Category Archives: Christmas

Intentions

“When consequences come knocking, intentions ring hollow.” – X

Each of us has a personal narrative in our heads, one in which events seem linear and inevitable. We impose meaning and logic on the process of our lives. The truth is often that we are fooling ourselves. Examining our decisions and what we’ve done, it is obvious that we must conclude that we’re likely clueless about what pulls our levers.

I’m 54 and found myself shocked and surprised by some of the things I didn’t know about myself. I’m fortunate, even though I broke things getting to some of the conclusions. A lot of people around me didn’t survive the discovery process of seeing just how badly (or well) they could do things. Even as I grimace in recognition of some of the consequences I’ve caused, I try to remind myself that at least I’m alive long enough to do them. Getting older usually brings that pang of “What was I thinking?” while also shouting “You can’t change the past.” I think that’s why most of us go deaf when we get older. We’ve heard it all before and often at high volume.

An example of a harsh reminder? These fourteen $1 bills, each signifying a year that I was around for Xmas after my wife Deanne died – and when my ex-wife found me again. Talk about the long game! The first year, I saved a dollar bill and told my ex-wife, “Each year, we’ll sign another one, along with the year.” The first yuletide, it was a lonely dollar hanging like a wreath. By last year, it was fourteen. Honestly, even though it was my creative idea, I think it was sublimely fabulous.

That’s how you build a life – one little increment at a time, errors and right choices mixed unequally.

And then, consequences.

I took the dollar wreath with me when I jettisoned into another life. It’s a poignant reminder to find ways to celebrate life, in small ways and large. The last year proved to me that it is possible to be successful and a failure simultaneously. My intentions to find a better way to finish my life also led me to stumble into an alternate timeline, one I hadn’t anticipated. Against the backdrop of what could have been, it is a jab. But it is also an admission that I’m sometimes stupid and incapable.

It’s a little ironic that money, dollar bills, were what I chose to mark the passage of shared time. Money is the illusion that powers so much of what we do, even though we all know that everything that lights us up is intangible and invisible.

Though I’m not sure why I wrote this post, I know someone will find value in the idea. Odds are that someone reading this has a surprising year ahead of them, one they couldn’t predict. They’ll think that they have a handle on their choices.

Life will of course notice them and roll a boulder down the hill for them to remind them that most of this isn’t predictable. If you’re lucky, you will find value in the breaking. That’s your only choice, anyway. Things ARE going to break in a long arc of surprises. Most of us are lucky enough to not have it all break consecutively; we have time between to consider and reassess.

Though I claim not to believe in karma, I also tip each time I buy lottery tickets. It’s brought me a lot of stories and surprises, so in that sense, it has already paid off. It’s a pain to hoard this wreath and it’s also a pain to let it go. But I am a minimalist and know that all these things will soon enough be left behind by me. In an optimistic nod to the universe, I’m going to put these dollars back into circulation by buying lottery tickets. If I win, my promise still stands: I will use almost all the money to surprise other people. And if I don’t win, I am left with the optimism that I could have. It tickles me to think that these dollars will be in circulation, traveling in potentially infinite directions.

Intentions do matter, but we live with consequences.

Don’t read this post and forget that, at its heart, it is optimistic. I don’t understand people who can’t hold the disparate ideas of joy and wistful loss in their hearts, entwined like twin siblings.

I’m writing this after a blissful night of sleep, something that wasn’t always easy for me. And, in theory, I could be a millionaire. 🙂

It’s about 4 a.m. so I have to answer the call of the wanderer. Maybe you’ll see me out on the streets, in the unlikely event you’re wandering, too?

Love, X

A Darling Christmas Story

“Save that spot for me!” The words echoed in her memory as she stood in the kitchen, staring at the empty rocking chair next to the ornate tree. Though her heart wasn’t in it, Susan begrudgingly pulled out the bins of Christmas ornaments earlier and studiously rebuilt the tree. Her mother’s constant reminder to everyone in the family still lingered in the air, along with scents of fresh pine and the dozens of cookies Susan’s son Sam and daughter Sue baked each holiday season. Last year, they made more than sixty dozen. The pastor of the church could not have been happier. When the kids presented him with a case of cookies, he excitedly informed them he had a freezer for just such a contingency. Neither had the heart to clarify to him that the cookies were intended for the entire congregation rather than the pastor himself.

