100 years ago, a relative of mine wrote a letter to Santa… I wonder if his great-great-great-great grandchildren will get what they want from Santa this year.
100 years ago, a relative of mine wrote a letter to Santa… I wonder if his great-great-great-great grandchildren will get what they want from Santa this year.
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.
I finally got around to making my own Unofficial-Die Hard-John McClane-Crawling-Through-The-Duct-At-Nakatomi Tower Christmas Tree Ornament.
My wife was very much on board with this one.
“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.”
Part fantasy, part truth, the best of both worlds sometimes coalesce.
As I turned the corner earlier this morning, I was momentarily startled, as the entire neighborhood went dark for a couple of seconds. We had an amazing lightning show last night, possibly in early celebration of the upcoming yuletide season. My modern stove light was blinking like a Johnson patrol car’s lights after pulling over someone with an accent. My Elf Mistertoe attempted to slumber on the kitchen counter, his hands clasped over his eyes. I don’t know how he could sleep with that damnable blue light pulsating like a beacon. Elves, as you know, are unfathomable in their habits.
Outside, the skies had cleared, leaving a vivid waning crescent moon to highlight the gnarled branches of neglected trees along the unincorporated side of the county road. A large, twisted trampoline lay half in the road and several neighbors had fence sections on the ground, having surrendered to the onslaught of the direct winds. On the other hand, that side of the road tended to look like the ‘after’ picture of an Allstate insurance commercial. The road was covered in leaves and detritus from last night’s storm. The air was saturated with the smell of a damp forest.
As I passed the Latino church near the Friendship Road cemetery, my eye caught a huge Christmas light display further to the east. I couldn’t figure out which house it could be. Nearing the entrance of the cemetery, it dawned on me that there was no house; the solar farm contained several utility crane trucks, each illuminated with a pale yellow sheen by security lights. From a distance, the pale lights looked like a thousand Christmas lights splattered across multiple gables of some unseen house.
On my way back, I saw the furtive fox again as it darted away near the perimeter fence adjacent to the road. It did not linger to watch me as it sometimes does, undoubtedly with errands to run. And in my ears, Il Divo sang, “le canzoni sono lucciole che cantano nel buio.” (…songs are like fireflies that sing in the darkness.)
On my right, at the house on the small hill overlooking the edge of the road, a man sat on the edge of his porch. Normally, this house is invisible to passers-by until the fall comes and strips the curtain of foliage away. I waved and he waved back. I hoped that his day would be as beautiful as the one I’d already started.
On the road, in the dark, it was all mine, and mine alone.
We lined Emma Street last night, each of us impatiently waiting for the bright succession of floats, lights, and hurled candy to pass us by. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm late November night. Northwest Arkansas’ largest lit Christmas tree came alive slightly before 6 as those in the parade made their way from the rodeo grounds down the revitalized path to downtown. The people involved in the downtown festivities did an incredible job of organizing the various activities. The Shiloh Square was a diverse mass of commerce, shouting, and smiling. With so many children present, it was no surprise to hear the word “No!” at least one million times.
Earlier yesterday, I heard the rumblings of resentment on social media, as people whispered against the Sons of The Confederacy participating in the parade. I limited my commentary to, “I hope people don’t do anything stupid. Or stupider.” As we all know, it’s become increasingly difficult to be civil at times. Given my background, I know how easy it is to make a situation worse, even if we are ‘right.’ No fire burns as brightly as one fueled by righteousness – and none singes with such wild abandon. In the end, it’s hard for us to believe that much of our complaining is no more than the proverbial ‘fart in a thunderstorm.’ I’m not judging the motivations of those objecting, either, because if we look at the actions of each person instead of as part of a collective, we can better determine the impact of something on our lives. Much of our issues stem from piling people into neat baskets. Even though I also know that screaming, shouting, or typing in all caps not only does not advance my argument but weakens it, like so many others, there are times when my brain short-circuits and leaves me incapable of persuasive disagreement.
If the Sons of the Confederacy is a relic, then so too are our family members who subscribe to supremacy and the arguments of heritage. It is often tone deafness amplified to a shout; out of place, out of time. Many are proud to be Southern and I find myself conflicted at times attempting the impossible task of distinguishing between prejudice and pride in others. In my case, I don’t feel Southern or even Arkansan. So much of our life is tribalism. We identify with the people, places, customs, collegiate sports teams, and religions of our geography. Allegiance to and defense of things which are unchosen lead us to strange destinations. I don’t subscribe to any of their memberships.
As someone who has done a lot of genealogy, I’ve discovered that many of us share a mass of common ancestors. One characteristic of those who preceded us is that they did a lot of vile, ignorant things, just as many of us do. I vainly try to read the hearts of those I know to circumspectly decide whether they glorify heritage or hate. I’m not impartial. Even as I hate to find myself judged, I judge others.
