“We are never prepared for what we expect.” – James Michener
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Shalom my friends,
Each and every Christmas brings different emotions for me as I think it does to all of us. I sometimes reminisce about the past and end up focusing on the good times like when my boys were young, when I was young, when I was happily married or even times when I was happily single. On looking back to those times I might think, ‘Those days were so much better than what I’m going through now.’ Other times I don’t so much. It all depends on what’s happening in your personal life in that particular year.
Some years during the holidays the seasonal media seems to reek with phoniness and capitalistic crap which makes it all seem so much less than what it should be... and sometimes even all that doesn’t bother me. The way I think about it definitely depends on how merry I feel. When you’re in a funk you don’t wanna hear about how happy you should be. For some, Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year.
Sitting here at my desk, it’s still October and the actual spirit (if you will) of Christmas hasn’t even begun for anybody yet. The stores haven’t started to set up the displays that urge us to spend the really big bucks... they’re still too busy selling Halloween. After all these years they still haven’t figured out how to capitalize on Thanksgiving so they begin the hardcore push for Christmas sales on the day after and we call it... “Black Friday” (OH NO!!!) But as I write this, all that’s next month in MY future due to what I call “The Publishing Time Warp”.
In fact, I’ve just returned home a few hours ago from a great run (our Region Zero “Zip It Up” run) held earlier today on this Oct. 14th, a beautiful warm and sunny day. There, I hung and rode with old friends, witnessed and rode through beautiful autumn landscapes, enjoyed good food, and flirted with a number of beautiful women whom I have known and adored for many years (God I love biker chicks!) Regarding everything about today’s run, I had a wonderful time. But thinking ahead to when this column will appear in print, for some reason I feel sorta apprehensive about the upcoming holiday season and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
There are many people whose family is either gone or far away, their friends have moved, or recent events have simply caused those whom they thought were intimate friends to go %kin’ crazy! Or maybe some people are in dire straits legally, financially, physically, or they’re in the throes of some kind of dependency (of which there are many variations... love, alcohol, and drugs being just a few). All these people might become void of any Christmas spirit (like I’m afraid I might) simply because they have nothing to look forward to, and Christmas is really all about that... looking forward to something.
As kids we look forward to the excitement of opening Christmas presents. As parents, lovers, and friends, we look forward to the gifts that we give to be happily received. For many years (since my boys and grandkids are so far away), the gifts I’ve given have been monetary (which translates to boring) and this year those few friends to whom I’ve enjoyed giving actual gifts in person are also going to be absent for one reason or another.
But unlike many who are truly unfortunate, at least my problems aren’t so bad. I’m sure quite a few of you are also going to be alone and we’ll all get through it. That’s what Christmas can be like sometimes; just getting through it. In my particular case, I can at least rest assured that the really bad times are behind me and good times might be waiting just around the corner. So I guess that’s what I’M looking forward to this year... what’s around the corner. Thing is, I find my definition of “good times” fluctuates from year to year and has changed dramatically over time.
I’m still holding on to the idea that mankind generally wears a cloak of dignity and is capable of kindness (notice I said generally). I still believe that we’re not as dumb as we act regarding how we treat each other and because of that, sooner or later we might learn to be better at it. I’m pretty sure there IS hope for Mother Earth if we stop trashing her (or at least slow down a bit). I’ve always hoped that people will start paying better attention to what they know is simply the difference between right and wrong (it’s really not that hard), and that they might start acting accordingly.
Speaking of hope; here’s a little Christmas tale for y’all...
Maggie and Tater (rhymes with later) are a middle-aged, “old school” (AHH! I hate clichés!) biker couple living in mid-Ohio. Maggie works for minimum wages in a small town bakery. Tater was laid off from his job of twenty years as a pipe-fitter in a plastics plant where they had eliminated his shift. Tater HAS found some work as an independent plumber (which is in keeping with his skills and certifications) and he’s good at it, but starting out and getting good paying gigs in a little village that seems to have an abundance of plumbers has been a problem.
Upon first being laid off from the plant, he initially bought out a retiring plumber’s stockpile of various sinks, toilets and specific tools. Next, he listed himself with the phone company and advertised online as a plumber... only to find that day after day he’d be waiting for calls that rarely came. To say that their money was tight is an understatement. Each trip to the mailbox brought back stacks of late notices and threats. Their home was paid off and that was the only thing keeping them afloat. But even that was starting to have a few major issues (mostly the roof).