It was Susan’s first Christmas without her mom. Everyone was supposed to call her mom “Darling,” a name she picked up while singing. The term used to annoy Susan. Total strangers called her mom Darling. Anyone who used her nickname with a bit of creativity earned a famous cackle of laughter from Darling and sometimes a quick kiss on the cheek. Darling loved giving kisses. “Johnny Cash gave me that name. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for anyone.” Was the Johnny Cash story true? No one knew. But it might have been.

For the last several years, Darling insisted that the rocking chair be carefully aligned near the Christmas tree and that she be able to claim permanent dibs on sitting there. It was an enviable spot. Not only could the occupant of the rocking chair see outside to watch everyone drive up to the house, but the floor vent was nearby, ensuring warmth that wasn’t guaranteed around the rest of the drafty living room. Factor in the prime observation spot for both passing out and opening presents, and it was the perfect spot to observe everyone. And as everyone found out with Darling, it was also the ideal point from which to bark orders, criticisms, and sometimes, encouragement.

Everyone enjoyed pretending to be unaware of Darling’s rule regarding permanent dibs on the rocking chair. Pastor Evans, who wasn’t faking his ignorance, found himself being unceremoniously harangued in front of a houseful of guests two seasons ago. He tried making his case with her. “Now Darling, there is a wonderful glider rocker over there closer to the kitchen!” She glowered at him and said, “Well, move your keister over to it if it’s so darned comfortable!” The pastor sheepishly changed seats after picking up another cup of famously-strong eggnog. Under his breath, you might hear him tell no one in particular that one had to drink around Darling to keep one’s sanity. This was more memorable because Darling always managed to sneak in another bottle of whiskey into the eggnog. Only Susan was aware she did it. “If it doesn’t ring your gong, why are you climbing the bell tower,” Darling loved saying. More than one person undoubtedly drove home from their Christmas get-togethers with a buzz. Darling could hold her own when drinking. She toured with many rowdy country and gospel singers when she was younger. No one turned the lights off when she was still in the room.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, one of Darling’s neighbors dropped by to give her some leftover turkey. She found Darling sleeping on the porch swing. When she shook her, she realized that Darling had passed away. The coroner advised them that a massive stroke killed her. A full cup of untasted coffee sat on the antique table next to the swing.

Susan considered not having a family Christmas this year, but she knew Darling would be very unhappy to hear of it, especially from her viewpoint in the afterlife. While Susan wasn’t a superstitious person, she dared not risk finding out if Darling could reach her from the other side. Sam and Sue applauded with enthusiasm when Susan informed them that the kitchen was back open for business because Darling would want it that way. Sam chimed in, “We’re going to make a hundred dozen cookies this year, Mom!”

By two in the afternoon on Christmas day, everyone had nervously avoided sitting in the rocking chair, even as a joke. Susan attempted to encourage different people to sit in the rocker. Even her husband’s Aunt Edna refused. Darling’s presence still filled the house. It might never be the same, even though their home was always filled with overflowing conversations, laughter, and the occasional shout.

When Susan’s husband Ed stood by the tree to read 1 Corinthians 13:13, Darling’s favorite, he laughed. “This isn’t a Christmas verse, but it is the one Darling insisted on for twenty years. I see no need to break it.” He recited the passage from memory as everyone in the living room and kitchen stopped to listen. Most had their eyes turned to the empty rocking chair next to the Christmas tree. Although many had endured both rebuke and charm from Darling, most eyes were moist from remembering her.

Susan felt an unseen hand push her toward the rocking chair. Aunt Edna turned from near the coffee table and started to make her way to the chair. Without knowing she was doing so, Susan shouted, “Save that spot for me!” Aunt Edna froze as every head turned to watch Susan walk across the living room and put her hand on the back of the rocking chair. She hesitated and then sat down firmly in the rocking chair.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” She asked. “These gifts aren’t going to hand themselves out, are they?”

In unison, everyone laughed.

Darling was indeed still in the room.

A Son’s Gift Of Christmas

Judy’s eyes opened to see the projector clock on the opposite wall indicating 4:45 a.m. Before going to bed, she set the bedroom alarm for 5:00 a.m. and her automatic coffee pot in the kitchen for 5:15 a.m. Since it was Christmas morning, she needed to complete her to-do list before Jake scrambled out of his pillow fort. They spent at least thirty minutes last night, carefully building his sleeping fort to his precise specifications. He wanted to ensure that Santa wouldn’t find him awake in the dark. After getting Jake to stop chatting and to try to sleep, Judy pulled the presents for Jake from the trunk of her car and tucked them under the tree. It would be an austere Christmas this year. She hoped Jake wouldn’t mind.

Judy succumbed to the warmth of the bed; she pulled the comforter tightly under her neck.

