Monday, January 7, 2013

I Get a Kick Out of You!

We have de-Christmassed the house. The trains have been packed away for another year; we vacuumed the tinsel out of the carpet; the stale un-eaten Christmas cookies were fed to the garbage disposal; and the house is silent of carols.

It'll be a long, dim January/February, highlighted only by the lengthening daylight each morning and evening, signifying that slow, celestial move toward spring and summer.

Un-decorating the tree is very much like decorating it; the ornaments go back, as they came out, stirring stories and memories of where they came from or what they signify.

The same old stories get told. And re-told.

Among our unusual Christmas ornaments is this one:

For you non-SciFi fans, that's Robbie the Robot from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet. It was a gift from my good friend, Rich, who saw it and thought of me. Forbidden Planet is among my favorite SciFi classics, partly for its 1950s kitschy charm and partly for is Shakespearean undertones (see: The Tempest).

Robbie holds a special place on our tree not so much because of who he is but, rather, a story that rests on his titanium shoulders.

Robbie has a small chip in his mechanism, and at the push of a button, he utters one of a handful of phrases from the script of the film.

Our middle daughter, Claire, was examining him closely one Christmas past and pushed his button.

"I have been programmed to respond to the name 'Robbie,'" the metal man intoned.

And in a lapse of logic but a leap of faith, Claire answered him: "Hi, Robbie!"

I was utterly charmed by her naivete at the capabilities of a tiny plastic Christmas tree ornament, burst out laughing, and kidded Claire about her mis-assumption.

It has become one of Those Family Stories -- you know, the ones that seem to get trotted out year after year, triggered by some memory or other.

So, yes, this year, when Robbie made his appearance, one of us was heard to utter: "Remember when Claire thought Robbie could actually speak...?"

Claire laughs, with the rest of us, at her innocence from back then, a good sign that she takes this ribbing in the gentle/loving/kidding/familial manner in which it is offered.

I'm glad she's okay with it and not angered or shamed or resentful. 

I know I've got my own edition of Those Family Stories.

One involved my Aunt Margie, my mother's sister, who came to mind just the other day when I came across a commemorative plate she had given me on the day I was born, listing my time/day/weight/length.

Aunt Margie, always one to appreciate a good edition of Those Family Stories, kidded me about ours -- her's and mine -- for years and years. 

Like Claire, I didn't mind, really. It's kind of fun -- I daresay somewhat of an honor -- having your childhood actions become the stuff of folklore.

The episode that prompted my edition of Those Family Stories was this: My brothers and I were at Aunt Margie's, being sat while my parents were out. Being the youngest of the three Weckerly boys, my aunt had instructions to put me to bed first, with the intent, I guess, of Mom & Dad bundling me from a spare bed to the car and then home, where I could be nestled under my own covers and remain (mostly/hopefully/please God) asleep.

But I saw this as a great injustice. My brothers weren't going to be. My cousins weren't going to bed.

Just me.

So I protested. A lot. And my temper flared unto a full-force tantrum.

Until, in utter frustration...

I kicked Aunt Margie!

My brothers were appalled: "You kicked Aunt Mawgee!" they shamed. 

Truth be told, I do not remember this incident at all. I don't know what my parents' reaction was. I don't know if there were repercussions.

I do know that the story got legs and hung around for a long time, brought up -- joshingly but continuously -- through the years. Even in our wedding video, as I leaned in receive Aunt Margie's congratulatory kiss, she can be heard kidding: "Today, I forgive you for kicking me all those years ago."

"Thanks, Aunt Marg."

Aunt Margie is gone, now. So is Uncle Charlie. And Uncle Connie. And Uncle Bill. My parents are gone, too. And with them, the story is starting to fade. I'll revive it every once in a while (my girls have heard it ad nauseum, but they're now of an age where they feel that way about all my stories), but considering the main cast of characters is no longer around, it doesn't seem to have the same impact.

Oral history is like that, I suppose. The details blur. The main points lose focus. The relatives involved move on into history.

Which makes me think about Claire and her children.

And of the day she'll relate being good-naturedly jibed.

"Hi, Robbie!"


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