If I find myself unable to distinguish motive, I look to my own past and to my own father. His demons fueled a fury that left a wide path of pain behind him. If I cannot separate his humanity from his actions, I’m left with nothing except the certainty of destruction. It’s impossible to elevate him or honor him in the face of his actions. Other people in my situation find a way to love the person in their lives, my father’s equivalent. Some are able to do the same with our national disgrace of slavery and the institutions which furthered them. I don’t know how some people compartmentalize their adoration for Southern heritage without being derailed by what fueled it. I do know, however, that I am foolish if I paint all such people as having hate in their hearts. Just as they can embrace violent fathers or remain in churches which institutionalize abuse, they also embrace an imagined way of life without associating themselves with the violence of slavery. It perplexes me.
Having said that, I squint at public monuments which seemingly glorify our collective lesser nature and past. I distrust by default those who wave the Confederate flag. I wonder what motivates a group of people to build a float that will probably upset the very people who want to be entertained. Even as I do this, I know that I’m making the mistake of generalization when I judge everyone who disagrees. My privilege as a white male does not benefit me when I attempt to add my opinion to the pile. As such, I leave the heavy lifting to those who feel emboldened enough to protest or resist their presence. In short, I’m lazy. Especially of late, it is inevitable that most things will morph into shouting. A world in which the Confederacy is important is not my world. But neither is a world which mobilizes to shout back at those who find value in it. For those who truly feel the need to protest, my heart is with you. I hope you resist the visceral need to shout down those whose arguments are shaded with subtlety. People will say dumb things such as, “No one was offended,” as if they know your heart.
As we leaned against one of the restored buildings along Emma, I told my wife that a controversy was brewing and that I dreaded the inevitable brouhaha on social media. I knew that the next day would bring teeth gnashing and recrimination. I told her I was surprised that such a float would be included in the parade, but that it wasn’t a last-minute decision and that someone had hopefully taken a moment to consider the implications of its inclusion.
As the floats passed, the only misbehavior I noticed was that of several young misfits who were diligently and insistently attempting to make their mothers lose their minds. That a mother might actually smack a child was the most likely genesis of violence. The best float was the one celebrating the movie “Christmas Vacation.” Eddie drove by in a decrepit RV, tailpipe dragging on the pavement and ahead of him, a tree-laden (roots and all) station wagon adorned with a thousand lights.
As the parade ended, my wife and I cut through Spring Street, then on Johnson. The floats had looped around on Johnson after traversing Emma. I was carefully making my way along the edge of the road, watching the uneven ground carefully. “Merry Christmas” enthusiastically yelled a young blond-haired girl. I looked up as I bellowed, “You too!” The float behind her held two of the men dressed as Civil War soldiers. I waved and said, “Have a good night!” They both waved and said, “You too!” Both floats were part of the Sons of the Confederacy. I didn’t wave to endorse any hateful ideology. I waved because those were people and any meanness on my part would serve no purpose other than to solidify the presence of more discord. Time will hopefully do its job and convince people that such affiliation equally creates discord. I waved and greeted the other float participants, too, as each passed me. Especially Cousin Eddie in his RV.
The picture in this post is of one last night. I chose it because while it captures the beautiful lights carefully placed along Emma, it also captures an interloper passing through the frame. A shadow, one not participating, yet present. Whoever that shadowy person might have been, he or she represents the stain of controversy in an otherwise beautiful Christmas parade. Even as we enjoyed the goofy pleasures of a community parade, I knew the shadow would linger in the hearts of many. Many people worked hard for the night we all shared. It’s important that we take the shadow in its proper perspective yet also be grateful that the Springdale we now share is infinitely better than it once was. I truly believe that.
When I write, I lay out my deficiencies in concrete, leaving people to bring their own misconceptions and lives to the words I write. Unlike many, I have ideas which do not reside on permanent foundations; they shift as my understanding changes. In short, I am often wrong. Interacting with people changes me, especially those who temper their knowledge through a filter which demands that we often give one another a huge benefit of the doubt – and to be cautious when we attempt to read the hearts and minds of those around us.
I left with much to think about.
I left hoping that thinking itself would prevail over shouting in the next few days.
Behind me, the enormous lit Christmas tree filled our Springdale downtown with colorful lights. If the Spirit of Christmas is something worth aspiring to, I hope those lights somehow made their way into the hearts of those who share our community, no matter what their hearts might already contain.
Since my friend Casey surprised me with a pitchforkkreeper-themed pair of socks, this will inevitably require me to wear shoes with greater frequency. She signed the attached note: “Merry Thanksgiving Christmas etc etc etc Love Casey.” I now have proof that not only does she know me, but that she shares a deep affection for me. Much like our ancestor’s decision to create credit cards, this might ultimately become one of the great missteps in her life.
