Sunday in the Park
Beware! The days ahead are filled with potential minefields of emotions, expectations and possible disappointments. And yes, there may be surprises, great joy and moments of unmatched elation. The holidays come, in a town like ours, when the weather is dramatic, requiring you to slow down when everything inside you is screaming, "Hurry up and arrive somewhere!" Enjoying the moment seems to be the most difficult thing of all to do.
And then there are the gatherings. Neighborhoods, and friends who seem to have endless time to decorate and entertain, manage to serve up thumb-pressed jelly cookies and homemade toddies. You want to sit and reflect and enjoy the fire and the company but that voice often screams, "Do you know how much you have left to accomplish to make your own holiday bright? Quit enjoying the old friends and go home and wrap something, bake something yourself!" Ah, the dilemma.
This week, once again, my little staff gathered for our annual celebration in a popular restaurant which gifts us with this traditional, elegant event. We exchange secret Santa gifts. We eat so very well. We lift a glass to the year that was and the one we hope for ahead. And we tell each other a story.
A few years ago I decided we needed to make sure certain spouses had an opportunity to mingle with more than the people that brung ’em. So, midway through the evening at the long table, I number folks "ones" and "twos." The ones stay in place and the twos must move twice in the next half of the night and ask questions of their new seatmates like, "What is your favorite movie?" We try for one night to avoid the taboo topics of politics and religion and sex, but we don’t mind if they creep in, so long as they are in relation to something else.
Even with spouses and part-time folks and a guest or two, we still only number about 25, which makes the next part doable. After the "twos" have moved the second time, we begin telling stories about our own personal holidays. One year, stories were all about your favorite gift. Another year, it was all about how you learned about Santa, whatever that meant. This year, it was a bit broader you could tell any story, from any age, about Christmas past.
This part of the evening never fails to amaze. Shy folks suddenly find courage and uncover memories that seem to surprise even them. The first to share this time was not a staff member but the spouse of a staff member who had attended these parties before. He talked about his parents who had dramatically different styles of decorating with tinsel. His dad was the throw-it-on-in-handfuls type. His mother was the single-strand-by-single-strand type. He remembered this as the only thing his parents ever argued about, until the year someone had an epiphany: If they eliminated the tinsel, they would eliminate the arguments. His parents have been otherwise happily married for nearly fifty years now.
Our newest staff member jumped right in and talked about being the baby, by thirteen years, in his large Irish Catholic family. His teenage brother decided to tell the much-younger sibling that there was no Santa and ha ha to all that. Crushed, the young boy went to his father, who was clever and said, "You’ll see." And later that night he woke the young child (now a middle-aged red-bearded man telling the story) to show him Santa’s sleigh tracks clearly visible on the roof of their snowy house in New Hampshire. Turns out the cranky Dad decided to put on a pair of skis and ski off the roof to create the special effect. I suspect adult beverages were involved.
We heard from one of our youngest staff members, who brought her even-younger sister, about a Christmas just a few years ago when their father was not expected to survive a horrific car accident that happened here in town a week before Thanksgiving. How he made it home, hooked up to oxygen and an IV, for Christmas. And how this fourteen-year-old tiptoed downstairs in the still-dark hours and found her father, already up and ensconced in his chair, and knew she didn’t need to open any other gifts. Yeah, most of us were crying by then.
Another spouse, who is always well behaved but quiet at these gatherings, spoke up late. He said he didn’t have any good memories of Christmas past. Not any. But he now had this wonderful little son and he could see the joy and wonder in his eyes and he understood the season, finally.
The single best delivery goes to the spouse (notice a trend here) who is in construction. He is the strong, silent type. He said he remembered the year he got a BB gun for Christmas and his sister got a battery-operated doll that crawled across the floor. "That was a good Christmas," he said dryly. And we all took a beat, got it and laughed a lot.
One of our always-amusing tech guys, who is only twenty something, said his story was pretty simple. He had a stroke at Christmas when he was just 19. And every year since, at Christmas, he celebrates another year.
Like a great many folks in town, this is a staff who works weekends and holidays and spends strange, extraordinary amounts of time together, often under a pressure cooker of, well, expectations. They say they look forward to this annual evening out when they’re not in charge of anybody else’s good time. The friends and spouses put faces to the names in some of those crazy late-night stories and the spouses respect the spouses, who do extra duty just like them, to make this very small nonprofit work.
It has come to be one of my favorite holiday evenings. I watch smart, creative people who are fueled by the smart, creative people who live with them, or might live with them one day. I am reminded how kind these people are, and how hard working and honestly, how very funny.
Right now, I need to frantically start making lists and checking them twice. But I’ll carry with me the memory of the evening of a great group of people who are equally naughty and nice, who I just happen to have the enormous pleasure of working with, on so very many Sundays, here in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. Orr is also a former editor of The Park Record.
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