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December 19, 2014

Scott Cheshire on His First Christmas and One Memorable Gift

Posted by Rebecca M

Debut author Scott Cheshire boasts an impressive resume. In addition to his job as interview editor at the Tottenville Review, he teaches writing at the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop, and his work has been published in Slice, AGNI, Guernica and the Picador anthology THE BOOK OF MEN. HIGH AS THE HORSES' BRIDLES is his vivid first novel about a father and son divided by a dangerous prophecy. It was published just this summer, and here Scott describes another first: the first time he celebrated Christmas at the not-so-tender age of 32.

I celebrated Christmas for the first time when I was 32 years old. As a child, I did not celebrate for family religious reasons. As an adult, and after leaving that religion, I continued not to celebrate, but only out of habit. Until my girlfriend, now my wife, asked me, and this some two years after living together: Why don’t we have a Christmas tree? I did not have an answer. It’s amazing how much of our lives we live reflexively.

And so, that year we went shopping for gifts, and for food and wine, all of which we’d done before, and then we went looking for a tree. We walked the lovely Manhattan gauntlet of evergreens cut and leaned against the brick walls of Duane Reade pharmacies, and of the temporary wooden huts for the tree hustlers and portable heaters, and the Fifth Avenue diorama windows, the great and brilliant starry snowflake that hovers like an angelic ghost over 59th Street, and the visiting masses at Rockefeller Center, the rolling hills of Central Park, and the green metal dumpsters beside tenements and mansions, and the lonely orange-glowing lampposts, all of them patted down soft with new white snow as if all New York City were a wedding cake and we a few million figurines. I am from Queens, born and raised, and it was as if I’d seen New York for the very first time. My city was singing. I walked that tree up three flights of stairs and we draped it with a hundred lights, and our home smelled of wood, and the cats batted at the low hanging bells and pine needles.

That next year I had my first full holiday experience as we joined my wife’s family down in North Carolina. There was roast turkey, football and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I was in heaven. But I was also quite nervous. I hoped for their approval, and not just of me and my all-too-new experience with Christmas, but also of my career choice, my path as a writer. I had been writing on my own for over a decade already, but now I was entering grad school, a writing program. As the gifts were passed around, I was handed mine --- it was heavy. I immediately knew it was a book. What is it about a book? It could only be that, and nothing else --- this square-ish squat weight on my lap. I pulled away the wrapping, and found there not one, but two: both volumes of THE SHORTER OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY. My father-in-law so generously said, “We expect great things.”