Published in the Rains County Leader on January 3, 2017:
I don’t make a big deal out of the holidays. Aside from a live Christmas wreath my brother and sister-in-law send us each year for our front door, David and I do very little decorating. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the lights and tinsel, but we have a small house with very little extra space for a tree – and now we have Kitty! We also don’t do a lot of shopping. Our needs are simple, and we tend to buy what we want or need as we go along, so we don’t have much of a Christmas list when December rolls around. In addition to decorating and shopping, there was a time when I spent a lot of time in the kitchen during the holidays, baking and making candy and other once-a-year treats. However, since we both deal with health concerns that are intensified by extra sugar, flour, and butter, I don’t do much of that any more either.
Still, I love the holiday season, and I have trouble relating when people say they are not feeling the spirit. The spirit of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year are so much more than a perfect turkey, a perfect gift, or a perfect midnight kiss. Instead of attempting to explain those warm, fuzzy feelings and the love that bubbles up into joy and laughter, I want to share a few incidents that epitomize the holidays to me.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, we had a party at the Senior Center. I say “we,” but I was working and missed it. The stories warmed my heart, though. The women of Shady Grove Baptist Church brought party food, treats, and cards for everyone, and those who wanted to participate brought a small gift for a crazy gift exchange. The highlight of the morning was visit from Santa, and the pictures his helper took were priceless.
One friend showed me a picture of her sitting on Santa’s lap, and she confided, “That’s the closest I ever got to Santa.”
An older friend showed me a picture in which both she and Santa were standing and both were laughing hysterically. When I asked what was so funny, she just smiled coyly, but no secret is safe at the Center. It seems that just as the picture was being taken, Santa jumped and said, “Someone just grabbed my rear end!” The nonagenarian, who has a little trouble walking, smiled innocently and replied, “Well, I had to hold on to something.” The joy of that party lingered for days.
Later in the week, I had a more personal experience at the Center. Because of conflicting schedules right before the Christmas break, I missed my last two weekly visits with the young lady I mentor at the junior high. Her grandmother was willing to help us get together, but again, busy schedules made that difficult. Finally, we agreed that they would come by the Center on the way back from a shopping outing. I sat at the end of the table where I would be easy to find. When they walked in the door, my young friend was hesitant until she spotted me, and then she ran straight to me and gave me a big hug. She also gave me a coffee mug with a big “L” on it, but that hug kept me in the holiday spirit for a long while.
David and I are definitely not big party people, so our New Year’s Eve celebrations usually involve snacks in front of the TV, switching back and forth between old movies and the Times Square celebration. This year, however, we received a last-minute invitation to a surprise welcome home party. One of our church friends works as an independent insurance adjuster, and her latest contract has required her to work twelve hours a day, six days a week in the Dallas area. For the last several months, in order to keep the gas expenses at a manageable level, she has stayed near the client’s office in an RV while her husband has tended the small farm they call home in the Emory area. Her contract expired December 31, and her husband invited several friends to come celebrate with them.
We arrived a little early with a tray of summer sausage and cheese and an offer to help. We were immediately put to work inflating purple balloons and hanging purple crepe paper streamers with purple duct tape in the sun room. We worked alongside the daughter, her husband, and her in-laws. The host was so excited that his instructions were anything but clear and our efforts were anything but organized, but by the time the guest of honor arrived, the sun room was festive, snacks were laid out on the table, and chili was bubbling on the stove – and there was joy.
One of my favorite philosophers is Dr. Seuss, and no one explains what I feel about the spirit of Christmas better than the Grinch from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”:
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
I hope that each of you has some holiday vignettes of your own to remember, and I hope the warmth and joy of Thanksgiving and Christmas follow you into the New Year.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos