FROM DECEMBER 21, 2009
Actually – I really don’t care too much for Christmas. I guess I did as a kid. In fact, I’m sure I did. You know. Running to the living room to see if Santa brought what I had asked for. He always did.
I got older. The magic kind of left and the dread invaded. When I was a teenager, just as she does to this day, my Mom would ask, “So, what do you want for Christmas?” Since the age of 16, I think, I have given her the very same reply. “A Carolina Blue Bonneville.” I guess the branches of the tree were never quite long enough to hide a Bonneville. And now they don’t even make Pontiacs. I guess my Mom can breath easy this Christmas.
My mom always knew I was kidding about the car. She would, all those years, kind of fluctuate between, “Oh, ok… do you just want one car?” and “I really wish I could get you that car.” If she could, I do believe she would.
But, see, here’s one thing I hate about Christmas. My Mom has three kids. Each year, she did her best to sort of even out the gifts for each of us. I know other Moms and Dads who do the very same thing. I guess it seems fair. But the problem is, how does one determine a fair system of evening things out? Is money spent the guiding measure? Or is it number of gifts? Value versus quantity. Which is it? If it’s value, and if my Mom had given me a Bonneville for Christmas, then my brother and sister would have each had dozens, maybe hundreds of gifts under the tree to make up for the cost of the car. If it’s quantity, then, not only would I have had a new car, but my brother, sister and I would have each had the very same number of Fruit of the Looms or whatever my sister wore. So they get underwear and a wallet. I get underwear and a car. We each get two gifts. What normal parent can deal with this kind of Christmas math?
Even Mama couldn’t decide between the “value vs. quantity” options. I cannot tell you the number of times on Christmas Eve my Mom would worry that one of us had more or better gifts than the others. She would see the three stacks of gifts for her children and ultimately determine that Richard needed one more gift, or that Marilyn needed 3 more gifts, or that since she couldn’t find the “big gift” she wanted for me, that maybe I needed 5 more gifts. It’s an awful, out of control spiral.
Now, my Mom is notorious for waiting until the last minute on Christmas prep. I remember, one Christmas Eve, the day she began Christmas shopping that year. She was freaking out with panic. I don’t think she had ever started that late. I was a teenager at the time. She gave my Dad a list of things to buy, and she gave me a list and a credit card. She didn’t even go shopping. Speed shopping was vital that day. My Mom is also notorious for what we call, “piddling.” Most of us could decorate an entire tree by the time she can change a pair of shoes. She knows this. I love her, and she knows that, too, so I’m not being cruel here – just honest.
So my Dad is on one side of town with the credit card. I’m at one of those catalogue showrooms on the other side of town. Also with the credit card. I complete my list at that one location and get in the checkout line at 4:45, just 15 minutes before closing on Christmas Eve. Perfect. I am relieved. Had my Mom been with me, she would have been relieved as well. It’s one or two minutes shy of 5 o’clock when I get to the check out. Beautiful. The clerk who must be dead tired and ready to get the hell out of there is very nice. She rings up all my gifts and runs the credit card. Back then, retailers had to call the credit card company for available credit verification. There were no electronic credit card scanners back then. She hangs up the phone and tells me that I am over the spending limit. Apparently my Dad, using the same credit card, had completed his shopping on the other side of town. The problem – he beat me to the check out line.
So while all those people in line are waiting to make their last minute purchases, I’m at the check out, removing gifts, one by one, and asking the clerk to see if I am yet under the limit. I did a fast prioritization of gifts on the list, and each time I removed something from the counter, the poor clerk would have to call Master Card again. After taking away about half of the merchandise in my cart, the credit charge cleared! The gifts weren’t quite evenly distributed that year.
Now, I know I said that I don’t much care for Christmas. The religious aspect of the holiday – you know, the reason we even call it a holiday – is important and beautiful. And my Mom is a very religious woman. But growing up, we never had time to even recognize, let alone celebrate, the real meaning and origin of Christmas. It was always, at best, secondary to the holiday. In this regard, I think my family is normal. Not many families do have the time. How the hell could they?
Want to know my all time favorite gift? My 40th birthday came and went with no fanfare at all. And that’s okay, really, because I never really enjoyed being the center of attention on that one day of every year. Still, it was my 40th – a milestone. Early evening on my birthday that year, while the wife was at work, I was fixing dinner. My 9-year-old son found out it was my birthday. The poor kid didn’t even know. There were no cards or gifts or cake for me from his Mom or from him. How would he have known? When he found out, he bolted upstairs to his room. I think he said, “I’ll be right back,” as he ran as fast as he could. About 10 minutes later he came downstairs, holding something behind his back. He sheepishly walked into the kitchen, smiling in a way that is hard to describe – kind of devilish, kind of mischievous, kind of hopeful, but very much full of love. He slowly pulled from behind his back one of those miniature Lane Cedar chests. My Dad sold furniture and had given that little cedar chest to me years ago. He handed me the chest and said, “Happy Birthday, Dad.” Inside the cedar chest was one of those rubber Coke bottles that uses batteries to wriggle around on a tabletop. I’m sure you’ve seen them. There was also a loose deck of playing cards and a letter opener with a Dalmatian on top. That cedar chest and its contents. That’s my favorite all time gift. It came from my guy’s heart. My 40th birthday is my favorite birthday as well. That gift still sits in plain view of my easy chair in my home. It always will.
My son didn’t wait in long lines for that gift. He didn’t have to juggle credit cards and finances to purchase it. He didn’t have to keep a receipt in case it didn’t fit. He didn’t have to look all over town for it. No coupons, no circulars, no Black Friday bargain hunting. He shopped in just one place – his heart.
Now I cherish all my childhood Christmas experiences – even the stressful one at the catalogue showroom. But wouldn’t it be a wonderful Christmas if we could all just decide to shop where my son did that day. It would mean so much more, I’m thinking.
And, maybe that would give us time to recognize and celebrate.
Merry Christmas y’all.