The Season for Illusions


I’m snuggled on the couch in an oversized chenille sweater.  I have before me a warm crackling fire, a cup of hot cocoa, and a writing pad.  A cold December sun is shining, hopelessly trying to warm the air outside.  People are putting up their holiday decorations and the radio stations are playing a steady diet of Christmas tunes.  It’s the perfect setting for writing, isn’t it?

Snap out of it.  I’m yanking your collective chain.  That crackling fire up there is from a DVD I popped in a few minutes ago.  If you look closely, you can even see the computer’s cursor in the middle of the frame. The only true thing about that paragraph is that I’m wearing an oversized chenille sweater.  It’s all about the illusion.

I believe the imagination fares best in an atmosphere that is wanting.  You learn to make do with what you have.

We never had a tree house; but the arrival of a new appliance to the apartment building meant the creation of a new clubhouse.  A steak knife swiped from the kitchen was the only tool we needed to cut in a door and a window or two.  The fun would last for days, until the box began to sag or the superintendent tossed it into the trash.

We always longed for a fireplace at Christmastime.  The closest we got was the yearly broadcast of “Yule Log” on WPIX.  It was a looped video of the fireplace at Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s residence), accompanied by Christmas carols.  We watched it every Christmas Eve, even when all we had was a black and white TV.  The image was enough to sustain the illusion for a couple of hours.  We were a remarkably creative bunch, my siblings and I.  We eventually put our love of cardboard boxes to use in making a fake fireplace, complete with mantel.  We painted it to look like red bricks.  The logs were discarded cardboard paper towel rolls.  The flames were orange and red construction paper.  A little glue, a little tape, and the job was done.  Our 3-D masterpiece was propped up against the wall, and we had our fireplace.  No need for the real thing now.  We were content with what our little hands had created.

It’s a strange thing for me to sift through these memories.  When I tell you a story like this, you may come away with the impression of a an idyllic family; but my parents are usually absent from these tales.  The world we made when we played was ours alone, stripped of the drinking, the fighting, and the pain.  We pulled together memories made of cardboard, tape, and glue.  A roaring fireplace emerged in our imagination that was so real for us we even sat in front of it reading Christmas stories.

I wonder at the strength of a child’s imagination.  I marvel at the ability to turn cardboard into brick and paper into flames.  And I rejoice in the adult who can skip over the bad memories and go back to that time of make-believe.

It’s all about the illusion.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mlrover
    Dec 08, 2014 @ 13:32:58

    Sounds like a terrific children’s story. My family had the same kind of fireplace made by my mom and aunt, using brick wall paper. They cut out pictures of themselves ice skating and taped them to a mirror laid flat on the “mantel” and surrounded it with cotton batting for snow. We have family Christmas photo in front of it, minus my youngest brother, the seventh. Not much money, but lots of imagination. Do kids have that nowadays when they have their little eyes fixed on techno gagets? A sad, bad loss.


    • MJ Belko
      Dec 08, 2014 @ 14:21:58

      I agree. Today’s kids are missing out. Creative play is so important to a child. When my boys were little and they were getting a little annoying, I would turn on some Mozart and give them wooden blocks to play with. The change was amazing!


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