A Spirit of Christmas Past

Alternate title: Ugly Sweater in the eye of the beholder

Lonnie Delopas rummaged through her carry-on looking for the earbuds she threw in there at the last minute. She would listen to music instead of trying to read.  She had been on edge since she woke up this morning.  She felt a difference in the energy around her. The overall volume in the airport terminal wasn’t any louder than usual, but the noise was causing her nerves to frazzle, and it was irritating.  

Usually, a two-hour layover didn’t bother her, but at the moment she felt uneasy as if something big was about to happen. She hoped she would arrive safely and without incident to her destination. She had experienced this feeling before as a warning or déjà vu.  She rechecked the weather status and listened for any cancelations or announcements of change.  She was heading to the North East for an award and book signing.  It was winter, just before Christmas, weather-wise, anything could happen. It felt strange to get back to the city where she grew up.  When she first got the news, she thought: “Not a bad way to end the year;”  but now, with the eeriness, she was feeling, she wasn’t so sure.

Lonnie finally fished her earbuds from the bottom of her bag, and as she sat up in her chair, she noticed a man walking at a fast pace toward Gate 19.  The man was tall with thick salt and pepper hair that fell just over his ears and collar; a neatly groomed beard framed his face. He wore gunmetal square-aviator style Ray-Bans and a classic leather bomber jacket. He carried a large leather bag slung over his shoulder and finally having reached the Gate, he slowed down.  He walked past Lonnie with the confidence of a man comfortable in his skin until he tripped of his own accord and almost fell at her feet. Without missing a beat, he stopped, smiled and asked: “Yeah, Is anyone sitting here?”

There was something very familiar about him.  Lonnie watched him from the corner of her eye as the stranger relaxed in the seat next to her. She decided that the familiarity she found was his likeness to Andrea Bocelli. He was so close, she could smell his cologne mixed with the scent of his well-worn leather jacket. His long legs stretched out almost into her personal space, and she couldn’t help but notice his stylish dress boots.  Lonnie regretted her decision to travel bundled up in comfortable, bulky layers for this trip.  Suddenly, she was acutely conscious that her hair was having one of its unruly moments.  Note to self, next time dress comfortable but trendy to announce that a successful creative soul has arrived.  She silently snickered to herself that she even had these ideas.  What was happening?

The Bocelli-look-alike was on the phone. His voice sounded familiar too, but Lonnie rationalized that she was, after all, headed to LaGuardia Airport and the familiarity she found in histone was nothing more than a strong Brooklyn accent. She had left many years ago; it seemed like another lifetime.  She was a little sad that after all these years, it was no longer “home.”  It was as if she were traveling to any other strange city around the country.  Like herself, most of her close friends had moved away and lost touch over the years.  Sadly some of her dearest friends had passed.  Lonnie finally attributed her energy imbalance to nerves and nostalgia with thoughts of the “good old days.”

Lonnie couldn’t help overhearing that the stranger was back in town to see his parents for the holidays but arrived a few days early to meet colleagues at a new job “in the City.” It sounded like he was pressuring someone to make plans to meet up before he had to leave again.  He’d be back the beginning of the year, but he needed to pack up and close on his house first.  The person on the other line must have said something to make him burst out laughing, and with a mocking voice, he said“Tony, it’s not that easy… I love you, man!” With that, the sophisticated, fine-looking man sitting next to Lonnie couldn’t finish his sentence as he folded over in a fit of laughter. His arms were flailing, and his classy boots stomped the floor repeatedly. 

Lonnie couldn’t help but turn to face him, and with his RayBans off, she noticed the big scar next to his left eye. It still looked as terrible as it did decades ago. “Tony?” she asked.  “Tony Petronelli?”  He stared at her, not recognizing her at first.  “It’s me, Lonnie? Alondra Delopas.” She smiled.  It was then that Anthony Laurence Petronelli recognized her.  He remembered the warm smile that at once upon a time made him feel mushy and gooey inside. A mop of short, wild gray hair had replaced the long brown hair that smelled of lavender and roses when ran his fingers through it; but the lively brown eyes and smile were still the same. “Oh my GAWD!” he said as they hugged long and hard as old friends do.

lavender and roses companion planting

They spent the two-hour layover catching up. Tony told her that stayed in New England after college, but his parents were still in the city. He kept up with friends each time he came to visit his family. He married had children, but once the kids were out of the house and on their own, he and his wife found they didn’t want to stay married.  It was as simple as that.  Since college, he worked for the same a tech-company with contracts all over the world. Tony recently took a position in the corporate office back home to be closer to his aging parents.  Lonnie had also married with children.  Her first husband died tragically at a young age and her second husband was a mistake. She had been teaching and writing for some time and was pleased to have a best seller in her hands finally. 

Tony made plans to attend the book signing.  Lonnie said it would be nice to have an old friend there for support.  Her book was a Christmas story she told him, inspired in part by one of her favorite Christmas stories, O.Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” and without warning, there in the middle of the busy airport terminal, the unthinkable happened! Tony brought up “The Sweater.” 

One winter Lonnie bought a cranberry colored, 100% wool, alpine sweater at a specialty shop in the small city near her college.  Her new best friend Bertie, Roberta Borkson, had taken her there.  Bertie was an avid skier, and she was going to get a sweater for her boyfriend to wear on their ski trip over Christmas vacation.  Lonnie went along and started having her own ideas about the beautiful sweaters she saw.  

Lonnie and Tony met at a lodge in the Poconos Mountains two years earlier during a winter camp sponsored by a local youth organization.  She noticed him on the first morning when she and her friends came in from a walk just as the snow started to get heavy.  Tony was sitting quietly by the fireplace, with a mug of hot chocolate as he listened to a couple of friends getting agitated about football teams.  The girls went straight to the fire to warm up which caused a distraction for the boys and their sports. 

By dinner time, they were all old friends. They had been laughing, telling stories and playing table tennis as the time slipped away.  Lonnie and Tony somehow always managed to end at the same table for meals, and on the bus ride home, he shyly asked if he could call her.  The group was heading back to the Poconos during the Christmas break. Lonnie pictured Tony in his new alpine sweater by the fireplace and her in a beautiful knitted cream colored hat and scarf she had seen downtown.     

Tony and Lonnie exchanged gifts as soon as she got home from school that year. Lonnie was pleased to find the beautiful soft cream-colored hat and scarf set.  Tony started to open his with a great big smile, but as he parted the thin sheets of tissue paper, his smile appeared frozen.  “Reindeer?” He asked.  He could not hide his shock. There were indeed, gray reindeer parading in between oversized snowflakes across the top of the sweater from one shoulder to the other.   It was apparent that he disliked the sweater. Lonnieoffered to return it, but Tony regained his composure and being the sweet young man that he was, nobly put it on to go out with friends that evening so as not to hurt Lonnie’s feelings. 

The sweater was a hit among their friends, but not it a good way.  One did not see many alpine sweaters with reindeer around the Bay Ridge neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.   There is a reason there are no scenes with Tony Manero dancing his Saturday Night Fever in a cranberry red alpine sweater with gray reindeer and snowflakes. It didn’t fit the character.

On that cold winter night in the early 1970s and during the trip to the mountains, their friends warned Lonnie that she would never live that one down.  And so it was that fifty years later when fate serendipitously crossed the paths of these two senior citizens with teenage grandchildren of their own; Anthony Laurence Petronelli brought up the cranberry red alpine sweater with the gray reindeer.   All they could do was try to stifle the laughter until their bellies hurt and the years seemed to melt away.   

The photos used here are not my own;  they were found online and “no copyright infringement is intended.”

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