The last year was beyond difficult. Judy’s ex-husband Richard spent the first four months of the year denying he had abused her. When he discovered that Judy’s decision to flee him was going to last, he turned his efforts to the court to take Jake from her. Even Judy’s mom testified against her. For reasons she still didn’t understand, the judge awarded her sole custody and granted her permission to move away. By September, she had a new apartment, a new job, and a new list of fears. Judy and Jake were on their own in every sense of the word. For ten years old, Jake somehow avoided the anguish others kids might have experienced through such a traumatic year. Judy found herself holding her breath tensely, waiting to see Jake act out. He never did.

At 4:50, Judy imagined she could smell coffee. If she overslept the alarm, the coffee always roused her from the bed. Single parents had to use a bit of creativity to keep their lives manageable. Imagining her first cup of coffee, she realized that she needed to pee. She pulled the comforter over her head as if doing so would erase the imaginary scent of coffee from her nose and the need to go to the bathroom. When she got the edge of the comforter tucked behind her head, she heard the soft melodies of “All I Want For Christmas” by Celine Dion. Most people preferred Mariah Carey, but not Judy. Celine was the voice of her angel. Deciding that she wasn’t going to quiet her mind or rest, Judy crawled from her warm bed and walked through the small dark bedroom to the tiny bathroom attached to it. As soon as she sat, she distinctly heard the music volume increase dramatically. Without a doubt, Celine’s voice played in the living room. Judy tried to finish more quickly, which only increased her need to go longer. As most moms discover, there is no such thing as quiet time, even in the bathroom. There’s always a bang on the door or an immediate need to address.

Judy quickly put on her Santa pajama bottoms and walked out into the living room. Inexplicably, the small tree next to the front window was fully lit and twinkling. The stereo next to the small television was on. Celine’s voice streamed from it. Judy walked across the narrow living room to Jake’s room. Opening the door, she went to the pillow fort and peered inside. Jake wasn’t there.

Judy quickly backed out of the room and peeked into the front bathroom. Also empty.

She turned and slid the sliding door to the kitchen open.

Jake sat at the small plain wood table. A cup of coffee sat in front of him. Next to that, a simple red box tied with twine.

“Merry Christmas, Mom!” Jake shouted as he ran over and hugged Judy around the waist. Surprised, Judy stood and rubbed her son’s hair back from his face. After a few seconds, he pulled away and reached over to grab the cup to hand to Judy. “I made this just the way you like it, Mom!”

“When did you learn to make coffee, Jake?” she asked.

“Oh Mom. That’s what YouTube is for! Plus, this is your Christmas!” Jake’s smile was as big as Judy had ever seen it. Though doubtful, Judy sipped the coffee. It was perfect. She laughed, realizing that Jake just volunteered to make coffee for her for the next ten years. “It’s delicious and so much better when someone else makes it!” She winked at him in the way that he loved.

“What are you doing up so early, son? It’s barely five.”

“Mom, I asked Santa to give you a good Christmas. He told me that I should give you a good one. I got you a gift.” Jake reached for the box on the table and pushed it toward Judy.

“How did you manage this, Jake? Do you even have money?” Judy laughed. She pulled the top bow loose to work the lid off the box.

“It was easy. I took out the trash every day for Mr. Johnson and agreed to help the building manager for a few months next year. I got Ken’s mom to get the gift at Target. Ken brought me the surprise to school, and I sneaked it home in my backpack. Simple.” He smiled. Judy knew that it had been anything but simple. Such planning for a ten-year-old was impressive. She was going to act delighted no matter what the box contained. It’s a ritual that Moms do instinctively.

Judy lifted the top off the box. She gasped. Inside the box at the bottom was a single ruby earring. Her eyes welled up as she looked at Jake. He sat, watching her, a smile on his face.

“Mom, do you like it?”

She swallowed hard to avoid crying. “Yes, of course!”

“I know that Dad took your Grandma’s ruby earrings and hid them. I could only afford one this year. I’ll get you the other one next year, I promise.”

Judy abandoned all pretense and started sobbing. She sat down hard on the chair across from Jake. Her coffee sloshed and spilled a little as she did so. Jake came around the table and hugged Judy from the side. She grabbed him and squeezed him hard against her.

“I love it, Jake! I love you.” She fumbled to pick up the single ruby earring and put it into her right earlobe. She smiled at Jake.

“Merry Christmas, Mom!”

As Celine continued to soar in the clouds in the background, Jake and Judy, mom and son, sat at the kitchen table laughing. It was a long time coming. In the living room, beneath the tree, Jake’s presents waited.

