So, it’s that time of year again when so many of us (especially we of the old Oil of Olay adage regarding “a certain age”) think back to holidays and people long gone.
Some of us actually did joyfully organize Christmas pageants or save village bakeries in five-star Hallmark style. Some of us rode holly-festooned sleighs across sparkling snow-covered fields and returned to houses full of happy families and many bottles of Andre champagne. And some of us had (and still have) holidays marked by loneliness, loss, anger or little money to pay the electric bill, much less buy sugar plums or champagne.
For me, one of my fondest Christmas memories involves my brother Nick, who died in May 2019. Nick was gay and for four years, I was the only one in my family who officially knew as much. He moved to Phoenix when he was a quite young man and I visited him as much as possible, if only to get away from the Minnesota cold for a while and pick up some sandal lines and eat good salsa.
One Christmas, Nick asked if I would like to go to a Christmas party with some of his friends. At his local gay bar. And the party would be a drag show, though I was under no obligation to come in any sort of costume. I hadn’t been to a Christmas drag show before but I’d been to some of the shows at the Gay 90s in Minneapolis so I said it likely would be fun to go. I asked Nick if he was going in fancy dress and he said no, some of us should be the boring ones.
Well, the show was pretty much what I had expected, though I wondered if there was some sort of contest for best Ethel Merman Christmas Cowgirl (from the 1980 Rankin-Bass special of highly debatable quality, “Rudolph’s and Frosty’s Christmas in July”), as there were dozens of massively sequined, vividly mascaraed versions of the character. Some of whom required no frontal padding or amplification of singing volume. One of them told me I was a pretty girl, though plain. Even though I was wearing eyeliner and three shades of obviously too subtly hued eyeshadow. One of them said he could make a real woman out of me.
But to be honest, most of the night wasn’t too much different from what one might see in some more diverse sugary holiday movies or at very middle America Christmas gatherings. If you took out a fair amount of the wigs, false eyelashes and size 15 stiletto heels.
Much-loved children’s holiday programs were playing on the televisions mounted around the bar. Some of the most delectable butter cookies I’ve ever had were on offer, along with savory delights from some of finest caterers in town (who also were party guests). I got some outstanding investment advice from one of the city’s more prominent financial analysts/blue velvet-clad elf and had a spirited discussion with a lawyer who tried to convince me that the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers both were teams with loser futures (this was before the Packers won another Super Bowl in 2011). I danced with a few of the guests and was honored with the great compliment from one (a surgeon), who said that if he ever turned straight, he’d make me a very fine husband. He might have been right. I could see he was handsome, and the purple glitter strewn across his face suited him well.
As the evening started to lose some of its shine, Nick had to convince me to put down the punch and think about going home as “none of these guys are going to work out for you, sadly enough.” He was right. Though I did leave with a goodie bag full of luxury lipstick and fragrance samples.
When Nick died, some of those guests from that party long ago wrote to tell me how sad they were Nick was gone and that they hoped I remembered those joyous, colorful times. I did and I do.
I like to think I also remember that party not only because it reminds me of my marvelous dancer brother but because the holidays really don’t have to be about the kind of supposedly “ordinary” gatherings and scenes that may only exist in movies or on television for the majority of us. We really don’t need to have perfectly decorated trees, relatives who don’t annoy or huge piles of carefully wrapped presents to make for warm memories. If we do, wonderful. But it’s not necessary.
Though every Christmas, I sometimes think that a little purple glitter eyeshadow might do me some good.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, recently moved from St. Paul to Arizona. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”