A Heck of a Guy Christmas Tradition
Since 2007, Heck Of A Guy has featured Lady Lawanda’s1 (aka Val Murdy) account of her “Bestest Christmas,” a story that I found – and continue to find – touching, wonderful, uncomplicated, profound, gleeful, poignant, heartening, and exactly the gift to offer readers.
That Christmas Day 2020 finds me devotedly and delightfully married to the Duchess, a woman who could have done so much better, does not diminish my feelings for Julie or Val, both of whom brought joy into my life and both of whom were lost in death. Instead, it invests those feelings in Penny as well – and adds Penny’s memories of Don, to whom she was married for 24 years until his death on October 12, 2009, to our shared treasury of cherishments. This story is part of that mutual dowry.
Lady Lawanda’s Christmas Story
The child of devoted parents and the youngest sibling, by several years, of a swarm of indulgent brothers and sisters, Lady Lawanda was the unwitting star of a long-running series of theatrical productions featuring her as ingénue of an ensemble troupe with family members simultaneously playing support roles, exquisitely and exhaustively stage-managing the shows, and serving as an enthusiastic and starstruck audience.
A seasonal favorite was the annual Christmas pageant, central to which was the assumption that Santa Claus was a dramatic, all-embracing, benevolent figure no less real for completing his seemingly impossible tasks accomplished out of sight of those whose lives he blessed – not unlike the first Mayor Daley.
While the script of “Lady Lawanda’s Christmas” varied somewhat from year to year, the most ancient of the recurrent motifs was the the discovery of evidence that Santa had completed his holiday visit.
In the service of that goal, sooty footprints were manufactured that began and ended beneath the chimney, partially eaten remnants of the snack left for Saint Nick and the chow left for his reindeer were strewn artistically, and sound effects congruent with a rooftop landing of a sleigh powered by flying reindeer rendered.
To the young Lady Lawanda, the cumulative effect was utterly convincing.
By her own assessment, Lady Lawanda’s most memorable moment from all these Christmas performances occurred in her ninth year as the juvenile lead in this intimate, long-running, and remarkable theater in an instance which crystallized and preserved for all time her dramaturgical talent for playing a role with absolute conviction.
Lawanda’s Christmas Vision
Running a Christmas Eve errand with her father, perhaps her greatest fan, Lawanda glimpsed something in her peripheral vision. Although whatever had caught her eye had vanished within the fraction of a second required to shift her focus, she knew, wholeheartedly and unquestionably, that she had seen Santa Claus soaring across the sky in his sleigh making his deliveries.
The remaining plot is anti-climatic. Lawanda gleefully informed her father that she had just seen Santa Claus making his rounds, her father acknowledged her report without any suggestion of surprise, let alone doubt, and, on their return home, she found, indeed, that Santa had already come, dropped off her usual bonanza of gifts, and departed.
Lawanda’s glance of that communal myth, made all but inevitable by the ongoing machinations of a family smitten with her, distilled and condensed the innocence, security, delight, unalloyed joyfulness, enchantment, affection, and all that is special in a childhood that was imperfect, which all childhoods are, but suffused with love, which is not true of all childhoods.
If the celebrations, ornaments, feasts, and traditions of Christmas over the generations have accomplished nothing other than that moment when a nine year old girl, to the delight of her loving family, was convinced she saw Santa flying through the sky, I would maintain the time, energy, and expenditures2 have been well compensated.
Our Christmas wish is for each of you to be
likewise blessed, today and every day,
with signs and emblems that you are loved
- Lady Lawanda is the blogonym (and, I hasten to add, the self-chosen blogonym) of Val Murdy, the woman in my life for the too few years before she died from breast cancer in June 2008. Lady Lawanda was a profoundly important and positive force in her close-knit neighborhood and the school where she was an especially effective and innovative teacher and leader. She was also a central, vital element in the lives of her family, her friends, and, not least, my children and me. I miss both Julie and Lawanda every day.
- Including those aesthetic affronts committed in the name of commemorating the holiday