Friday, December 15, 2017


The first time I recall being eager about Christmas was when I was ten years old.  I crept down the stairs from my bedroom at 3:00 am on Christmas morning.  Under the austere unlit tree I found a skilfully constructed toy racing car, grey in colour with a sturdy black rubber bumper on the nose and matching rubber wheels.  The toy was a wind-up device. I subsequently amused myself by running the car about the kitchen floor until the rest of the family made an appearance. Apart from that recollection my early childhood memory of Christmas fails me.

I suppose there were times when I hoped for something in particular at Christmas. But honestly I cannot recall. Certainly I was never in need or want of anything. Christmas was more about the music, the lights, the boughs, the holly berries, the fireplace and the Christmas pudding.

Nonetheless there were always presents. Occasionally there were mistakes - such as the time my mother gave me an antique brass container to be hung in a stairwell. It was reputedly for the collection of depleted candles while ascending the staircase with a candelabra (presumably in the manner of a castellated proprietor). Eventually the beneficence of Santa Claus and my parents altered from the insanity of gifts (which latterly were graded in order of paramountcy) to mere money.  It became a recognizable truth that cash was always appreciated and preferred.  My father once rolled up various denominations of dollar bills bound by rubber bands and attached them to the Christmas tree.  It was a vigilant search for all the packets (which my father had cautiously recorded). We especially avoided adding unexamined scraps of paper to the mounting pile of discarded wrapping.  The glass doors on the fireplace kept the blazing logs at bay.

The transition from gifts to money awakened in me the rise of materialism and acquisitiveness. Such is the mutation from the pure cerebral to the adulterated visceral. Naturally without money to effect a purchase, cupidity is no threat. Though the Christmas gifts were substantial enough, they were obviously infrequent. It wasn't until I began working that I had the wherewithal to exercise my retail potency. That juncture did not include my days of articling with a law firm when I was paid $4,000 per annum and when a hamburger joint was considered "dining out".  Nor did it include my first two years of working as a lawyer for law firms when my salary barely covered my rent, car, clothes and food.  It was ony when I began running my own business and had the direction of a good accountant (which firm continues to handle my affairs to this day) that my spending picked up speed.

The scope of my acquisitions was limited by design. The goods were invariably expressions of my affection for detail, substance, performance and impression. Many of the things perhaps admitted to the character of being transportable which likely was a testament to my hitherto nomadic existence. There were no boats, motorcycles, airplanes, mechanical garden implements, sports cars, fancy electronics or sound systems. Instead my focus was upon musical instruments, American-made luxury sedans, works of arts, time pieces, furniture, Oriental rugs, china, crystal, sterling silver flatware, customized brass utility objects and custom-made jewellery.

In the history of my account with stuff the next progression of note was when I stopped working for a living, the so-called "downsizing".  There was an instant reversal of everything I had undertaken in the past forty years.  We got out of real estate entirely, no more vacant land, downtown condo, house, office or apartment building. Our mantra was, "If it doesn't go into the dishwasher, then it's gone!"  I watched with considerable glee the evaporation of every bit of my jewellery live on the internet at the Windsor Arms auction in Toronto. With each knock of the hammer I regained a portion of my lost capital. The celebrated works of art I had bought or inherited also went at auction or on-line as did my Steinway grand piano. The bulk of ornaments and furnishings were carried out the front door of the house or office by keen family members and friends.  All that remains is what we could pack into our small residence, the distillation of our favourite things.

Old habits die hard. The dissipation of appetite doesn't entirely extinguish the former appeal. As recently as this afternoon I contacted a jeweller in the Miami area to discuss the production of an item. My enquiry, though serious, was directed more towards an understanding of the fabrication than its purchase.  Some things just naturally dissipate with time.  Specifically, glitter and old age are best reserved for Jewish widows. But I rationalize my sustaining interest on the basis of aesthetics and a tactile appreciation of precious metal. Admittedly a burnished hide nurtures the passion; and I concede a measure of vanity.

I have quelled my unfaltering interest in time pieces by having purchased some durable though inexpensive watches. It's the dietary equivalent of avoiding pecan pie and peanut butter. Nonetheless I have never relinguished my passion for the Chelsea Ship's Bell which has the combined fortuity of precision, brass and the nautical feature. But I have yet to cross the line of conviction (though often I've imagined making the trip to the factory in Massachusetts).

The unfortunate corollary of materialism on almost any level is that its delight, like Christmas Day, ultimately ends.  After all these years and all that stuff I still remember the little toy car I found under the Christmas tree when I was ten years old.  I'm not convinced it gets any better! Like travel the greater reward is the memories.

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