Monthly Archives: December 2012

Season of Perfection…

Okay people… it’s time… the perfectly selected gift which you have wrapped so perfectly should by now be under your perfectly decorated tree waiting to be opened  prior to you dining on your perfectly prepared meal by one of the perfect members of your perfect family…. right?

Well… I don’t know about you, but this isn’t EXACTLY the way things work in my world.  Actually, as I stress my way through the holidays it becomes abundantly clear… I don’t know if I have gotten exactly the right gift.  And those that I have gotten, well, my wrapping skills leave quite a bit to be desired.  And don’t even get me started about those damn lights on that tree!  For some reason the turkey doesn’t turn out exactly the way I had hoped a lot of the time.  As far as the perfect family goes… well… any family that I’m a member of is definitely lacking in the perfection category because of my presence if for no other reason.

But for some reason, I find myself here… once again… striving to attain some standard that I have never achieved… and I can’t help but wonder… is this really necessary?  I stress and ponder how am I going to get all of these things accomplished… make it all work out perfect for everyone.  And the reality is… I won’t.  No matter how hard I try.. it isn’t going to happen.

So I’ve been thinking back on the perfect Christmases from my past.  And the reality is… there aren’t any.  There has always been something that kept them from being perfect.  But yet, I look back on them all… and there are fond memories of pretty much all of them.  Those when I couldn’t find the right present, if I even felt like getting them at all, when the food wasn’t everything I had hoped for… those when there were huge, life changing family events occurring… those when financially there wasn’t much in the way of gifts… even that one when we burnt the carpet testing the lights… there was always something about them that made them memorable in a good way.

How can that be… and why do I keep stressing about everything this holiday is not?  That I can’t answer… but I can tell you this much… I have decided to dwell on what this holiday is in my life… not what it is not… so the lack of perfection is not a big deal to me now… So presents aren’t that big a deal.. nor is great food… not even whether those damn lights are all working…

Family, food, friends…. and the promise of salvation for my less than perfect life that this holiday brings is quite enough for me….

So relax my friends… whatever you have done, is more than enough… as a matter of fact… I would dare to say, that even with any shortcomings you may be feeling… this holiday will be perfect.

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What a day!

I hated Christmas day… it was the worst day of the year.  Don’t get me wrong, there are things that I have always loved about the holidays… but not THE day.  I would wake up in the morning, all excited about what Santa had left, only to be forced to make some serious decisions.  How in the world could my parents possibly think that I could select one toy out of all of these toys to take with me to my grandmother’s house?  Surely that was a cruelty that the authorities should lock them up for perpetrating on small children!!  And I had to decide quickly because we had to get rolling.

It was only 63 miles from Ahoskie to Elizabeth City but on this one particular day each year it might as well have been a drive to Mars.  There is nothing like piling into the back seat of a ’62 Chevy Nova station wagon after loading a bunch of presents and riding along Hwy. 13, through downtown Winton, across the upper Chowan river, now following Hwy 158 past Gatesville and the flashing light in Sunbury,  bumping along on that narrow stretch of road through the Dismal Swamp, past Morgan’s corner, finally passing the Albemarle Hospital with one of the most memorable symbols of Christmas of my youth.. a single star near the roof, the only decoration on the whole facility indicating the holiday.  Then on to Road Street and then the left onto Broad Street.  Whew!  I felt like it would take forever!

We would arrive just before lunch time, and my aunts and uncles and cousins would all be arriving about the same time.  I knew we were there because when I got out of the car, I could smell the collards cooking even before I set a foot on the porch.  I always loved walking into that house in the winter.  The hallway where you entered the house would be just as cold as outside but as soon as you opened one of the doors to the closed-in back porch or the sitting room, the heat would almost take your breath away.  The Seigler oil furnace sat in the middle of the sitting room floor like a prized possession to be shown off to all visitors.. the blower forcing heat out like a blast furnace….

And then there was the foods… what a feast!  Ham and turkey and those collards… and my aunt’s chicken salad (the best ever!)… and my grandmother’s bread pudding, chocolate layer cake.. and the most awesome pecan pies known to mankind (those pies were one on the reasons I knew my grandmother MUST be an angel!)