Additionally, she used one of the tricks from my repertoire: she adorned the packing envelope with lovely pictures of me, ones which reflect the solemnity with which I live my life. I’m certain that the mail carrier enjoyed the spectacle of someone so handsome being ridiculed via the postal system. The picture on the front is noted as “Drunken Hula Dancer,” while the one on the obverse side endearingly indicates “The Pink Dreamer.” The former picture was taken after Tracy, Casey, and Dawn attempted to out-drink me at the Hot Springs Invitational Prune Juice Festival in 2014, while the latter was snapped by a photographer as I sat opposite of Casey at Karaoke night, enamored by her choice of hairstyles. (For those of you wondering, my wife didn’t get jealous.) Note: once you start putting people’s pictures on stamps or the mail, it becomes a frivolous and fun addiction.
As for the Pitchforkkreeper picture, if you’re unfamiliar with the lore and mythology of this picture, suffice it to say it is one which has forged a deep and unsettling bond for many of us. The original picture is one taken by someone’s trail camera in the middle of nowhere – and the person was never identified. Pitchforkkreeper abides in us, always, a symbol and beacon of untethered hilarity. I have a 16 X 20 plaque of him in my living room (which is true) to remind me that it’s more important to be weird than to be understood.
Casey, thanks for much for the socks. I would have never guessed. (I’m surprised your husband permitted you to buy socks for another man. Socks are ‘the lingerie for middle-aged men.’)
May Pitchforkkreeper keep your Christmas safe and filled with laughter; the kind associated with shared times, not the kind you usually share with me when you note my fashion choices.
P.S. I included a picture of my cat Güino, in honor of Casey’s unfathomable love for all things feline. If you’re a friend of Casey’s, it’s important that you make an effort to adorn her life and house with as many feline knick-knacks as humanly possible. She’ll thank you, just as I thank her. The gift took some thought and effort.
Our Elf on the Shelf wants to be just like us. Knowing how much we have enjoyed watching “Dexter” again (America’s favorite fictional serial killer), Mistertoe created a crime scene tableau for us last night. (He’s learned the police lingo too, it seems.)
Weirdly enough, we don’t own a Barbie doll, so I’m not sure how he got to the store to procure one.
I hope my wife doesn’t have a stroke when she discovers the mischief Mistertoe got into last night!
“Your cheese done slid off your cracker, hasn’t it?” The recruiter stared across the table at me with a mix of contempt and bewilderment. “Say that again,” he yelled at me, his fists clenched.
“I was just wanting to know where I could enlist in the War On Christmas. I love elves and ornaments, not to mention Santa. And it’s only a day long, so that’s good.” I smiled, adjusting the new winter coat I had recently purchased in case I was drafted for the upcoming winter war, the one I’d heard so much about.
“First, we don’t fight it just on Christmas Day. It’s fought against Christmas, for a couple of months per year.” The recruiter seemed as if that explained everything.
“So, YOU are fighting Christmas, or someone else is? I’m not getting it.”
“No, we are NOT fighting Christmas. THEY are. Are you stupid?”
“Yes, I’m beginning to suspect that I am,” I said. “But what are they fighting against, exactly? Do they hate trees? Elves? Presents? Jesus?”
“They want to stop us from celebrating Christmas,” he added.
“So why do you call it a ‘War on Christmas’ then? Shouldn’t you call it a ‘War Against Christmas?'” I think I perfectly explained it. “I expected a one-day war, judging by the name of it.”
“No, they want to take away Christmas!” He was shouting again.
“I don’t think that’s what is going on here, sir, but I guess I’ll take your word for it. So, where do I enlist, for either side?” I was ready to strike a blow for yuletide merrymaking.
“You don’t enlist. You either celebrate or you don’t,” the recruiter sneered at me.
“So, we all just do our own thing? Isn’t that what we are doing already?”
I had never been thrown through a window before. Luckily, the snow was deep on that side of the building – and the window was only on the second floor. While I lay on the ground, I made a snow angel, because each of us is supposed to always find a way to relish all our moments, even the ones following being thrown from a high window.
I guess I was already fighting FOR Christmas, in whatever manner I wanted to celebrate it. It turns out the war was entirely imaginary and that each of us, in our own way, gets to celebrate, or not, exactly as we choose. Good people don’t tell other people how to express their joy and happiness, no matter how it is motivated.
If Christmas is indeed a celebration of spirit, then each of us should be open and free, with love in our hearts and a soft tongue for those who don’t agree with however we express our holiday.
Wherever you are, make a snow angel with me. Whatever we call it, it lies within each of us.