Tied Up with a Bow

We had decided that it would be better for me to stay in a hotel. I was visiting one of my oldest friends in Oregon, but her elderly mother is going through chemo for lymphoma, so having me banging around their house would be an added strain. Truth be told, I love hotels, so I was fine with it.

One thing I always do when I visit them is cook my ass off. I make a ton of things for them to keep in their freezer. This time I spent four solid days cooking. The entire time I had the TV on in the background, of course. My friend would come in and change the channel to godawful NFL football or discussions of the Gerald Ford legacy on C-SPAN, but as soon as she left the room I would go right back to my favorite channel.

I have a dirty little secret: I love to watch the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. They are just like Lifetime movies, only instead of a homicidal hubby there's a hot stranger who rolls into town with a flannel shirt and a sordid past. Will a holiday miracle tear down the walls of his guarded heart? Will two bumbling neighbors who are at each other's throats outdo one another by decorating their homes with over-the-top Christmas lights? Will a woman in a car accident be able to use her disembodied spirit to save her town from evil developers while she lies in bed in a coma? I think we all know the answers to these questions. There's always a happy ending on the Hallmark Channel.

Like most dirty secrets, it turns out I am not alone with my proclivity. According to tvbythenumbers.com, the channel's original holiday movies have given Hallmark a No. 1 daytime rating among women 25-54. The punk rocker in me hates that I am part of a statistic. But the total dork loves to get lost in movies staring Hilary Duff or Candace Cameron.

And Candace was in rare form on the screen last week, starring in Let It Snow as a woman unlucky in love who has to renovate an East Coast inn, yadda yadda. Ah! There he was, the handsome co-star in the flannel shirt.

“I'm heading out for my walk,” my friend's mom announced, despite saying that on a scale of 1 to 10 she felt like a “4” that day. She was worn out from the poisons in her system, and her arthritis made grasping her cane more difficult.

“Love you, love you,” said my friend.

“Love you, love you,” said her mom.

The cynic in me wanted to roll my eyes. We never talked like that in my family.

I remember the first time I saw her. We went to my friend's house after school in junior high and we were goofing off in her room listening to the Psychedelic Furs. Suddenly the door swung open and there was this sweet woman, her hair pulled back sharply in an Alice band, wearing slacks and a matching blouse, holding a tray of hot cocoa and cookies. I had heard tell about people's moms doing things like this, mostly from TV shows. Since I was a latchkey kid it was all completely foreign to me. I didn't trust it. Yet I was drawn to her. I wanted to be at their house. I wanted there to be a world where moms made you after-school snacks.

I guess that's why I like the Hallmark Channel, despite the fact that it represents everything phony and stupid that I am supposed to hate. Not that things are perfect in these movies — in fact, it's essential to the plot that something is very wrong. Either someone is recovering from a stroke, or a widow is in mourning, or a Labrador can't find his way home. But in the end, everything is tied up neatly with a bow and placed under the tree. Old friends remain close for 30 years, a sweet mother survives Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 83.

I plopped down in front of the TV for the final scenes of Let It Snow. Candace finds love, of course, and a light snow begins to fall as she realizes the meaning of life. Hint: It's not money, or ambition, or celibacy.

Yes. There's always a happy ending on the Hallmark Channel.

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