Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Not So Holly Jolly Christmas

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder. My afternoons of sweating profusely, in the Arizona desert, have somewhat dissipated, and taking an evening dip in the swimming pool is no longer a sensible option. Starbucks is now serving up their popular Pumpkin Spice lattes, and department stores everywhere have swapped out their summer merchandise for shared shelf space between Halloween and “the other holiday.” I am a bit surprised I haven’t had any eggnog sightings as of yet. (Pumpkin eggnog does not count.)

However, last week I did see, for the first time this year, a Christmas commercial on TV. It just so happens I purchased my first Christmas present around that time as well. In barely over a month (Nov. 1st) I’ll be listening exclusively to the illustrious sounds of the season, at home and in my car, until midnight of December 25th. No wonder this is the time of year when I prematurely focus the majority of my attention on Christmas! Therefore, it’s time for another Christmas story, from yours truly, although this one is not nearly as cheery as my previous tales. The following story is about a not so holly jolly Christmas.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all was well. The year was 1998, and it had been a splendid holiday season leading up to the “big day.” The gifts were all wrapped, positioned neatly underneath the tree, and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The list of Christmas Eve traditions, shared each year with my lovely wife’s extended family, had been completed: The Norwegian feast had been devoured (minus the lutefisk, of course – who wants to eat dried whitefish with a gelatinous texture?). Every song had been sung (some more than once) from the small, treasured hymnals used only on December 24th since probably the early 1900’s. The ice cream cake had been savored (one thin slice per person).

The only thing left to do this Christmas Eve, before trying to get some shut-eye, was to attend a candlelight church service with my side of the family. Almost immediately after cramming into a pew with my loved ones, I realized all was not well. As I was jubilantly singing “Joy to the World,” with the rest of the congregation, the joy inside of me was rapidly diminishing. I was overcome by maddening chills. Not only was Jack Frost nipping at my nose, but the icy villain was mauling my entire body. I’d never experienced anything like that before (nor have I since). As soon as I got home I took some Alka-Seltzer Plus (my usual cure-all) and burrowed into bed without even considering taking off my winter coat.

Christmas morning I awoke, and instantly I knew I was in trouble. I was still frigid, and now adding to my misery was a pounding headache – rhythmically pulsating as if keeping time with “The Little Drummer Boy.” (So much for the Alka-Seltzer Plus.) I was painfully aware what this meant, but I certainly wasn’t going down without a fight. I could not bear the thought of “missing” Christmas, so I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair, and tried to act normal (normal for me, anyway). I knew trying to disguise the fact that I felt much worse than the night before was selfish of me, but admittedly the well-being of others wasn’t my greatest concern at the time. Partaking in the day’s festivities was.

It really didn’t matter what my plan was because the missus was not fooled. She has an uncanny way of immediately detecting when a person is sick simply by looking at their eyes. My wife was not about to let me contaminate the rest of the family especially on such a glorious day. However, she did allow me to wander out into the living room to check out the goodies St. Nick had left for us underneath the Christmas tree. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a Scooby-Doo cookie jar for the missus, a Super Nintendo for our son, and plenty of sports memorabilia for me. Santa did good. He always does.

Those few short minutes of excitement were almost more than I could handle in my delirious state. I knew I had reached my limit of exhilaration for the day. I also knew it was time for my wife and son to leave. They headed off to my parents’ house, for a fun-filled day, while I settled down for a long winter’s nap. As the rest of the world celebrated our Savior’s birth, or Santa Claus, or both, I laid there in bed thinking of all that I would be deprived of on this blessed day.

There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head – just nightmarish thoughts of what I was missing out on a mere mile or so down the road. There’d be no customary Christmas “breakfast” (usually served around noon) for me this year. None of my father’s famous fried eggs. No bacon, no sausage, and no biscuits and gravy. Gone was the anticipation and the delight of watching loved ones opening their gifts that were thoughtfully selected just for them. Lost forever was the cherished time spent with family – typically even more precious on December 25th.

I spent the entire day in bed…and in a desolate daze. At one point I attempted to get out of my lowly condition by turning on the television, but even the holiday classics emanating from the screen could not cure my sadness. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”? I don’t think so. Clement Clarke Moore’s ending line from his legendary holiday poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, did not ring true for me in 1998. That year was a not so holly jolly Christmas.

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Teddy

I remember it well. It was a long time ago, yet it’s one of those life altering moments a person never forgets. I was only a child, around 8 or 9 years old, when my world came crashing down around me. I could no longer keep my emotions buried deep down inside of me. I sat there motionless in my father’s La-Z-Boy Rocker Recliner, stunned by what had transpired over the past few weeks, as tears cascaded down my cheeks. I made no effort to conceal my tears as I gazed down the hallway at my mother who was conversing on our one and only rotary dial telephone. In fact, I was hoping my immense sorrow would not go unnoticed, so I could finally release some of the burden I’d secretly been carrying around with me ever since I made that awful decision…to give my teddy bear away.

