Construction-Paper Christmas

Somehow yesterday I was reminded of a Christmas past—but not a Christmas PSAT because that would be boring—that I am now going to tell you about, so put your ’80s hats on.

I dropped out of college a billion times. I criticize myself for this flakiness a lot until I read my college-era diaries, when it all comes back to me how

FEKKING CRIPPLED

I was by anxiety and panic attacks that I was not telling anyone about except my beleaguered boyfriend du jour, who did his best but he was 19 and I feel bad for him and he’s one of two boyfriends I am not in touch with out of the 60343834223442. And can you blame him? I sort of can, because it was almost 40 years ago, and get over it, dude. Check in and see if maybe things have gotten better for me, asshole. Yeesh.

I will always want to know how my exes are doing, even the ones who turned out sort of wonky. I don’t understand people who are still harboring resentment decades later. bUt shE haD anXIEty! Yeah, I did. I’m 55 now. You lost your virginity to me. There’s no, like, curiosity about how I’m doing or if I look good or am I a bag lady muttering to herself or anything?

Anyway, this story has little to do with men or exes, so I digress. Can you even digress if you’ve not started the story yet?

Christmas 1985, I had dropped out of Michigan State, as I was wont to do. Honestly, having secret almost-daily panic attacks and trying to attend a large college is taxing and I just need you to believe me on this. I can elaborate on it in a different post if you wish.

I’d gotten back together with my high school boyfriend, Cardinal. I moved back to my home town and got an apartment that was so adorable, just blocks from where he lived. I don’t recall discussing with whether he wanted me to move back home blocks from him, but I did and that’s what mattered.

The apartment was the top of an old house. It had a front and a back entrance and I always entered through the back door and didn’t realize I had like a month’s worth of mail, including bills, piling up in the front hall. was 20, did I mention?

Anyway. I found these blue, red and yellow-flowered curtains for the kitchen and then as luck would have it, I found the SAME PATTERN in a shower curtain. Oh, man, I was stylin’.

The living room had these double doors and behind them was a Murphy bed! Also there was a walk-in cedar closet that had this built-in bench you could sit on. I had a party there once and someone looked in the closet and found my calendar where I’d written each day’s outfit so I wouldn’t repeat my looks too soon.

I got two jobs: as a cocktail waitress at a club and selling shoes by day. I owned a lot of unnecessary shoes. I was too young to drink so I didn’t spend much at my night job.

To furnish my new pad, I went to the world’s most successful garage sale experience. It was in a nice neighborhood, and the older couple having it was moving to Florida. I purchased their really nice couch for I think $35, a couch MY AUNT KATHY STILL OWNS. She’s had it recovered like three times. Every time I see it, I say, dammit. Kind of like Faithful Reader Andrea when she sees Forest.

I also bought this forest, if you’ll forgive, green cardigan, this old-man cardigan. It was a v-neck, sort of fuzzy, and it buttoned, as it was a cardigan. I think it was 50 cents.

I WORE THAT CARDIGAN FOR 20 YEARS.

There are times I peruse my closet—or there were, back when I put on clothes—and I’d think, “I wish I had that cardigan.” I wore it backwards sometimes, to be cute. When the buttons all fell off, I wore it with lacy tanks. I wore that cardigan probably longer than the original owner lived.

My point is this. I moved into that cute apartment in the fall. I made probably $15,000 a year with my two impressive jobs. Then winter came and Christmas arrived.

I didn’t have much money, but my boyfriend Cardinal and I headed to the Christmas tree lot across from the movie theater. You know how I’ve told you when I was a kid we lived walking distance from a movie theater so in the summer I saw The Sting and Rocky like 20 times apiece for a dollar? That theater.

We got a fairly short tree, because $$. We brought it to my cute apartment and set it up. I think we went to the antique store to get a tree stand. I can sort of envision a really cool old stand.

And here’s the part I remembered yesterday.

After the tree was up, I put my cousins to work.

In 1985, my cousins Katie and Maria were, I think, 8 and 6. You know how I am. They might also have been 18 months and 20 years old. Whatever. They were young. And I don’t recall asking, I just recall retrieving them from their home, getting supplies, and putting them to work.

They sat in my living room with scissors and glue, and made me all my ornaments. My whole tree was covered in construction paper and tinsel. I don’t even know if I had any lights.

One thing that sticks out is the star. I recall a very crooked star, just covered in dangling tinsel.

