the name’s Humbug…Bah Humbug

Another Christmas is upon me. Thus begins the annual battle with my love/hate relationship with Christmas. I love what it represents, but I hate what it has become. It’s exhausting to smile with the exuberant lovers of the holiday when, deep inside, I really don’t give a shit.

Please don’t think me cold or uncaring. Unlike most, I don’t feel compelled to share misery like a cold. I keep it to myself. I am as moved as anyone by the excitement of a child tearing open a present. I am as inspired as anyone by the generosity of the season. I am not above respect for the kindness shown from the day after Thanksgiving until midnight on December 25th, at which time I warmly welcome the world returning to its joyless, materialistic and selfish self.

I’m not a Grinch. I’m just realistic and call it like I see it. Christmas is a truce in the war on humanity.

I didn’t always feel this way. As a child I bought into the whole experience. I enjoyed the bustle of the stores. I liked the music. I liked the gentle ringing of the Salvation Army volunteer standing in the cold outside of the stores. And of course I loved getting presents. As I got a little older I developed a contradictory set of emotions that would later morph into disdain.

My father was raised very poor. Through hard work and pure piss and vinegar he proudly elevated us to lower middle-class. We didn’t have a lot, but we always had enough. My father, in a admirable attempt to compensate for his shitty childhood, worked his narrow ass into the ground to shower us with gifts, especially my mother. He worked excessive overtime and side jobs to pay for Christmas. He started early in the season and didn’t stop until the mall padlocked the doors on Christmas Eve. He couldn’t afford it, he paid for it all year, but he did it anyways. He was so intent on pleasing us, his expression of anticipation glued to his face as we opened gifts. I learned early that even if you didn’t like the gift you had better pretend that you did. This was especially true with my mother. He loved her so. He would repeatedly ask her if she was pleased with her gifts. She always was, fortunately, because his fragile ego depended on it. He loved us, he loved the holiday. He sacrificed so much.

As much as I appreciated that, it bothered me tremendously. I knew at an early age that my father put too much emphasis on stuff. He was overcompensating for the abject poverty of his youth. He wanted better for me. What he didn’t understand was that he was the gift, not the stuff. I just wanted to spend time with him, for him to come home from work while I was awake. So many nights he was called into work, many of them Christmas Eve’s, because someone ran out of oil or lost their heat. I respected the shit out of it, but I wished he was home instead. He worked himself to the bone and I began to feel guilty. A Wonderful Life is a lot better when you watch it with your Dad.

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When I became a parent, we did the best we could to give our children an amazing experience. My wife did all of the shopping and wrapping. God bless her, I couldn’t do it. I was in charge of assembly, working late into the night after struggling to get 4 excited kids to sleep. We would be woken at 3:30 or 4 to the sound of them rustling under the tree, barely able to contain themselves. We ignored them until 6, my wife being very clear that we would not get up before. At 5:59 they were jumping on the bed. Exhausted but resigned to our fate, we got up. Despite our best efforts to make the opening of presents organized and last for a while, they tore through them like a Oklahoma Tornado through a trailer park. Over before we knew it. As Rodney Dangerfield famously joked about sex, “the hours of bullshit weren’t worth the 30 seconds of pleasure”. My wife would then help the kids move their presents to their rooms and clean up. By 10 AM you would never know that a holiday had occurred…all of the evidence was gone. As Grinch-ish as I could be, I hated the quick clean. For the sake of the kids I wanted it to last. The excitement, the gratitude, the beautiful smiles made me happy. I enjoyed the day vicariously as a parent. Truly a fond memory.

As a husband, Christmas became one more day to dread. My wife ruined it for me. I will never know how someone capable of all of that preparation, organization, and detail with gifts couldn’t handle my mother and father coming over. After a few years of consistent shit storms, her being uptight, anxious and rude to my parents, I began to dislike the holiday. The drama and fallout became more than I could handle and Seasonal excitement became a feeling of impending doom.

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Now, the children are grown. The notion of a fat man in a red suit has been put away for their someday children. We no longer have a house to put up a tree and we are far apart. We will get together for dinner and a modest exchange of gifts. The hard lesson of rampant consumerism is firmly ingrained in my chidren. They witnessed a Bankruptcy and a Foreclosure as a result of their parents living beyond their means and buying gifts they couldn’t afford. I suppose it taught them an appreciation. For me, the lesson affirmed what I always sensed. That memories of time spent together with family are so infinitely more memorable than stuff.

My dad and I sat down over a beer and a burger when I was in my late thirties. He asked me if I resented him for being at work so much. I patted him on the arm and told him that I respected him for it. I then told him that what I had wished most for was moments like the one we were having. His greatest gift was a work ethic and a spirit of generosity. An appreciation of good thoughts and intentions. What I hated was the toll it took on his body.

I have yet to reconcile myself with the joy of the Holiday. Religious fervor over the birth of the Messiah aside, I see much more fake than just the trees. To paraphrase The Sixth Sense, “I see fake people.” People that wish you a Happy Holiday and then flip you off in the parking lot. People who act religious but only go to Church once a year. Everyone tries to be so nice, why can’t that last all year?

The Consumerism kills me as well. I wish that people cared as much about the time to be spent together with family as they do about saving 100 bucks on a Flat Screen TV. There is nothing quite like the sound of people stampeding and rioting in the electronics section of Wal-Mart as Joy to the World/Peace on Earth blares over the sound system in a futile and pathetic attempt to drown them out.

The false Charity bothers me to my core. While some people indeed do magnificent gestures such as paying off Layaways and Toys for Tots, many choose to be charitable only at Christmas. Once it is over they go back to their comfy lives. Food pantries and homeless shelters have a need year round, that is of course if it doesn’t interfere with your weekend in Aspen. No matter, the homeless and hungry will wait.