We never got to sit at the main table with all the food at it.  Instead, we sat at the kid’s table… the folding table set up in the sitting room just for us.  I didn’t mind so much.  That way we didn’t have to listen to all that adult conversation.. how boring was all that!

And we still had a little fun left… we still got to open presents from each other… what’s not to like about that… but then the sun would start down and we would finally get around to piling back into the car and making the endless trek back to Ahoskie.. passing the hospital and seeing the star glowing… it wouldn’t be long before I was fast asleep again… listening to the static filled airwaves of AM radio…

So I’m sure you see exactly what I mean… what a long boring day… hanging out with family… eating good food… opening more presents… playing with only one of my new toys!  Now the day after Christmas.. Now that was the day!!  No school and all of my new toys.. what to play with first!?!?!  I loved the day AFTER Christmas the best!!

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You Better Watch out….

I have been distracted a lot lately by big fat men in red suits and the like… so here is a sampling from a Christmas not so long ago…..

He first showed up at my parent’s house in Ahoskie in 1967.  I was only 8 years old at the time and I thought he was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.  He would stand on our porch from right after Thanksgiving until the first of the year.  His appearance was one of those things that signaled the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year.  I always loved to see him show up…

Then we moved from Ahoskie to Elizabeth City… and he came along too.  And as I got older his importance faded.  He would just be in the way out there… sometimes kinda blocking the doorway.  I would sometimes see him as a nuisance.  I found his showing up and his leaving as just another distraction in my life.

I moved away from home… went off to college, got married and started living the life I felt I was meant to live.  Occasionally I would see him at the holidays.  He was just kinda there… not really impacting my feelings about things one way or the other.

This past year has had its challenges to say the least… and one day this past summer, I ran into him again in the storage building at my parents as my sister and I began the process of packing up the lives of our youths and moving them, and tossing them and storing them away.

Suddenly his importance had returned!  All those times years he hung out on my mom and dad’s porch I never realized it, but now I do.  He was standing there… gathering the record of all of those Christmases as they past… keeping them, just for me.  So, what to do?

So I made room for  him in my vehicle and brought him back to my house.  And right after Thanksgiving, once again he found his way to my porch now.  This same Christmas, my mom came to spend the holidays with me.  She had recently moved to Florida to be closer to my sister.  Since my dad passed away, she had been in a steady state of decline.  I was so happy to have her with me this year.  Any way, back to my story.  So shortly after she arrived, one evening we were discussing him.  We decided we would just walk out on the porch and pay him a visit.  My mom and I stood and looked at him for a few minutes, not saying a single word.  Then we looked at each other and smiled… and maybe cried just a bit… remembering.

And now, every night when I arrive home from work, there he is… looking just like I remember from 44 years ago… and I can’t help but smile.

You better watch out!

You better watch out!

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Digitized memories…

My sister has been on a picture scanning frenzy the last couple of days.  Loading up my inbox with pictures from Christmases of our youth.  It is great to have these pictures and to be able to so easily share them through these new mediums.

Every time I opened a new one it was like, “Yeah, I remember that now!” or “I had forgotten all about that!”.  But it also got me to thinking about the various  Christmas traditions that came and went.

Traditions, like putting out cookies for Santa… sometimes a milk but more often a coke… you remember the cokes in the returnable 6 and a half ounce bottles, right?  Now that I mention it,  it seems that I saw a picture over the last 10 years or so of my mom drinking Santa’s coke!  (I bet that explains why he never left her anything at our house!!!)

I can remember when I was real young my mom playing Christmas songs on the piano and all of us standing around singing just as loud as we could.  We weren’t half bad I have to say (this of course means, we weren’t half good either but what did we care!).

