free and clear… almost.

by santoki

During the holiday season, traditions abound. Families will gather by the hearth. Some eat a big goose. Others indulge in an appetite inducing tramp through a nearby wooded area. More than a few will hoof it to the local mall to return those gifts that missed the mark. Recently, I heard of one that requires the involvement of a ceramic dolphin. As for my family, we are devoid of the routines that mar the yuletide, and happily so.

That is, except for the one.

I thought that I had dodged a bullet this year. You see, it seems that no Christmas in the Lee family would be complete without a trip down memory lane. This trip has but one stop. That stop happens to be a glorious revisit to my favorite childhood trauma.

course1.jpgSeeing that Christmas had come and gone and we were well past the need for novelty New Year’s eyewear, I let out a satisfied sigh of relief. Much of my thanks was due in large part to the very atypical Christmas visit. You see, this was the first holiday where the Sister and Brother-In-Law were east coast locked. We didn’t do too much in the way of festivities, save for going to church. Oh, and if it counts as Christmas-y, there was golf. Lots and lots of golf.

Fast forward: After some serious golf, a bit of zig zagging across this fair nation for New Year’s fun and excitement (big ups to the boys of Hoboken, Mr. Math, the Ladies of Astoria, and the Ukrainian connection) I plopped back in Chitown for a well deserved nap. My brain wandered away from Christmas Eve on the 16th hole, away from New Year’s Eve at the biggest apartment I have ever been allowed into on the island of Manhattan, and away from the presents that I pretended were from someone else. I returned back to my own bed, my own home, and my own life.

Happily ensconced in this land we call Chicago, I am blindsided by the ghost of Christmas past. A brief phone call from Dad, and I am waylaid. Sure, it starts out innocently enough: Did you have a nice time on in NY? Did you see your friends? Do you remember that time…

Rather than try to recount the conversation, I make this rather dreary confessional. Long, long ago at the tender age of 6, my parents volunteered the sister and me to perform in front of our church for the Christmas service. My sister would be playing the piano, while I would be crooning along to Silent Night.

In Korean.

We practiced for weeks. My sister would sit at the piano bench while my grandmother dutifully turned the pages. I would sing my heart out in phonetically learned Korean. We were ready for the big time. Almost.

Feel free to challenge the notion, but there is a distinct possibility that the Koreans invented the Mega-Church. Even in its nascent stages, our church had at least 250 families. Of course, as a 6-year old, I couldn’t count that high nor was I aware the existence of any people over the age of 12.

When it came time for our little recital, we were dressed in our new Christmas best, and shuffled through a door. We were greeted by a tremendous congregation of what seemed to my soft skull as a bazillion people. My sister, well protected by the piano, was unaware of the 2 bazillion eyes waiting to be dazzled. On the other hand, I was frozen in a state of panic. I heard the opening tinkle of Silent Night, and I did what every red blooded 6-year old would do. I hauled my tiny bottom out of there as fast as my little legs could take me. Of course, I didn’t take the shortest route. That would have been too logical. I took the straightest route right down the center aisle.


My sister, being the older, wiser, 7-year old trooper tinkled her way through all 4 verses sans vocal accompaniment. I, on the other hand, was saddled with the recounting of this event every Christmas since. I had hoped that this would be the year. I had hoped that this tradition would be laid to rest.

So close. On the plus side, to this day I am still able to rock out to a Korean rendition of Silent Night. Although, I don’t know if I can do it without the screaming, but one can dream.