Love and Christmas were drowning them both. They swam in it.

*

*

Wherever you are and whoever you are, the season is inside you if you’ll permit it to overwhelm you.

Prank Cards, Even For Xmas

For many, the tradition of holiday cards is a dying custom. I don’t envy people for their interests or habits. It’s not a good recipe for living to feel obligated to follow the old ways. For me, though, there are times when the opportunity to send cards brings out the part of me that lives in a vast world full of billions of souls, each wanting a little bit of spectacle and magic. Oddly, even those who’ve scorned social media are as likely to have given up writing letters or sending a holiday card to friends and family. It’s a dying custom.

It’s hard for me to send a simple card. I have to make it complicated and personal! 

I don’t send out cards in expectation of reciprocity. That, too, is a poor way to live one’s life. There are times when I put in a little bit of effort and then am surprised when I hear nothing in response, though. That’s part of the bittersweetness of sending unsolicited bits of fun and zaniness out in the world. People don’t have the time – or always make it – to let you know they liked it or hated it. Static sometimes fills the air. It’s a gift to be able to tune it out when you put out some creativity in the world. A good response is to keep sending them cards regardless of their interaction. 

A couple of years ago, I created a complex and custom birthday card online and sent it to an acquaintance. I made the card from social media pictures. It was a work of art, if I do say so myself. I used another return address to conceal my identity further. Since the company which printed and mailed my creation sent it, there was no postal marking to identify its origin. My acquaintance was genuinely perplexed and spent DAYS vainly trying to discern who might have created the artwork cards. So great was her interest that she finally posted on her social media page to beg for help figuring out ‘who.’ I was surprised that no one immediately connected the dots to me, given the work’s detail.

In a tradition I don’t always follow or do in the same manner, I send several personalized Christmas cards to people and families that I’ll never meet. In a few cases, I found pictures of LinkedIn, yearbooks from long ago, or social media. I downloaded them, and in some instances, photoshopped them before creating the custom cards that went to each of them. I chose a person at random from a yearbook for one of the lucky recipients I’d never seen before and researched them sufficiently to discover their new life. I also used ancestry to find a distant cousin and pieced together clues to figure out their real identity from the anonymous one used on the ancestry website. Using an inmate website, I found a person’s name and I.D. number and then sent him a glorious card and words of encouragement.

Though it might paint me as a bit of a weirdo, I find it challenging to explain to others how much fun I derive from sending total strangers a holiday card, especially when I personalize each with their pictures.

In each of these cases, I enjoyed each recipient’s imagined scenarios in my head, as they puzzled the personalized card from someone they didn’t know. In some cases, I used fake identities and addresses. In others, I used my real name, which might not necessarily allay concerns. “X” seems more like an accusation in some cases.

Of course, I also sent a few cards to people I do know, without using my real name and address, hoping to give them a bit of yuletide joy as they vainly attempted to figure out who had sent them a card. All those cards were customized and were a pleasure to create. I also sent a few to people using other friends and family members as the sender. I love living in a world wherein it is possible to convince people that someone else sent them a card, no matter how they might deny it.

Likely, I’ll never hear any of the stories that resulted from most of these custom cards. That’s how it works, though. Not knowing is often more rewarding than discovering the mundane answers.

Many people received Xmas cards over the years without knowing the person they thought sent it had nothing to do with it. Also? People don’t always look closely at the pictures. You wouldn’t believe the people and things I’ve edited into images without anyone noticing. 

I can imagine several of the recipients scratching their heads in bewilderment, wondering who, what, when, and where – all without an answer. They may half-expect a repeat this year. Because I used an online address book for most of them, I could go back and send them another card this year. That would get them thinking.

Because much of our modern lives are now redirected by technology, the old ways provide another road to have a bit of fun.

P.S. If you are not familiar with Postable, it’s a great way to have some of the fun without needing to do the actual creation by hand. Postable – Create and Send Custom Cards  You can upload pictures and design custom cards. They’ll also put it in an envelope and mail it for you – using any return address you might dream up. If you want to do Christmas or holiday cards, I highly recommend that you give Postable a try.

Post-Holiday Ritual of Ornaments

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These are actually two-sided porcelain ornaments. The colors are rich for the size. I bought these from Snapfish. One of my favorite rituals after the holidays is to take advantage of using last year’s photos to make a few new Xmas ornaments. I have ornaments made frequently, regardless of being on sale; having the ornaments available for what I would call a pittance certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings though. I’m especially proud of catching 3 ̶v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶s̶ people in one picture to make an ornament. Having my stepson smile for a picture almost caused a natural disaster.