I remember when we transitioned from a live tree to an artificial one back in the late 60s… because that was the thing to do.. this was before large tree farms that groom live trees to such a perfect shape and size.  And the icicles that we would hang on the tree weren’t some whimpy fly away time.. they were thick and heavy and hung straight down.  The lights on the tree were another thing.  They were huge colorful bulbs.  And you didn’t put too many of them on the tree… probably because we couldn’t afford a bunch and also because they weren’t fancy, connect end to end strings.  One year in particular I remember when I was helping my dad test them before we put the on the tree, one of them got so hot it burned a hole in the carpet.  No, that wasn’t a fire hazard, was it?

And being good Southerners like we were… you never put too many decorations out… just some tasteful candles in the window… and one other special decoration that I will tell you about later…. but never the yards full of decorations that you see today!

And there was THE nativity scene….. just one… and the figurines were a little chipped and scarred from going in and out of storage… but I always loved it.  It was hard as a kid to not want to play with the camels and wise men and shepherds… but I always knew, that once this was set up on the fireplace mantel… the season was officially here!

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Yeah…. What Pooh said…..

winnie the poohAs we are in the throes of the holiday season…. how could I not join in with the throngs of others and post holiday thoughts and memories… Just as with yesterday’s post, over the next couple of weeks you will see things I have always enjoyed about this time of year… and maybe somethings I haven’t enjoyed so much… as well as some thoughts in general about the season… so let the celebrations begin!!!

“”Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called”

When I was about 10 or 11 years old I use to sing in the children’s choir at First United Methodist Church in Elizabeth City.  Our choir director would always encourage us to take a nap on Christmas eve because we were going to  have a  service that started at 11 o’clock and went until just past midnight at our church!  Well, you can imagine how well that taking a nap thing went over.. yeah, right!  No napping for this kid!

But in any case,  it became a tradition.  I would always look forward to that service… I loved it when I was in the choir.. and I loved it when I just attended.  There were years when we were in pretty good shape financially… and there were years when times were tough because dad had been out of work… there were years when friends went with me and years when it was just the family.. there were years when I was madly in love and years when I just knew I would die any moment from the loss of love and still, it was always great.. always so comfortable…. always so reassuring…

And as we approached midnight, you could feel it in the air… the anticipation that things could actually be right with the world… that peace could really exist… that men could truly love his fellow men… that the world could be… perfect.

I believe Pooh has it right when he was talking about what he liked best… as good as Christmas is… the anticipation of it is just a little bit better… no matter what it’s called…

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A Christmas Mystery

Old brown shoes4

Years ago, a friend of mine shared a story with me about her grandfather.  I thought it was such a cool story that I am reprising it for you here.  Of course, there is quite of a bit of embellishment (embellishment meaning combined stories, stretched truths and potentially some downright lies!)  that has been added, but hey, that’s just the way things go… it’s the holiday season!  Grab a coffee and a sweet roll and enjoy!…

It was so warm snuggled up under those four quilts.  As a matter of fact, the weight of them made it feel almost impossible to turn over.  I could tell by the way my nose felt that it was still bitterly cold in the room.  I could hear the steady hum of the blower on the Seigler space heater blowing as hard as it could to try and warm the house.  Unfortunately, the heat from downstairs just couldn’t seem to fight its way past the cold to get from the sitting room all the way up the stairs to the bedrooms.  But I didn’t even really care, because it was Christmas Eve!

As I lay there, listening to the constant hum coming from the blowers on the heater down the stairs, suddenly I heard some noise.  Could it be?  I held my eyes shut real tight for fear that I was right.  We all know that the last thing we would ever want to happen would be for Santa to make his way up the stairs and catch us awake.  We all know what happens when that occurs… no presents!!  I would just die if he didn’t leave me some of the items I had on my list.  I had been working on putting it together ever since the day after my birthday.  And while it was quite long, I would be okay if I didn’t get it all.  Actually, I was just hoping that somehow some of those “incidences” that occurred this year had kinda slipped his mind… or this whole effort on my part would have been futile for sure.

All of a sudden, everything went quiet.  What did this mean?  It did not feel like it has been long enough for him to have finished already.  Surely he couldn’t tell from downstairs that I was still awake.  I just couldn’t take it any more.  I had to see for myself.  So I got up, slipped on my robe and started to creep down the stairs.  I was careful to step over the fourth one from the bottom because it always creaked so badly that if he happened to still be there, I would definitely give myself away.  That is what happened to me last summer when Grandpa Sam caught me, slipping out in the middle of the night to meet Joey down by the pond… but that’s another story.

