“Christmas is coming; the geese are getting fat.
Won’t you please put a penny in an old man’s hat?
If you haven’t got a penny-a ha’penny will do;
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.”
Rarely have I sat down to write, and found my topic so challenging that I struggled to frame my thoughts in some semblance of order. I can relate the events without hesitation but for once, when I assemble all the parts, what I expect to find at the end, is an incomplete accounting of the emotion I am attempting to convey.
I didn’t know we were poor when I was young because our family life was rich. When the last kid had arrived, we were nine siblings in all, being raised in a home where the head of the house pulled in an annual salary of $7,000.
|Christmas means house-cleaning.|
Though economically challenged, the folks were experts at extracting every last penny’s worth of enjoyment out of any given occasion. They demonstrated it when we went camping every summer, managing to take us all “On Holiday” for a pittance, and they showed it by always acknowledging birthdays, with a special meal and all of the festivities
Nowhere, however, did this skill surface more apparently than at Christmas time. The parents placed a great deal of emphasis on both the spiritual and material side of the season, resulting a unified effort on their part, to bring us kids a joyous Christmas every year.
Pauline told me once that Robert always felt strongly that kids needed to wake up on Christmas morning to a pile of gifts, that did not consist solely of new socks and underwear. They made good on that goal every Christmas of my youth.
Inexpensive but well-chosen gifts, books being number one on the list, were the order of the day. A new Hardy Boys Mystery or Bobbsey Twins book; “The Call of the Wild,” or one year, “Treasure Island”; “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” and “Little Men”; all of them filled the bill.
Anticipation of the grand day itself, actually took a back-seat to that of the season overall. I counted the days down with a keen sense of eagerness, but the reality is that just getting to December was good enough, because then the folks would begin playing Christmas music and lights would start appearing on neighbors’ homes.
I had mega-problems sleeping Christmas Eve night, needless to say, and it only served to illuminate how intense the whole experience was. I grew up carrying this intensity around with me, and it remained unbreakable for sixty Christmases.
The first year I began blogging, 2011, I wrote a series of “Christmas Memories” with a great deal of enthusiasm, thus demonstrating that my feelings were still very much alive and well. There were twelve in all, representing the twelve days of Christmas, filled with vibrantly rich memories of my childhood.
|The Nativity Set was a huge deal at home, on Fellowship Street.|
The picture I painted left no uncertainty, as to why I would form a lifelong attachment to this season, and why I never failed to feel intense anticipation, no matter how old I got. Particularly during the years I taught, did I look forward to this season, because along with the big day, came two weeks of R & R.
Nothing occurred-ever-until December of 2012, to rain on my parade, but when it did, the downpour was enough to extinguish this enthusiastic anticipation, forever.
Zounds, one might respond. What kind of horrible event did it take to take the air out of my balloon? Someone died on Christmas Day, itself? My wife left me for a trimmigrant? My dog died?
My emotional state was already strained by Annie’s diagnosis of kidney cancer in August of that year, and by her having to spend most of the time in Willits near her health care provider. I was keeping the home fires burning because that was the way I could best help Annie.
I commuted back and forth from the mountain to Willits, as circumstances and weather allowed, having to spend far less time in Willits than I might have liked. The reality, though, is that there is always a lot happening up on the mountain, and I could not pretend that such was not the case.
As Christmas approached, I naturally began to build up my anticipation. Even if I had to go back and forth, at least I could spend the key times down in Willits, because the critters didn’t care what day of the calendar it was. Of course I was thinking the key days were Christmas Eve and the next day, and the same a week later, on New Year’s Eve and the following day.
These were simply MY thoughts as December approached; I never vocalized them because, well, I never saw the need, as if everyone felt the same as I did.
Which turned out to be quite accurate.
Annie had taken a part-time position in the video store, working for an old friend of both of us, attempting to defray the cost of the little apartment. In the aftermath of her surgery to remove a tumor the size of a softball, along with one kidney, Annie did not want to feel imprisoned in her small living quarters.
Naturally, she wanted to be a team-player when the boss asked her the first week in December, if she could work both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, so that those who had families could spend those days with their loved ones.
Annie automatically said yes and that was that.
She had no idea how much that decision, made spontaneously because she was put on the spot, would impact me. I was simply thunderstruck. I felt as though I had been run over by the proverbial Mack Truck, but there was nothing to be done.
I couldn’t blame Pete for asking, I couldn’t blame Annie for saying yes, and all I could do was roll with the punches, from my punch-drunk position on the floor.
I understood exactly what had happened and why it had occurred, and what’s more, I could explain it as clearly as I could recap a ballgame. It didn’t help with my emotional letdown, but it did help in terms of the big picture, and Christmases still yet to come.
My expectations for any given Christmas season, no matter how festive it turned out to be, could never match the reality of what I actually encountered. Going through life with this expanded set of expectations, was bound to set me up for failure, somewhere down the line.
It was simply coincidental that it took so long. Now, however, with this clear recognition that the upcoming Holiday Season will undoubtedly NOT be the best one ever, I am in a far better position to enjoy, that which I actually encounter.
|Always a jig-saw puzzle going...|
As much as the fall is always painful, I feel as though I am better off for having had enough of a parachute, as to be able to find some meaning in it all. Now I am more aware of how important it is to enjoy each day, one at a time, the way life is meant to be experienced, instead of some variation on a theme.
That way, if we have to spend Christmas Day down at Howard Hospital, dealing with side-effects from Annie’s immunotherapy treatments, as we did on my birthday, I will not miss a beat.
I will just switch my Pandora station to Christmas music in the hospital room, and go down to the cafeteria for some egg nog for me and Annie.
And like the critters, I won’t worry about which day of the calendar it happens to be.