That tree was fekking adorable. And you know what I did? I took zero pictures. I took zero pictures of that apartment at all, I think. I had an old parasol open, hanging in one corner, over a cool old fishbowl with a blue beta fish in it. I had a vintage cookie jar that looked like a big elf head. I had stuff in there I bet I’ve forgotten all about, and is any of it captured on film? It is not.

So yesterday I texted my cousins.

Neither of them remember this, and that is good, because I’ll bet you I made them work for hours and did not give them any snacks or anything.

“I do remember that apartment,” my cousin Katie wrote me. “I wanted to have one just like it when I got older.”

I mean. That apartment was pretty cool. I don’t know if just everyone achieves the matching kitchen curtain/shower curtain thing.

Anyway, that was yesterday’s memory. Of my crooked-star, construction-paper tree in 1985. How come the nicest memories are of things you didn’t pay much for? And that you used child labor to get?

I wonder if I could get Chris and Lilly’s kids to just do shit for me. I must ponder this.

Hansel and Gretel-ly,
June

48 Comments

  1. I loved that cookie jar! I saw one similar at a cool kids shop in Seattle. It was $400. You had that harlequin tea pot that was really cool also. I can’t remember what I did yesterday. But that place and time I remember like it was yesterday. You’re burned on my brain.

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    1. I broke either that teapot or that cookie jar—I can’t remember which. I don’t take care of my things.

      You know, the way you know about a good melon.

      >

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  2. I love reading this kind of stuff. That was my young, carefree, stupid time of life as well. I lived with a roommate in Chicago and we are still friends. We brushed our carpet because we didn’t have a vacuum cleaner, finally borrowed one from our lovely gay neighbors. And vintage stores!
    I truly feel like June- this is not really my time. More like 50’s maybe.

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  3. I enjoyed this post. I love how you could just grab up some young relatives and put them to work. I never had any young relatives. I think now that that would’ve really come in handy.
    Toward the end of working on my Ph.D., after two grueling years, I quit. Right before the Ph.D. exams. I had such severe clinical depression and anxiety (later I was diagnosed with Bipolar type 2) that it was either quit without getting my Ph.D., or probably commit suicide during my exams.
    I still wish I’d gotten that Ph.D., but I also know very well that it would’ve probably killed me. So.

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  4. Ahh so overwhelmed with sweet memories now too! Those quaint little apartments in Saginaw – so sweet. I never had one but several friends did and they were delightful. Stirrup pants – weren’t we ever so chic! haha

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  5. Loved the apartment and tree story. Thank you for sharing about your college struggles. I didn’t drop out but I probably should have. It all feels so high stakes in those years.

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  6. I used to write down my daily outfits on a calendar. I don’t know why I thought anyone cared. Another thing I used to do is change my purse to match my outfit each day. I can’t even imagine going to all that trouble now. Today I threw on a sweatshirt I’m pretty sure I wore two days ago and yesterday’s jeans and still didn’t get to work until almost 11:00. I am killing it over here.

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    1. I never matched my purses to my outfits or even switched them out seasonally. I’d buy one purse and use that until it died or I didn’t like it any more and then I’d get a new one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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  7. The more you write, the more I realize what an interesting life you have had. At your age, I wouldn’t have thought about dropping out of college and getting an apartment, much less dropping out numerous times. My mom would not have stood for it and would have had me committed.

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  8. Aw, I have one of my grandpa’s old man cardigans. It’s maroon and v-neck and 100% acrylic that will never really wear out. It has uglied out but I still wear it sometimes. I had one apartment that was upstairs in an old house with the woodwork and the alcove and those windows, loved it! I was in college and the building was kind of a dump but it had beautiful bones!

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  9. What a lovely trippy trip down Joon’s Memory Lane! My older sister who went to heathen public school used to keep a calendar of her outfits to avoid the shame of wearing the same thing twice a semester. I was lucky enough to go to medieval parochial school and never had to think about what I was wearing. It saved me many brain cells but did nothing for my fashion sense.

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  10. Just like Mary Tyler Moore with your independence and top-of-the-house apartment! I always wanted her apartment and life from that tv show.

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    1. Yes! I wanted Mary’s apartment, and her life. Started college as a journalism major, but that didn’t last, and I moved on to being an English major instead. Since I live very close to the “Mary apartment” I can drive by the house and look up at the windows and dream a little of the past.

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  11. Your life is so interesting, Coot. You’ve packed a lot of living in it, and you regale us with these fabulous stories, I’m very thankful for you. My Mom used to worry the same about not repeating Her clothes when she was a college student, but she had so few she had to get creative and every time I remember this I tear up a little,or a lot, even tho she is rich in every aspect of Her life now.

