I’m not a Christmas person anymore, but I used to be.
Some of my fondest memories are of “Christmas past.“ I have vivid memories of a time when my grandmother’s kitchen was filled with the smell of baked biscuits, perked coffee, oranges, peppermint, and the sounds of laughter along with the voices of a dozen bragging uncles and musical aunts filled the house. I remember a great sense of warmth and contentment, and I would bask in it like sunshine on a summer day.
I often wonder where Christmas went, and of course I know the answer. When the family gradually broke apart ... when uncles and grandchildren moved away to go to college or find work ... when divorces divided us, and the people who were the linchpins of the family died, other things vanished as well. Suddenly, we no longer had huge family reunions, nor did we have those great Thanksgiving dinners that drew vanished members home from distant places: High Point, Gastonia, even Sedro-Woolley, Wash. I remember a time – once each year – when the fields and roadsides around my great-grandmother’s house in Cowee were filled with parked cars and outdoor tables with tablecloths were loaded with gallons of potato salad, banana puddings, fried chicken and more.
Legions of kids waded the creek and prowled through Great-Granny’s barn. There were Gibsons, Shepherds, Hursts, Daltons and Cardens. Where did they go? Did they leave anything? Photographs? Memories?
Some 20 years ago, divorced and unemployed, I suddenly realized that Christmas was approaching, and I dreaded it. I no longer had a family. In other words, I was without a wife, parents or children, and as this time called “the Christmas season” – or worse yet – “The Holidays,” approached, I felt a vague discontent. As the stores became packed with people who were responding to the need to buy gifts, I felt a nagging guilt due to the fact that I could not participate. I couldn’t buy lavish presents for cousins, nephews and nieces and therefore I felt I could not prove that I loved them and valued them. Christmas carols and television commercials only intensified my sense of not belonging. There were celebrations everywhere but I was now outside looking in.
Frequently, I spent my Thanksgivings, my Christmases and my New Years in all-night restaurants drinking coffee. Is there anything sadder at Christmas than a lone customer nursing a cold cup of coffee in the back booth of The Waffle House at midnight while “The Little Drummer Boy” booms out of the ceiling?
Eventually, I found a place to go. I had a friend up in Banner Elk who had also developed a dislike of the Christmas season, and he offered me a safe harbor. Each year, when I began to hear the dread sound of “The Little Drummer Boy” approaching, I would flee to Avery County. I sat in Richard Jackson’s kitchen and drank coffee and talked while Louise baked a Tyson’s chicken. There was usually a good crowd of like-minded individuals and although that kitchen rang with laughter and the smell of food, the TV remained silent since it had become a kind of means for spreading deadly Christmas virus.
I count those years in Richard Jackson’s kitchen as the most delightful “celebrations” of my life. Some five years ago, my friend died and with him went my safe haven. With considerable regret, I returned to the all-night cafes, and sometimes when I am sitting in a back booth at McDonald’s, or Waffle House or Huddle House, and notice that are others, usually solitary folks who are, like me, “casualties of the season to be jolly.”
I guess you see where I am going with this. I think that there is a silent brother/sisterhood out there. Perhaps they are a gentler version of the Dracula’s “children of the night.” Perhaps the time has come to call these lost wanderers together. I think of them as “The Children of the Grinch.”
Perhaps we need to gather together. I could get inspired about a cause like this – a gathering of outcasts – a multitude who, through no fault of their own, are forced to spend a holiday season “outside the borne.” Perhaps we need to converge on an empty parking lot someplace on Christmas Day where we can enjoy ourselves a bit. Bring tape decks and play Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck and Bing Crosby. (I’m kidding!)
I think the kind of discontent that I am describing has been growing for some time. Reverend Billy addresses it. (If you don’t know about Reverend Billy, please Google him.) There is nothing “unchristian” about the way that I feel. In fact, I feel that the entire “Christmas Season” is a bizarre distortion of what the celebration of Christ’s birth is meant to be. When I see the faces of the shoppers who are trapped in traffic on their way to Walmart, I often feel that I am looking at yet other victims of a cynical and commercial distortion of a holiday. Many of these people are unhappy, trapped into getting and spending.
Anyway, talk to me, Kind Hearts. What do you think? Better yet, I’ll see you at Waffle House. I like that all-day breakfast.