Babes in Toyland's Maureen Herman's most memorable Christmases
[My friend Maureen Herman, former bassist of Babes in Toyland is currently writing her first book, It's a Memoir, Motherfucker, due out 2017. Maureen posted this to Facebook, and she kindly gave me permission to run it on Boing Boing. - Mark]
We got our Christmas decorations out tonight. To me, Christmas is an annual milestone that makes me look around at where I am in my life. It makes me want to do better. Next year, I want to soar. I want to dissolve every hurt and injury in a flurry of words and wit and hard-won wisdom, then hand it into my publisher in triumph. I want to skip around and say, “I did it! I did it!” I want to thank everyone who said I could do it, and I want to thank the ones who said I never would, because that was inspiring, too.
Merry Christmas, my sweet motherfuckers! I hope yours is truly merry and bright -- and if it’s not, I hope you know that every Christmas will be different, and in our memories, the hard ones end up serving as a contrast to appreciate the easier ones to come. That is how it’s been for me from the very beginning.
My very first memory is from one Christmas Eve in 1970, where I was at a big family party where everyone was laughing and happy. It was amidst the reverie that an older relative sexually assaulted me. Shocked and embarrassed, I said nothing. I didn’t have the words for it. I was four.
One Christmas, we drove to my grandparent’s house in Wisconsin and had delicious Sauerbraten and spaezel. My grandma Anna had been a pastry chef’s apprentice when she lived in Germany. We literally had the best Christmas cookies in existence every year. They were almost too beautiful to eat. I said almost. I was ten.
One Christmas, I had a caroling party. My friends came over and we had hot chocolate and cookies and we’d go out in the neighborhood and ring people’s doorbells and sing a Christmas carol to them whether they liked it or not. My retroactive apologies to the Jewish families we accosted. I was twelve.
One Christmas, each of the six kids in my family got 10 speed bikes--they were all in the living room around the tree. It looked fucking insane. I was thirteen.
One Christmas, we all got new ski outfits, skis, boots, and poles. I lost my green leather ski mitten a few days later when it got caught in the bumper of the car I was skitching on. I stood helplessly as the car drove on, with a mitten stuck to the back. My mother demanded to know how the hell I couldn’t find my bright green mitten in the white snow. I came clean. Convicted of skitching. I was fourteen.
One Christmas, I went to my parent’s house in San Diego and my brothers were all talking about Nirvana. I knew then that punk as I knew it was dead. I was in the band then. I was 28.
One Christmas, I lived in New York City. It was beautiful everywhere you turned, but my life was a disaster. Dispossessed from my family, I spent Christmas Eve with three friends in equally disastrous straits. The Insane Orphan Posse. We all got really drunk and argued. I was approaching the tipping point with my untreated alcoholism. After New Year’s, I entered my first rehab. I was 34.
One Christmas, I was six months pregnant, a crack addict, and living in a motel room in Nashville, Tennessee. I had become the cliche of an addict incarnated and couldn’t shake the costume, like it was glued to my skin. Almost everyone had given up on me. But my mother sent me a big box of food from Meijer that arrived on Christmas Eve. It was all I had in the world. I was 36.
One Christmas, I was living in Aurora, IL at my mother’s house, now sober, raising my three-year old daughter, Anna. I bought a tree that was 8 feet tall and decorated the motherfucker with the skill and taste of a Macy’s window dresser. I got to use all the ornaments I grew up with and give Anna the best Christmas I could. My boyfriend spent his whole paycheck on gifts for her and stayed up late wrapping them perfectly like a department store clerk, even though they would be ripped apart in hours by a dazzled and manic toddler. I was 39.
One Christmas, my first year on my own in Los Angeles with Anna, I had a small, but real, tree, and my very own apartment. I had a full-time job. I’d launched a new nonprofit and produced videos. My daughter was in a great school. I had a decent car. I was able to buy my own ornament sets. I finally had the Christmas tree I always wanted, with silver and blue decorations, and the loose tinsel in sparse clusters sitting on the branches like the trees looked back home after a snowfall. It was my very favorite Christmas tree ever. It was one of my favorite years ever. I got to live my life again. I was 44.
Last Christmas Eve, someone I loved said, “I love you” for the very first time--it felt like the best Christmas present ever. I wrapped the moment up in my memory for safekeeping. I was 48.
This Christmas Eve, it will be me and Anna, and our little fiber-optic tree from Walgreens. Though I’m kind of in a motel again, in our weird apartment-in-a-motor-lodge-complex, I survived an extraordinary year--one of the toughest ever in some ways, and one of the best in others. Late on Christmas Day, we will be with our friends up the hill again, who have been there for us through thick and thin in every way imaginable for the past six years. Thank you Mark, Carla, Jane & Sarina for letting us share your Christmas. You make us feel at home in every way, every time we are with you. I am 49.
The traditions I kept and still practice are borne of fond memories. Baking cookies (Maux Bars!), decorating the tree, playing Christmas carols. The memories I had to survive and recover from are what make celebrating Christmas truly mean something to me. They soak our rituals with authenticity and joy.
One Christmas, my grandma Blanche broke out into a hearty Irish jig in the kitchen. Like that wonderful moment, our family traditions are the stage where I can freely express my spontaneous appreciation for the sudden, precious sparks I now feel after twelve years without drugs or alcohol--the actual true joy of living. The rituals become an annual dance that hollers, “You didn’t break me, motherfuckers--not this year!” And every year, Anna and I add some of our own moves.
I treasure every adversity, every violation, and every bit of scorn, betrayal, and rejection I had this year. It got me here, to the precipice, and the view is nothing short of miraculous and beautiful. I didn’t know I was so close. The journey was so steep at times that I couldn’t see the top. I almost gave up. But no--not this year. Not this year. Thanks to the love, support, and generosity of my family, friends, and the countless strangers-turned-allies in this wonderful Facebook community, I made it through a very dark time, and I’m OK. A bit bruised and bloodied, but cleaning up nicely.
I believe next year can be off the charts--literally--if I just face the terrifying maelstrom of emotions that overwhelms me at times, instead of trying to numb them. They will pass as surely as the years. I need to let myself feel the pain and despair just as passionately as I’ll bask in the joy and peace on the other side of it. Every year is different. I hope yours is nothing short of revolutionary.
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