Maybe my attitude will change someday but I don’t suspect that it will. I don’t have a problem with people being happy. I will smile at their joy and feign my own. I will continue to be generous of spirit despite being light on funds. I will have love in my heart and a true desire to help anyone if within my means. I want peace on earth year round and forever going forward and I have goodwill towards my fellow man. It’s all I have and it will have to do. Just don’t ask me to buy into the rampant consumerism and fake joy.

I’m just not buying it.

Badge of honor

One of my favorite things about Christmas shopping is buying the occasional trinket for myself. I can’t help it. I only go in stores once a year so it makes sense that I would find things that I like, right?

This year is special. With the successful Disability claim I finally have an income. It’s a meager one but it’s something. It killed me last year to go into birthdays and holidays with no means to give gifts. I am a generous person by nature and I never go anywhere empty handed. My family understood, but it didn’t make me feel any better. This year I hit the stores.

I live 45 minutes from the nearest shopping center. I try to limit my visits to days that I do dialysis which is nearby. But this week I have gone in every day. I have been working closely with the Social Worker at the dialysis center on my ongoing Insurance issues. She is very knowledgeable and incredibly helpful but is only there on my off days. Therefore it’s taken all of this week to get to get it right.

Yesterday after Dialysis I went to get something for my mother. As I was walked by the Jewelry section a shiny object caught my eye. A Superman pendant. I wanted it. Now, if you know the name of my blog then you can see why this caught my attention. If you know the back story of why I named my blog as I did then you will further understand. I looked for an attendant but none were available. Alas, I was tired, wanting to get home so I left, knowing that I would be back today.

This morning I showed up at the dialysis center to find that the Social Worker wasn’t in and wouldn’t be for several hours. I decided that I would stay in the area and come back later. It was too much of a drive to go home and then come back. I went to get an oil change on my truck, did some food shopping and went back to the center. She was still not there.

I went back to the store. This time there was an attendant at the Jewelry counter. I asked the lovely red-head (my favorite…Grrrrrrrr)
named Ginger of all things to take the pendant out so that I could look at it. The price caused me to spin on my heels until she mentioned the word “discount”. Discount indeed, by the time she was done I bought if for 1/3 of the asking price.

As Ginger was ringing it up, she looked up and asked “any significance to the pendant?”
“Do you mean to say ‘why is a grown-ass man buying a Superhero pendant’?”
She turned a little red (pun intended), “No, I was just wondering if there is a story behind it.”
“There is, actually, but I don’t want to bore you.”
“Bore away”, she said, “It’s a slow day.”
I explained that I had a blog. About how my wife had derogatorily nicknamed me Superman because she thought I was so stubborn and hard-headed and invincible. I explained that being chronically ill, it helps me to wear the badge to remind me to be strong. She hung on every word.
“What’s your illness?” she asked.
I told her. She had a cousin that was on dialysis. I told her that I was as well. She told me that he was about my age, 46 or47. I told her that I was 53. She didn’t believe me and also told me that I look pretty damn good for a guy on dialysis. I told her that she just made my day.

She offered to box it up. I told her I would wear it out. She laughed. I walked out feeling like a man of steel.

Later, at the center, I resolved my insurance issues. As I stood up my pendant fell out of my shirt. The Social Worker commented.
“Nice pendant. Like your blog,right?”
Apparently the one Nurse that I showed it to spread the word. Not a bad thing I suppose.

I may find myself working my way back to the store to see Ginger again. After all, I do so love a redhead.

Because it’s all I have

I was heading to the market this morning to grab some necessities. I take any opportunity I have to drive through the center of this little town and admire the old buildings. I have never spent a winter up here so it is still all new to me. It’s a beautiful town but it is very divided between old money and crushing poverty. For every restored farmhouse with smoke from the wood stove drifting lazily from chimneys, there is also one dilapidated house with one or more broken down cars in the driveway, also occupied by children without a proper winter coat.

As I drove by AD Auto Body I was prompted to turn around and say hi to Dave. Dave is another MA transplant who moved up here for a simpler life and eventual retirement. Dave is a friend of my mom and a close friend of my mom’s deceased second husband Frank. When I moved up here in August I had damage on my car that I needed to be fixed but couldn’t go through insurance. Mom brought me to Dave who said he would take care of it. He repaired over $1500.00 in damages for $286.00. I was amazed at this gesture, which he apparently does for everyone. “Never mind what the insurance estimate says, I will do it for what it really costs,” he told her. I was very grateful and thanked him repeatedly. Today. I felt compelled to stop in and say hi.

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I walked into the old, dusty shop and saw that Dave was with a customer. I waited patiently for him to finish (he is long-winded). When the customer walked out he looked at me and said “What’s up Bill? Crash your car again?” I laughed.

“I just stopped in to say Merry Christmas and acknowledge again how grateful I am for helping me out this year. You’re a real nice guy and I hope someone tells you that once in a while.”

He was touched,  but tried not to show it. A man like Dave deserves a thank you but doesn’t need it. And at this point in my life, I am unable to give him anything else but what is in my heart. It’s all I have.

Dave and I talked for a while, I shook his hand and left. “Say hi to your mom for me,” he said. I assured him that I would. I got in my car and felt whole. I could have committed to stopping in after I went shopping, on the way back. Or maybe later. But I might not have. I may have put it off. I’m glad I recognized that the time is now to say what is on my mind and acted on it. If all I have to offer is what is in my heart it is going to have to be enough. It can’t be bought in a store, and it can be given by many.

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No returns, please.