Probably one of the first words Kurt connected with Holidays was tradition. He honestly thinks he learned that before present and food. Both parents always answered any asked question, or even inquisitive looks, with “It is tradition” and so much was tradition. When he asked why they eat icky cabbage on the day with the green, his dad said “tradition”. Even before that, when his mom dressed him in the blue satin knee pants and blue satin jacket and told him he had to sit and listen and watch, because they were going to the Nutcracker and it was a long dance but she thought he’d love it, and maybe they were silly to bring someone not even two yet, but it was Tradition and mommy hadn’t missed going to a show since she was two. (His mom had been right; he’d loved it from the start. He thought he remembered the music, but his mom said he fell asleep within 20 minutes the year before.)
The year his mother died, it was how Kurt got through the year. His dad could manage to scrape together effort for Tradition….for the most part. It’s just, for as much as had been called Tradition and he’d been told was Tradition, there was so much more that he hadn’t been told about that needed to be done to make things right. Like the Christmas Tree. It just happened before. One night he went to bed and the next morning there was a tree in the living room all decorated…all he knew was it happened in the middle of the month. The green stuff that went along the mantle to the fireplace was out when he woke from his after Black Friday Shopping nap. Fun things were on display on the bookshelves when he woke throughout the next week. The candle in the window had been there since the Thanksgiving.
He didn’t know where any of it was stored and didn’t even have a clue where to start looking. Tradition had pushed them through July 4th, and Labor day and Halloween and Thanksgiving. He’d got to see the Nutcracker and the Sound of Music sing along at the theater with the stage. But he didn’t know enough of the actual Christmas Traditions to ask for them. He asked for the advent calendar, his dad bought a chocolate one and it was ok. It worked, but it wasn’t right. The rest…well…he couldn’t use the word Tradition if he didn’t know what the tradition about it was. So Kurt was stuck. He had to just remind his dad…”we need a tree”, “the mantle isn’t done”, “We need a candle in the window”, “Santa?” and “cookies?”.
And it wasn’t working.
It didn’t work at all. He never saw Santa. They made no cookies at all, not even the ones pre-made you just broke apart and put on the cookie sheet. The mantle stayed bare and there was no candle other than the little birthday one Kurt found in the junk drawer and taped to the window. It never got lit.
And there was no tree. Although the tree was just up one morning, Kurt’s mom always had a special new ornament (or two or three) for Kurt to hang on the tree. Always a new ornament to remember the year that was finishing was waiting for Kurt to add it to the tree. Last year he added a pig because they finished their first big read together read along book and Kurt wanted a pig for Wilber even though Charlotte was his favorite and they added a little angel because Kurt was in the community theater production of “The Littlest Angel”. The year before had a dog that looked like the one from Wizard Of Oz, because he’d played Toto in the summer musical theater that year and a chalkboard that had ABC written on for starting school for real. This year…nothing.
But Kurt knew he had to hang something. That was Tradition.
He remembered the pretty bottle in his top drawer in his bedroom. It had held his mother’s perfume…her favorite, but Kurt tipped it over and spilled it out way back last February right before Valentine’s day. Daddy had bought her a new bottle for Valentine’s Day and they had gone out and left Kurt with Mrs. Woolwood five doors down, he’d stayed all night!
He found the pink ribbon in the junk drawer in the kitchen. The metal work around the neck of the bottle made it easy to put the ribbon on and make it so the bottle could hang. Kurt looked around the room…his daddy had fallen asleep in his chair again. He considered the mantle, but under it was stone and if his bottle fell on it would break. The Kurt looked at the big front window. It was sort of old and had a latch thing that you pushed to lock the window shut, but it was broken and so stuck out a bit. If Kurt hung it there and put soft stuff on the window sill…a fall wouldn’t break the bottle.
It was sort of high though, and he would have to climb to reach.
He pulled a dining room chair through into the living room and past his daddy and standing on it he couldn’t quite reach. He got down and decided the throw pillows, if stacked, should be tall enough. He stacked all four and then got back up and stood on the pillows. They were wobbly and wiggly but Kurt was close enough that if he leaned forward he could probably reach the bottle to the latch.
He started to lean but an arm around his waist stopped him and he was lifted up and put back down onto the floor.
“What the hell were you doing, Kurt?” his dad yelled.
“Swear Jar, Daddy. I was hanging my ornament…it’s the only one I got and I need to hang it, it’s tradition.”
“Why the fuck did you climb up in front of the window to hang an old perfume bottle?” His dad yelled again, his eyes were twitching and his forehead scrunched and twitchy.
“Double swear jar, daddy. We don’t have a tree.” Kurt answered.
Kurt sighed and stomped his foot. “We don’t got a tree. BUT it is Tradition to Hang A New Ornament for the year…and this is all I got. It’s not even a real ornament, but it’s what I got to work with. It’ll be the only bit of Christmas in the stupid house because NOONE listens to me and NOONE cares!”
His dad just stared at him after he shouted the last little bit. He didn’t even send Kurt to his sass jar to drop yelling coins (those were the dimes...sigh).
His dad turned the TV to the channel that told them what was on. And swore again. A big long set of swears that would mean lots of coins in the swear jar left his dad’s mouth and Kurt pointed to the jar.
His dad went and dropped a handful of change from his pocket into the jar, more than Kurt thought he probably owed it.
“Put the bottle back in your drawer and go get your coat, kid.” His dad said. “We’re gonna go find a tree and buy you your ornaments for the year. And do some shopping. Do you think Santa can handle some oreo’s this year?”
Kurt ran to get his coat without answering. He didn’t want to risk not going now that they might get something of Tradition back for Christmas.