America. Land of seasons and traditions. Part of why I wanted to come here.
We only had two seasons back in Zambia–hot (and rainy) or coolish–and hardly any traditions. For one thing, I don’t remember any of my friends having a Christmas tree. We got one when I was twelve, hacked from the bush down at the bottom of Central Street and decorated with tinsel (and no lights like the one below). Just to shut me up. It was actually a Charlie Brown-type twiggy midget, all the other trees were too big and unruly.
And then when I was fourteen, a handful of scrawny pine trees for sale appeared alongside 11th Avenue next to the railroad tracks. We got one of those. I think our purchase was the only sale the guy made (an Englishman who had also started a snake and crocodile farm on the way to Ndola).
However, we did decorate the “lounge,” aka living room, with these folded paper thingys I don’t think we had a name for.
These were strung from one corner to the other, as well as a point in between with a Standard Trading Company-bought, honeycomb tissue ball in the middle where all the paper chains converged. My mom and I would sit at the dining room table folding these two-inch wide strips she cut from bolts of different colored crepe paper, one over the other, this way and that. She would drink tea and smoke one cigarette after another, while I sat as far away as possible and batted at the smoke if it even remotely came my way, my knees propped against the side of our mine issue dining room table, big enough to host the local rugby team.
My little brother, eight years younger than me and always in some medical crisis or another would either be playing on the floor with his Dinky cars, or in hospital. Making the decorations seemed to take forever; those mine house lounges were huge. The best part was seeing those tidy little stacks turn into long Christmas accordions. My mom grumbled about the whole process, her fingers hurt from all the cutting and why did dad have to be so haphazard about where he thumb-tacked the ends into the corners? Why did she have to do everything herself? But then she came to life when it was all done, standing in the middle of the lounge looking up at the gaily colored trails of crepe paper, transported above her anguish over my brother’s condition. For a short while, anyway.
I realize after all these years, that I, too, was transported, my criticism of my mother’s foibles along with my unacknowledged yearning for her approval and desire for her affection also held at bay for a short time.