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  12. I love those sweet memories. Our first apartment cost us $250 a month, which was exactly 1/2 of what my husband made. We loved our life and had no idea we were impoverished. Our first Christmas we found a short, fat, lop-sided tree – it was so tippy in the stand that when my dad got there he found three nails and a hammer in our creepy basement and nailed the stand to the floor. We made popcorn and cranberry garland and went to TJ Maxx and found anything they had that was silver, sparkly and cheap. I still have the silver coasters that look like maple leaves that we bought and punched holes in to put the hook through to hang on the tree. Oh how we loved everything about that Christmas, that apartment, that life.

    And not to pick a fight with anyone, but I disagree that kids today wouldn’t do what your cousins did. Lots of kids would LOVE to get a whole tree and a pile of stuff to use to decorate it.

    Thanks for sharing June… you even reminded me that seeing the mailman arrive used to be one of my daily highlights. Those were the days when we got stuff in the mail we actually enjoyed!

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  13. Lovely memory, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been working from home, and doing everything from home for the last 9 months or whatever, who’s counting, but I’ve also been having memories just pop up from my past. A few horrifying ones asking myself why I did this or that, but some fond, I’m glad you had a fond one. You do seem to find charming places to live, I love the home you’re in now, you’ve got a good eye for cool places to live.

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    1. I have memories pop up that make me wonder how I am not buried in a shallow grave out in the woods.

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      1. I often wonder how the hell I survived the 80s. During these unprecedented times stuck at home, I keep thinking about the best of those days and damn, I miss them and the people who were part of my life at that time. I was listening to a sports-related podcast that had one of my old boyfriends as the Guest Du Jour and I kept thinking “God DAMN those days were a blast!”

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  14. Lovely post Coot.
    My apartment at 20 was above the chief of policy’s garage. My roommate and I bought a small tree and made a chain from pull tabs off of beer cans and ornaments from bottle tops and feather boas from the 5 and dime for extra fluff. It was fabulous. The C.O.P. used to come up to our apartment to drink beer and smoke cigars because his wife wouldn’t let him do either at home. He brought us lights and we put those on the tree. On Christmas eve he also brought us a huge turkey he had smoked. He said he bought a smoker to cover the smell of the cigars. He had smoked 3 turkeys and 4 hams.
    Ah, good times.

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  15. That apartment sounds adorable! I’m very impressed by the kitchen curtains and shower curtain matching. Even if the cousins don’t remember decorating your Christmas tree, it must be one of the experiences that convinced at least one of them that she wanted to live in a place like yours one day. I used the wear the hell out of sweaters I found at the thrift store, especially if I found them when I was shopping with my high school friends. The sweaters became mementos of time with them.

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  16. Those memories are etched in your brain, but you provided me a word picture. Now I’m worried about all the uncollected mail at the front door.
    Tee

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    1. I remember finally meandering down there and being all, Oh, look, my car insurance bill. I was barely bothered by it. It gives me angina to think of it now.

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      1. During my poverty-stricken 20s, getting the mail was so low on the totem pole of things I worried about. The mail brought bills so the mailbox must be avoided.

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  17. I love this story! Back then, your cousins came right over and created. Today kids would be all “I’m playing my game” or “I am about to tik a tok or whatever.”
    We probably all have things we should have taken pictures of, and didn’t. I’m glad it lives in your mind – and even your cousin remembering how great the apartment was!

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  18. Why do I feel Chris and Lily’s kids would come over there, make beautiful glass blown ornaments and elaborate origami garland? Afterward girl child would throw a beef Wellington together and boy child would make an 5 star desert with homemade ganache and spun sugar.
    I feel those kids have it together far more than I do.

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      1. DAMN IT. DESSERT.
        *My only excuse- I had Covid and am suffering from horrible brain fog and slow processing.
        *see last sentence in my first comment

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    1. Why the comma?* I think my sentence was forming in my head and I didn’t write it the same way it was in my brain. I hate errant commas.
      *see final sentence in my first comment

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    2. I love living vicariously through you. I never had my own place until my husband died and I lived on the life insurance. You were SO independent. I admire that!

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      1. Aw, thanks Koala. I had to wear a leopard-print top to that club. You had to wear leopard on top and black on the bottom. I believe I wore stirrup pants sometimes. God help us, everyone.

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        1. I think it sounds pretty cool. I like that combination but I was usually too meaty for it unless I was starving myself. You have had a broad array of experiences.

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