Monday, December 26, 2011


The Best Time I Went to a Sheena Easton Concert

My earliest Christmas memory was me, age five, watching a Sesame Street holiday special. Big Bird was ice skating to the song “Feliz Navidad," and I was twirling around and singing along. Mom marched into the room and flipped off the TV.

“We celebrate Christmas in this house!” she shouted. She didn’t know “feliz navidad” was, in fact, a Christmas greeting, and instead thought it was one of those war-on-Christmas holidays like Winter Solstice or Hanukkah. Even a hint of “Happy Holidays” made Mom crazy, because we were Evangelical Christians.

Though, admittedly, we were pretty terrible at it. We were lazy, we were undisciplined, we abandoned abortion protests for bagel runs. That’s probably why my folks tried to pass by obsessing over the details. Growing up, my little sister Brittany and I weren’t allowed jeans, TV, music, or the Sweet Valley High books, because Mom thought the girls on the cover looked slutty.

Then we moved to the suburbs when I turned 13, a teenager in a world aching to corrupt and seduce me, and my parents suddenly got very worried that I’d rebel against the deprivation by shooting Nine Inch Nails into my veins or something. To head me off, they got way too enthusiastic about what they believed to be safe, secular pop culture.

The goal of our suburban adventure was a big suburban dream house with window boxes and a three-car garage. We were too broke to pay a construction company, so we decided to build it ourselves. We’d renovated houses before — how hard could it be? Pretty damn hard, apparently, particularly for people like us. We had electricity but no switch plates, so we avoided using the lights, as turning them on caused a minor shock. We had water but no sinks, so we brushed our teeth in the bathtub. Unfortunately, we also had a rust problem, so we had yellow water, and brushing our teeth in the bathtub was like brushing in a big vat of urine.

On Thanksgiving, we ordered Chinese. We couldn’t cook — our refrigerator was stranded in the foyer after an abortive attempt at sanding the kitchen floor. Halfway through moo shu and apropos of nothing, Dad said, “Girls, what do you think about going to a gospel show instead of doing Christmas this year?”

“There will be secular artists there, too!" Mom added. "Lots of them! Sheena Easton will be there!”

The “there” in question was a concert, a stop on the “Colors of Christmas” tour featuring BeBe and CeCe Winans. Dad worked for a Calvinist book publisher, and they had comped him some tickets. Strangely, though the Colors of Christmas tour stopped in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we lived, the free tickets were for a show several hours away, in Gary, Indiana.

I wasn’t sure what to think and requested some time before I RSVPed. Brittany seconded that request, and our meeting was adjourned.

That night, I crept out of my room and tiptoed to Brittany’s. “Knock, knock!” I whispered. We didn’t have doors.

She rolled over right away. “What?”

“We should discuss this concert thing.”

Brittany nodded. “I think it’s a good idea.”


“Christmas here isn’t gonna be fun without the fridge.” She had a point. We told our parents yes.

The day of the concert, we left early. The plan was to drive to Indiana, see the show, then drive back the same night to avoid paying for a hotel. After a few hours, the scenery shifted from the gray nothingness of Michigan to the abandoned smoke stacks and burned-out buildings of Gary.

Brittany wrinkled her nose. “Gary smells like cat food.”

Mom ignored us. She was reading the concert’s promo material. “It says Sheena Easton did a song for a Bond movie — that’s sexy right? And secular?”

The show was good. Sheena Easton and the headliners, BeBe and CeCe Winans, stood upright and were fine, if a little glazed over in polite professionalism, but it was the rest of the bill that charmed me, the no-name gospel singers who were frantic with cheer, writhing around the stage, crawling through the audience and demanding, screaming, “Clap your hands!  Clap your hands!” Taffeta was big in Gary, and as the audience moved to the music, the shoosh of their sleeves joined in.

My good mood lasted until we left the church and saw that it had snowed while we were inside. The locals were thrilled at the whole white Christmas thing, but we had a long drive ahead of us, and our car, while built Ford tough, had been built ten years earlier and was less than authoritative on bad roads.

“We’ll have to get a hotel.” Dad sighed.

Brittany and I sighed, too. Staying the night in a hotel meant sharing a room with Mom and Dad, which meant spending the night staring up the ceiling, awake in our bed while Dad snored and Mom said “Joe, you’re snoring — roll over” every ten minutes.

We coaxed our car into the Best Western parking lot and idled while Dad disappeared into the reception area. When he returned, he handed Mom a key and then turned to the backseat and gave one to me.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A room for you and Brittany. Merry Christmas,” he grinned.