From Fryer To Fruitcake

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Last night, Dawn still felt unwell. Out of the blue, she said, “I’d really like a piece of one of the fruitcakes I got you for Xmas.” Assuming she had temporarily lost her mind, I ignored her request. We had just used the air fryer for the first time and consumed at least 343 potatoes. She asked again. I’d never known her to appreciate the culture and taste of fruitcake, so I was a bit surprised and reluctant to offer her any.
 
Unlike most people in the world, I love fruitcakes, both the food and people with odd dispositions. There’s a vast disparity in quality, of course. Many people make the stubborn assumption that if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all -as if crème brûlée (a dessert made from the hopes and dreams of fairies) from a gas station is the same as crème brûlée from a fine restaurant. Many fruitcakes should be used only as anvils, military projectiles, and doorstops.
 
I retrieved the three fruitcakes Dawn bought me and carefully opened one, peeling back the protective layer of secret paper used to seal them away from the jealous stares of those unlucky enough to have their own fruitcake. I presented her with a modest slice of the delicious treat. She forked her slice and put a piece in her mouth. Immediately, her face curled into a mass of displeasure and disgust, as if she had just bit into a rather sizeable live cricket, one who struggled to get free from the confines of her mouth, even as it burst open.
 
“What is this SUPPOSED to taste like?!” she moaned as she used her tongue to force out the morsels of fruitcake that stuck to her mouth. “WHAT are those green things!” I almost cried as I watched one of the best foods in the world go partially to waste. Meanwhile, Dawn was spitting bits of fruitcake as if she were a major league pitcher standing on the mound, ready to pitch a fastball.
 
On the other hand, I laughed like a man with his head caught in an elevator as I watched the chameleonesque metamorphosis of her facial expressions.
 
The picture with this post is several seconds later. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the initial horror pictured on Dawn’s face. This picture isn’t the first picture; instead, it is just a pale tribute to the horror written large on her face.
 
I’m submitting Dawn’s picture to the National Fruitcake Alliance for their next marketing campaign: “Don’t Get Revenge – Get Fruitcake.” I’ll let you know.
 
I hope Dawn feels better this morning. The magic of a fruitcake rarely surprises me.

The Clarion Misconception

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For anyone who never had the pleasure of the holiday buffets at the now-defunct Clarion Inn in Fayetteville, you’ll have to pick another such activity or place to visualize. It’s possible I’m too nostalgic. Something about the holiday buffets evoked a feeling of kinship and holiday in me that few things ever did. I was always surprised by the mix of people who would show up and join in.

The buffet was fabulous, whether you were a light eater, a healthy eater, or someone who could best be described as a “human disposal.”

I didn’t get to return “one last time,” mostly because of factors out of my control.

Over time, I wrote a few rules to keep in mind as I hear/see people forego simple things in life, as if they themselves will not be scattered dust on a day much sooner than most of us expect.

The Clarion Misconception
The error of foregoing even mundane pleasures due to the illogical
presumption that said pleasures will always be at your disposal.

The Clarion Misconception Addendum:
Giving primary consideration to other’s preferences due to perceived proximity to death or variable out of your control.

The Clarion Certainty: Future moments are all promissory notes without guarantee.

The Clarion Kinship Observation: Familial or societal expectations should be evaluated against all variables, with your own voice given equal vote.

The Clarion Selfishness Observation: Compromise in all things will get you far; giving yourself permission to not do so will sometimes make your life happier.

Literally, Christmas

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“Surprise!” I shouted, taking the blindfold from my wife Dawn‘s eyes.

In front of us was a wide expanse of land, most of it marked by a series of red stakes driven into the ground in regular intervals. “For Sale” signs fronted the road. We were on the edge of Tontitown, near an expanse of evergreens and a county highway.

“What am I looking at?” my wife asked me with an odd look of consternation on her face.

“Land. I bought you a little piece of land for Christmas.” I smiled, demonstrating how proud I was of my surprise.

“What? Which part of it is mine?” she quizzed.

“That 15-feet wide parcel on the left is all yours.” I waved my arm.

“Why? What am I going to do with THAT?” Her voice rose an octave.

“Remember when I asked you what you wanted for Christmas a while back?”

She thought for a moment and said, “Yes, but I didn’t ask for land, much less such a small piece.”

“Aha! But you did. I asked you over and over what you might want for Christmas – and finally told me that you did not want a WHOLE lot for Christmas.”