I aspire to what I used to have: a house full of noisy kids, turtles, hamsters, laundry on top of laundry — a North Pole of soccer socks and underwear. Those days are gone. But they seem to come back every Christmas.
I love Christmas the way the Viennese love waltzes.
In December, my life is a Sinatra song, full of longing, full of mirth. I am a lucky guy on many levels, despite the loss of my wife and son, despite a career that slammed into a wall, despite the gimpy knee and the yard the dog keeps digging up.
Where would we be without the past?
Remember when the Christmas tree slid off the top of the car in Burbank?
Remember when the decorated tree fainted in the den … fell over in a big jingle-bell whoosh?
Remember working that charity tree lot as a young father, and a customer — alone and forlorn — seemed to look forever for the right tree. As she prepared to pay, she explained that she and her late husband used to come to this little tree lot by the old library, before he died earlier in the year.
“Here, just take the tree,” I said.
“We want you to have this tree.”
Then, as she drove off …
“You just gave her a tree?” the boss asked, shaking his head.
Remember the pewter ponds you skated on as a kid? Remember the silvery shimmer of snow and ice right before dusk?
Remember toboggans?
Remember that one Christmas Eve when the yards were all brown, and the trees looked like they’d been nuked?
It was a Midwestern diorama of mud and misery. And then it started to snow and snow, and snow some more. Big floppy flakes. The dust of Christmas stars. The dust of Christmas pasts.
By church, the drifts were high as your hips. If the sermon had lasted two more minutes, we’d all have been snowed in — holed up in the sanctuary, with baby Jesus and cups of cold hot chocolate.
“Faa-la-la-la-laaaaaa …”
Christmas is candlelight. Christmas is melted wax on mom’s best tablecloth. Christmas is the tinsel in your grandma’s eyes.
Christmas is tactile … a hand on your shoulder, a kiss on the cheek.
Christmas is a pleasure within a pleasure. It’s a burst of liqueur inside a piece of chocolate. It’s ice cream aboard warm cherry pie.
Remember when all the dads wore plaid?
Finn still wears plaid. My son-in-law is of another era. He sometimes seems to be me, or my dad, or his dad. An entire division of Ceithearn warriors.
Finn reminds me of all the fathers who wake up early and go to bed very late, after assembling the tricycles and slot-car tracks, maybe a glass of Scotch to keep them company.
“OK, Scotch, where’d I put that damn bushing …”
Really, it’s a miracle Christmas happens at all anymore, isn’t it? The freeways. The malls. The fistfights on airplanes.
It’s a miracle that we still linger over the Bristol Farms butcher case, eyeing that incredible crown roast.
“Yeah, that big one,” I tell the butcher. “The one that look like King Herod’s crown.”
In the end, Christmas is every memory we can muster … plus every hope, every dream, every confidence, every courage.
Bent, broken, overcooked — yeah, it is.
Yet every year, the holidays summon our better angels.
Merry Christmas.

Please tune into our second “Gin-gle Bell Ball, Saturday, Dec. 23, on Zoom. It’ll take place from 5-6 p.m. We’ll trade toasts, recipes and favorite holiday stories. To participate, just email Cheers!

First published December 21-23 in Outlook Newspapers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=3]