Christmas Present

It’s Christmas Day and we sit reminiscing about Christmas Past.

Once upon a time we used to drive up to the farm to cut down a tree for Christmas. As a teenager I would pile batches of friends into our station wagon and drive 3hrs north to Burks Falls. This idea of a real tree was novel to some of the friends, particularly those from southern climes.

Somehow, your perception of how big of a tree you need is different in the wilderness. One time, we had a tree that was so heavy we couldn’t get it to stand up straight without anchoring it to three corners of the room. Another year we didn’t have the means to get up to the farm, so we cut the tree from the front yard at Glenlake. You can’t really blame the neighbours if they thought we were Herdmans.

That tree too was somehow so much bigger once we got it inside and in my Christmas enthusiasm, I cut off the top instead of the bottom. Exhausted from the struggle when we discovered it was still too big we just wedged it between the floor and the ceiling. It didn’t need any container or anchoring and appeared to be growing into the second floor of the house.

And then there was the Christmas (or several) when we didn’t even have a tree and used a wooden ladder, somewhat bejeweled with decorations and stacked with presents. How do people recall this stuff? It is all so conveniently blocked out of my mind in favour of some kind of Rockwellian past.

On the 23rd I woke up four hours and two appointments late. As I dashed out the door, Mike tried to waylay me with lists of menus and plans and chores and I burst into tears cause the tree was up and the house was decorated and the tables were set and everything was underway and I hadn’t even been home in two months let alone helped out with Christmas.

Christmas is my holiday. I own it. It starts on November 1st and happens when, how and with whom I say. Santa knows this. Everyone knows this. So it was a bit of a surprise to see that it marched right on without me this year, too busy even to think of presents or over-the-top fru-fru.

On the 24th at noon we closed up the cafe and I wrapped the presents Mike had bought for the kids. Then I realized I didn’t even have a present for Mike. I ran down to Kool Stuff on King and met – aw, shoot, I asked him his name twice – a very nice guy who owns the place, full of stuff that Mike would love. I knew from recent “What would you do with a million dollars” conversations that Mike was coveting some sort of video game, possibly that requires a new system that he doesn’t have, but I could not recall the details and buddy at the store was more of a comic collector. Wouldn’t it be great if I listened better? Remembered things? Paid more attention? Planned ahead?

I gave up and got a $20 gift certificate for Kool Stuff.

They say that in a person’s life we can only manage four (4) priorities. That after that, we can’t keep to our commitments. I ticked them off on Christmas eve, shortly before the family arrived for happy hour at the cafe. In no particular order: Community-building; Teaching (Bestseller Bootcamp); Writing (aka ‘Learning things the hard way’); Heart of the Hammer Cafe; Family. Give you one guess which one has fallen off lately.

And now it’s Christmas Day and the kerfluffus is over. I’ve been in pj’s all day and finally went hunting for games in the hall dresser when what should I discover? The gifts I bought for Mike all those months ago and stashed in a drawer so he wouldn’t find them.

The Kool Stuff gift certificate is still pegged to the bulletin board at the Cafe and Mike still hasn’t seen it. The certificate itself is so cool that I suspect it will never get spent.

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The Lunch Box

At long last I found a white hair and told myself it was the bathroom light. After seeing it a few times I decided to pull it out, and then saw another, and another. Better quit while I can.

Lately I find myself reacting very emotionally to things. I tell myself that it is all this new-found openness and sincerity in my dual environments and that I’m not really bonkers. It’s as if for years I have been packing the emotions of the moment into suitcases, unwittingly sending them to the future. And now I find them and go, ‘hey, what’s in here?’ Ouch!

In a strange parallel, I have been finding hard copies and drafts of my writing after having lost all the good stuff from my archival disks, literally, unpacking boxes from the past and finding amid course selections and empire-building plans my old stories, stage plays, tv scripts. Its as if suddenly time has caught up with me. Where was I?

I have spent so much of the last 20 years living in the future and I wonder if this business of connecting with the world around, being involved in communities, with people, with the present isn’t just a little bit bad for my health and longevity? Or is this what we call living? Does living make us old?

I found a story from my late 20s. Reading it, I was interested to consider that perhaps I have traded in my invisible jet for a smart car and am ready for a life in the present. It also makes me wonder, if you could pack a lunch box with all the things you would need to take to a new life, what would you pack?

The Lunch Box

Randi, Becky and Charlie sat in the back seat of the car. It was dark and snowy outside but no one was tired. In the front seat Mom and Dad were fighting.
“Stop the car!  I’m getting out!” was the only part they understood. The car came to a quiet stop and Mom got out and slammed the door.
As the car drove away, Randi, Becky and Charlie turned around and looked out the back window. It was too dark to see anything.
When they got home, everyone went to bed without talking.  Becky turned off the light and prayed to Santa for an airplane so that she could fly away into the desert.
She dreamt that she landed in the desert, in front of a brightly coloured tent whose door was flapping open.
Inside the tent there was a banquet.  Becky joined the banquet and then everyone danced.  Becky danced in the wind, around and around.

When Becky woke up it was two days to Christmas.
“What do you want for Christmas?” Dad asked.
“Barbie!” answered Randi.
“Lego!” answered Charlie.
“Never mind,” said Becky, “you can’t afford it.”
“Tell me anyway,” he asked.
“An airplane and flying lessons.”

At breakfast, they fought over the prize in the cereal box and Randi won.
They played outside in the snow until suppertime. Becky dug a hole in a snow drift and curled up like a polar bear. She imagined flying across the desert, flying low over the warm sand.
Dad made pea soup for supper. Randi, Becky and Charlie dumped it down the sink when he wasn’t looking.
That night Becky prayed again for an airplane and flying lessons. She dreamt of a desert sky filled with stars. Music came from the brightly lit tent and everyone danced and danced.

Becky was awakened by shouting and she ran through the dark hallway to the top of the stairs. Randi and Charlie were already there, watching through the railings for a glimpse of Mom and Dad fighting downstairs. When they saw Mom start up the stairs they all ran silently back to their bedrooms.
The desert was dark and starless. Sand was blowing everywhere. It was hard to fly. Hard to see. Only the faint light from the tent far down below kept Becky on course. The sound of music and dancing and laughing over the rumble of the airplane engine guided her in.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Mom made a great big breakfast and Dad put up a Christmas Tree. Neighbours came to visit. Dinner was long and noisy and the kids were sent to bed early.
Becky lay awake all night wondering… maybe they could afford an airplane. Would they really give her one? Where would she learn to fly? How would she find the desert?

In the morning Becky found a present under the tree and opened it.
It was a Wonder Woman Lunch Box.
She looked from Mom to Dad and back to the lunch box. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Mom asked.
Becky looked inside the lunch box. Painted on the lid was a picture of an invisible jet.
She took the lunch box up to her bedroom and filled it with her treasures, the things she would need to take into the desert; tinfoil covered bracelets, headband and belt. Silver lasso, giant ruby.
She closed her lunch box, climbed into the invisible jet and flew off to find the desert.