As I got to the bottom of the stairs, I could tell the Christmas tree lights were still on.  It gave more of a glow to the front room than actual light, almost appearing as if a thousand candles had been lit in a very small little space.  The house was already filled with the smells of the holidays.  Mom and granny had been preparing many of the cakes and pies that I love so much the night before so they too could have some time to spend with us children in the morning.

I crouched behind the big overstuffed chair just inside the hallway door where I could get a good look all around the room without being detected.  Or at least that was what I thought.  As I peered around the chair, I could see him plain as day!  I immediately recognized him, even from the back.  The red hat with white fur trim…the red jacket and big black belt… the huge bag with all the gifts…. It was Santa!!

All of a sudden, he stopped unloading his bag and stood up.  I crouched even lower trying to make myself as small as possible.  I wished I had never come down those stupid stairs!  He’s going to take my presents and put them back in his bag for sure!!  He slowly turned and looked right at me.  I recognized the happiness and cheer in his eyes.  It was at though I knew him on a very personal level… well of course I did!  It was Santa, right?  How could I not know him… and he know me.  He began to smile and I swear I heard a low chuckle.  He didn’t say a word but gave me a reassuring wink, turned around and started emptying his bag once again.

I slipped out from behind the chair and made my way back up the stairs, filled with excitement and anticipation about all that tomorrow would hold for me.  The one thing that I have got to remember though… I’ve got to remember to ask granny why Santa would have been wearing Grandpa Sam’s old brown shoes…  Now that’s a real mystery to me.

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A Gentle and Compassionate Reach

He and I weren’t exactly what you would call friends although we were always friendly to each other.  I can’t recall exactly the first time I have a memory of him but it must have been in the 6th or 7th grade I’m thinking.  The first memory I have is that he use to race Suzuki motorcycles.  There were a group of guy’s that I went to school with that use to race on a dirt track outside of Elizabeth City and for some reason I remember that Tommy was the Suzuki guy and Max was Honda and Kirk was Yamaha maybe… not real sure about that… but this isn’t about motorcycles or Max or Kirk… this one is about Tommy.

Like I said earlier we weren’t close or anything like that.  I do remember that he was always taking some of the hardest classes and it appeared that he did pretty good at them.  Once we got to high school he and I both were on the track team together our sophomore year.  He was a 2 miler and I was a half mile guy.  We use to compete a little bit between ourselves for the best time in the mile but as with most things, he was better than me.

As we got our driver licenses, he got this really cool van.  It was just one more thing for me to be envious of… and to feel inferior about.  Not that Tommy ever did anything directly to me to make me feel that way… as a matter of fact we almost never even spoke to each other.  My feelings were just part of being a teenager, I guess.

So we graduate from high school and Tommy goes off to Chapel Hill and I head off to Methodist College, where I struggled mightily.  As is the  case with many young adults (I tell myself it is the way with a lot of young people so I can feel better about myself, okay?) I lacked focus and direction in my life and was teetering on a major depression.

So I’m back home in Elizabeth City for the Christmas break either my freshman or sophomore year… not sure what I am doing with my life.  But during those years my dad would hire me to work in his dime store to earn a little spending money.

So one evening about closing time, I’m sweeping the floor, listening to some somber Christmas song playing outside from the Salvation Army’s booth, when I look up and there stands Tommy.  He has a big smile on his face and extends a hand to shake mine.  He ask me how things were going and tells me about school.  He said, he saw me through the window and just wanted to come in and say hello and wish me a Merry Christmas.

I was so amazed!  It lifted my spirits that he would take the time to come in and speak to me… I have never forgotten his kindness.

Recently we have reconnected through efforts associated with class reunions and such.  I haven’t mentioned this to him but I probably should… we all touch people in our lives in ways we never even imagine…. remember to reach gently and compassionately to each other, my friends… And a Merry Christmas to you Tom!

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