Once inside, Brittany dove straight for the remote, falling on MTV. I barricaded myself in the bathroom, ran a bath of clear, clean water, drained the tub and did it again, just because I could. I brushed my teeth in the sink five times.

I floated from the bathroom, scrubbed and pink, and lounged on the empty bed. Brittany had moved from MTV to a Spanish channel.

“You don’t speak Spanish,” I reminded her.

“Shush, it’s amazing,” she said.

It was amazing. It was color and shrieking and pratfalls, and we’d never seen anything like it. We sat for an hour, bathing in the ambience of the Spanish network like I had bathed in the clear Best Western water.

“Feliz navidad,” I said to my sister.

“This is the best Christmas ever,” Brittany replied, her gaze still fixed on the TV. “God bless us everyone.”

Brea Tremblay lives in New York and writes about television. She likes hanging with her dog Betty.

42 Comments / Post A Comment

Tragically Ludicrous

So awesome.

(re: Feliz Navidad: I'm Jewish, and went to a preschool at a synagogue that was slightly more religious than my family was. I was obsessed with that very same Sesame Street Christmas special when I was 2-3, and I used to run around preschool singing Feliz Navidad. The people at the preschool then talked to my mother and told her that it was inappropriate.)


Oh man, did I love this. I can picture the Gary scene quite well (Indy native here), including the taffeta. Lazy evangelical upbringings are the most entertaining evangelical upbringings, I'm sure.


Did the hotel have toothbrushes there for you to use? Do all hotels do this and I have never noticed? Did you bring them even though you thought you'd be going home that night? I don't know why I am fixated on that part...


@Hellcat Good question. They had toothbrushes and sample-sized toothpaste at the front desk upon request. I think I took about nine of them.


"Staying the night in a hotel meant sharing a room with Mom and Dad, which meant spending the night staring up the ceiling, awake in our bed while Dad snored and Mom said “Joe, you’re snoring — roll over” every ten minutes."

Okay I relate to this so much. When I got freaked out at night as a kid growing up I could never even sneak in my parent's bed because even monsters were less scary than my dad's freight-train snoring.

Tragically Ludicrous

@roughe In my family, my tiny little sister is and has always been the worst offender for snoring. I don't know where it comes from but it is the worst. Especially on family vacations, because I was always put with her.

ms. alex

@roughe I relate all too well, too. Every family vacation with a shared hotel room with the parents and my dad snored so loudly every night. It's the worst. I swear I almost went crazy listening to him snore.


@roughe When I was 3 or 4, I was terrified of these monsters that I was convinced lived under our house because I swore I heard them growling. It wasn't until I was 17 and pulling an all-nighter did I realize that it was just my dad's crazy bear snores coming through the walls.


@roughe When I was wee, if I woke up in the night, hearing my Dad snoring was comforting. Now, holy cow, it's torture! I have on occasion shared a hotel room with my parental units, and I always have to use earplugs, which I hate, but it's better than not sleeping at all.

His sleep apnea is HORRIBLE. He doesn't get any rest at all, and falls asleep at the drop of a hat just sitting in his easy chair. Heaven forbid the man get a friggin' CPAP machine and, y'know, sleep well. Oy.

Dirty Hands

@MsChilePepper "When I was wee" :)


Oh, man, feliz navidad. I was trawling for Christmas cards one year and got treated to like a minute-long rant from one aisle over by a lady who was just absolutely furious about the (tiny) 'feliz navidad' section. "Feliz Navidad? I am so sick of all these other holidays! We celebrate Christmas in this country! CHRISTMAS! Who the hell has even heard of this 'Feliz Navidad' thing anyway?"


@wharrgarbl I simply wouldn't have been able to stay silent on that one. Of course, I don't think the "it's Spanish" explanation would have made her any happier.


@whateverlolawants That was my assumption. The other ladies in the same aisle as I was and I settled for just trading "Is this woman for real?" looks. I get that someone in Minnesota might not know it's Spanish for "Merry Christmas," but it's like, I don't know what to tell someone who's flipping out about the super-pagan, fuck-you-Christians, anti-holiday of *dun dun DUN* Feliz Navidad in Florida.



"If the police had my dad, I wouldn't be singin' about it all over the Christmastime!"


@wharrgarbl OMG. I swear I did a tiny gasp and covered my face with my hands when I read this happened in Florida.


Are you getting that car or truck commercial with the handsome, very short-haired man playing guitar and the little girl belting out Feliz Navidad? I think they're sitting in the back of a PT Cruiser with the hatch open or something? And then they run off to a Christmas tree lot? I think? 'Cause they are so adorable I watch that commercial with the sound on.