Both of them drove older cars, and if it wasn’t a problem with a ball-joint here, it was an exhaust or transmission problem there. The only thing they owned that remained without blemish from the “good days” was their scoot - a beautiful and completely stock 1959 Harley Davidson FLH Duo Glide “Panhead” which Tater had meticulously restored piece by piece from the ground up. During riding season (which they stretched a bit) they proudly rode it everywhere together. The fact that they could never have kids brought this wonderful couple together so closely that you’d never think of one without thinking of the other.
Come Christmas time Tater was experiencing both a sense of shame and feelings of sorrow over not being able to provide Maggie with a holly jolly Christmas. There just wasn’t enough damned money! Oh, he knew she wasn’t a materialistic woman, he wouldn’t have loved her so if she was. But he ached to be giving her at least SOMETHING shiny, bright, and girly. So he came up with an idea...
There was a necklace Maggie fell in love with when she noticed it in the window of a pawnshop next to the bakery where she worked. She walked by it each day after parking her car in the town lot. Tater overheard her talking to a girlfriend on the phone one day and she had laughed about it saying, “That gorgeous thing speaks to me everyday saying, ‘Take me home! Take me home! LOL!’ I swear Jennie, sometimes I feel like just smashing that window and stealing it!” which was ridiculous because there weren’t two more righteously honest people in the world than Maggie and Tater.
Now, Tater used to go to so many swap meets bargaining to get parts for the Panhead that he became pretty good at dickering. So he went to the pawnshop and began a strategic effort to barter for the necklace.
Every few days he’d stop in claiming that he was looking for a good deal on a guitar, casually asking the prices of various other items in the shop while he was there, but NOT the necklace displayed in the window.
Time after time he’d look at the few guitars they had, then he wander around picking up this and that asking for the price. Finally one day he asked what was wanted for the necklace. “I have no need for jewelry, but how much do you want for that? My old aunt might be interested in it and I can tell her about it. She seems to collect this stuff.”
“WOW! For this?” as he lifted it from the window display and held it up in the air as if it was infected.
Now, Tater figured the broker had probably lent $25 to $50 for it... meaning that once the previous owner defaulted on paying back the loan, the shop could ask anything they wanted (as long as they made a few bucks). Tater also guessed the thing was probably worth about $100 to $150 as a used/previously owned item. Then in keeping with his plan he asked to use the store’s bathroom.
Like I said, Tater was an honest man, especially for a plumber (just kidding to all you plumbers out there). But he also knew that ANY store not owned by a corporation often might have a bathroom that could use some renovation, and he was certainly right about this one.
Upon entering the tiny room (usually only used by employees), he noticed the sink faucet was leaking. He took off the lid to the toilet, jiggled the chain (which was almost rusted through) and the rubber stopper wasn’t settling properly because it was ancient, gunked up, and needed replaced. He flushed, and the tank seemed to take forever to fill. And when it finally stopped filling, it really didn’t until he jiggled the handle. He then noticed the bowl had a thin crack in the porcelain and a small ring of water had accumulated on the floor surrounding the base. Even the paper’s hanger was broken and the roll just sat on the window sill. “Yes indeed.” he said to himself. “We got something to work with here.”
As it turned out, the shop owner was overjoyed (though he didn’t show it) to trade the necklace (for which he had only paid $30) in exchange for a new toilet that Tater had in his garage from his earlier purchasing, for the replacement of both sink faucet washers, and for all the labor including installation of a new wall-mounted paper holder. The whole job only took a few hours, and the really cool thing is the store owner had already planned on spending hundreds of dollars for the same work that he knew he’d eventually have to get around to. So everybody made out on this deal!
Christmas Eve was when Maggie and Tater traditionally celebrated. Their tree had been selectively “rescued” from an overgrown stand of Blue Pine found deep in a state park by Tater, and it was lovingly decorated by Maggie with ornaments collected over the years... some passed down to them from their parents, some given by close friends, and some selected by themselves representing various personal times over the course of their fifteen year love affair and marriage.
So, on the eve of that Christmas they turned down the lights, sat drinking rum-eggnog while inhaling the scent of fresh pine, and they cuddled while listening to sappy old Christmas music and enjoying the sparkling warmth of their beautiful tree. Then Maggie was presented with the necklace she thought she’d never wear as Tater basked in the glow of her appreciation and was given the joy she always has, and always will, give him.
And they lived happily ever after.
Merry Christmas everybody!
See you next year. And if ya go out... be very careful on New Year’s Eve.