I’m 51 and a grandmother and somewhat capable of handling things on my own (no, really, I am) but I still want to go home to my parents’ for Christmas and have everything as it always has been. Like the John Deere village my mom puts up — my dad had a John Deere dealership before he retired and now he buys every JD catalogue and ad that comes up for auction anywhere in the world, or at least in Illinois. And like the ornaments I put on the tree when I was a kid, and now my 20-something-year-old children help me put them on their grandparents’ tree — great-grandson 8-month-old Nolan is no help since he would only eat the hooks. And then there’s the great holiday food that only Grommy — what my children call my mother — can make: TV Mix eaten in 40-year-old wooden bowls, graham crackers covered in butter and brown sugar and hot cocoa stirred from scratch in an ancient heavy saucepan. Grandmas definitely are special, and I’d better get my act together if I’m going to be the same for Nolan. But I’ve had lessons from the best, so hopefully I”ve got a headstart. One of my favorite parts of going home during the holidays is coming back to my house with fresh-cut holly and fir branches from my dad’s nursery — one of his other retirement projects. I cannot keep up with them! At least this year I’m making my own Chex mix — I’ll have to call my mom, though, to talk me through.
And now for No. 4 in my Favorite Christmas Movie list — the 1946 “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I know, I know. It’s a heartwarming American classic. It’s a Frank Capra masterpiece. It’s a multi-layered holiday icon. It’s everybody’s favorite. So why isn’t it No. 1 on my list? Because it used to scare the #$%^ out of me! The drunk pharmacist who boxed young George’s ear and made it bleed, the mean and rowdy crowd at the bar, the cheap and hateful Mr. Potter who caused such misery — these disturbing black-and-white images did not bring me comfort and joy when I was younger. And as I grew older and understood the sacrifices George made and the dreams he lost and the drab and dreary life he felt he was living, it made me sad. George did have a wonderful life but bitterness and regret kept him from realizing it — what a waste for all those years. I mainly feel sorry for him. It’s a good thing Clarence comes along to shake him up because I sort of want to do that myself. And here’s the thing: Where were all George’s friends before the bank shortfall? Why does it take a crisis to bring them together and make them value him? Do these people ever stop by to say “hello” or to eat lunch or go to a ballgame? And will they do that now? Or am I being too cynical? You have to admit, though, it’s the kind of movie that breeds cynicism if you didn’t have a healthy dose of it already. Like me. Come back tomorrow for No. 3 — a bonus two-fer. Can you guess what they are?