Brea, I liked this and I think I'd enjoy hanging out with you and your sister.


@laurel Oh my gosh, I love that commercial. Aren't they cute? That's Jorge and Alexa Narvaez--who first got noticed for this cover on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L64c5vT3NBw


No offense intended to any Gary, Indianans, but it is indeed the worst-smelling city my senses have ever encountered. The one time I drove through, it was so sulfurous that my friend and I rolled up the windows and chain-smoked until we were well gone.


@ritualtheory Decatur, IL reeks of soy. Some days worse than others. A friend went to college there, and the first time I went to visit her, I couldnt figure out what that disgusting stench was. Soy.


@Katiesaurous Stand in the wrong place in Madison, WI when the wind's from the east and you'll get a whiff of the Oscar Meyer plant. One time I drove past there with my windows down and then had dreams of bacon all night. (Not necessarily a bad thing, but still.)


There is a lot going on in this story (evangelical upbringing, semi-secular concert, semi-inhabitable house, joy of sharing a hotel room with your sister for the first time) and yet somehow I relate to the whole thing. Bravo!


This story makes me feel better about spending my Christmas *not* with any family whatsoever.


@charizard : Right?!?!?!? I have never had such a relaxing holiday.


I <3 this.

(I don't heart evangelical upbringing. From experience, it's a little weird.)


I wondered if the parents wanted some-rusty-water-free sexxytimes to themselves. But the story is no less awesome.


@Myrtle That was my thought as well.

fondue with cheddar

@datalass Me too. I think they wanted to know each other in the biblical sense.


@jen325 Seriously, why else would dad have been grinning in the parking lot of a hotel in in Gary, Indiana, on Christmas Eve?

fondue with cheddar

@datalass Maybe he likes the smell of cat food?


Christmas won't be Christmas without a fridge, grumbled Jo lying on the rug.

oh, george

OMG that's my earliest christmas memory TOOOOOO except at that point my mom wasn't yet at the peak of her war-on the war-on Christmas phase. Bigbird looks so awesome on ice skates.

also, I teach ESL in Japan and my kids find Feliz Navidad confusing/funny because navidad sounds like "namida" which means "tears." They refuse to believe it's a Christmas song!


@rora Christmas Tears of Joy perhaps?
Sort of relatedly, how is teaching ESL in Japan? I've wanted to do this for quite some time and have done some searching but haven't come up with any solid leads for how exactly one goes about this. Any tips??

oh, george

@sox I like it a lot though finding jobs there is difficult. I was fortunate and moved with my S.O. (though we've since broken up) which gave me time to job hunt and not have to pay rent. I recommend applying for JET Programme, which I think is the best way to go in terms of getting fair treatment and salary (http://www.jetprogramme.org/), but they tend to favor people with Japanese culture/language experience (I have a teaching degree but I didn't get accepted to JET so their selection process is a bit mysterious to me).

Also, I've heard great things about teaching in Korea, and it seems easier to apply for those jobs over the internet and have skype interviews and lock down a job before you head over. Also Korean food is AWESOME!


@sox I taught English in a very different country (Ecuador) and loved it. I can't give many tips on Asia, but if you're ever interested in Latin America, I know some stuff. And have a rarely-updated blog, although most of it is just about living there, not the teaching part. Mostly b/c I liked the job a lot, and it was rarely stressful, so unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to write about it.

Anyway, check into it. Teaching abroad can be a great experience! I know of several people from college who had a great time in Japan.


@rora I know an English teacher in China who sang "Feliz Navidad" with his class. I'll have to ask what they thought, if anything.


Did anyone else have their parents torture them Christmas morning by holding off on present opening until AFTER breakfast and AFTER reading most of the Gospel of Luke?

'Coz damn, that's probably why I'm such an impatient adult.


@OxfordComma No, but it did have to wait until after going to mass.

Dirty Hands

@celacia We used to get to open one present before going to church in the morning, so we wouldn't be late. But we all looked forwards to getting back and opening the rest at a more leisurely pace and playing with the toys and having cookies and whatnot. Christmassss!


this makes me really want to write "The best time I dated a Pentecostal guy".


@hotdog Oooh ooh, here's mine: the best time I dated a Pentecostal(ally raised) guy we rarely had sex although we dated for three years. He kept saying it was because of being scarred by his religious upbringing, and I kept thinking I could break through that and we could, you know, have sex on the reg. In retrospect I think maybe he was gay.

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