I made the hasty decision to part ways with my stuffed animal soon after attending a Cub Scout meeting. (I was a Cub Scout for an entire two years during my youth.) My Pack leader announced we’d be taking part in a local toy drive. The Christmas season was fast approaching, and he thought collecting new and slightly used toys, for those less fortunate in our community, was the least we could do as a civic minded organization. My ears perked up when the gangly Cubmaster mentioned there’d be prizes awarded, to the top three toy collectors, on the evening of the upcoming annual pinewood derby competition. I don’t remember much more about the meeting after hearing the word prizes, but I do recall thinking what a glorious night that will be: taking first place in the pinewood derby and receiving one of three prizes just for gathering some toys.

When I got home I immediately ransacked my overflowing toy box and found a few items I could donate to help my…ahem…I mean…to help the…worthy cause. The next day I scoured the neighborhood (probably only three or four houses) for contributions. One weekend a few of us even went out with our Pack leader in hopes of finding more donations. The contest’s end was nearing, and I felt pretty good about the number of toys I had garnered, but was it enough? I rummaged through my toy box one last time, but I didn’t find anything. At least nothing else I could bear to part with or what would be acceptable as “slightly used.”

And then it happened. I spotted my blue and white teddy bear, in his usual spot, on top of my bed. I hadn’t even considered parting company with any of the assorted inanimate creatures arranged next to my pillow. But what a greedy little guy I was. All I kept thinking about were those darn prizes. It’s not even as if they were all that spectacular to begin with. I think the grand prize was maybe ten dollars. A nice sum at the time, for a young lad, but certainly not worth the guilt I’d soon be facing.

I began to rationalize how giving away my teddy wasn’t a big deal. Wasn’t I too old for such a thing anyway? I hadn’t even given my stuffed bear a name for Pete’s sake. What kind of an owner doesn’t give their teddy bear a name? Surely he’d be better off with someone else. Rationalization completed.

My mother noticed I had added my teddy bear to the modest pile of accumulated toys situated in the corner of my bedroom. She mildly suggested that I reconsider my decision to give away my teddy. A day or so later, seeing my stuffed animal still occupying the corner, my mother strongly recommended I heed her advice. She then made one last plea for me to reconsider my stance, as I was heading off to the big event, but my infantile mind had already been made up. My excitement that evening quickly waned as the names of the three prize winners were announced, and the realization of what just happened set in. I lost the pinewood derby, the toy drive contest, and my precious teddy bear in one fell swoop.

A few days passed, and I quickly got over not being victorious in the pinewood derby and toy drive competitions. I truly hadn’t given my teddy bear much thought with the hustle and bustle of the season’s festivities and with Christmas just around the corner. However, after the blessed 25th day of December had come and gone, and every child’s coveted winter break was coming to a close, I became fixated with the loss of my blue and white teddy bear. I could not believe what I had done. That’s why I couldn’t stop crying, and hoping my mother would notice my anguish, as I sat motionless in my father’s La-Z-Boy. (My father must not have been home at the time since I was sitting in his chair.)

At last, my mother’s eyes locked onto mine, and instantly I felt a sense of some much needed solace. I was relieved, although only for a moment, until my newfound comfort swiftly transformed into a state of trepidation. After all, it was my mother who earnestly tried to convince me not to give away my one and only teddy, so why should she be sympathetic to my self-induced predicament after I (now regretfully) ignored her previous sound advice? I guess I was about to find out since my mother had hung up the telephone and was headed in my direction. To my surprise, she was sympathetic…and how!

After comforting me for a while my mother came up with a brilliant idea. She couldn’t bring back my teddy bear, but she could do the next best thing. My mother is a fine artist, so she drew (from memory) a life-size, near perfect replica of my teddy onto a large sheet of drawing paper. She then brought the picture to life when filling in the bear’s outline with a couple of colored pencils – precisely matching the light blue on the piece of paper before us to that of the real thing now somewhere in the arms of some lucky kid.

Over the next few days my mother did the same for the remaining stuffed clan arranged on my bed…just in case. She fashioned the likenesses of my light green bunny, small raccoon pillow, and my Ronald McDonald collectible onto other sheets of drawing paper, so I could add them to the teddy bear masterpiece she had created for me. What a mother! Her act of kindness eased much of the hurt her little boy was experiencing.

It’s no coincidence that today is National Teddy Bear Day. I really don’t think we need a specific day of the year designated to honor our teddies, but what the hey. Later this month (Sept. 19th) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so I suppose, all things considered, a day established to celebrate our teddy bears isn’t so strange after all. I do think about my blue and white teddy sometimes, and I wish he was still with me. If you’re fortunate enough to still have yours…please hug your teddy bear today.


Why I Write

I’ve written more than 100 blogs since acquiring my lifewithtruthandcommonsense.com blog site two and a half years ago. That’s well over 100,000 words I’ve put from pen to paper – then paper to laptop – typing one letter at a time – with only one finger…my right index finger to be exact. I’ve written on many subjects including the two no no’s: politics and religion. I’ve been an open book in regards to my thoughts on controversial issues, hot topics, and life in general. It hasn’t always been that easy either.

Someone once said, “writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” I watched an interview last year with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Don Henley, and he was discussing the art of writing with Charlie Rose, the show’s host. The famed musician and Eagles co-founder said, in essence, that having an epiphany or a great idea is easy, but translating them into written form is difficult. I can attest to that. Everything I’ve posted on my blog site has been a challenging labor of love. So then…why do I write?

I mainly write to prevent my head from exploding. I have difficulty ridding my mind of my multiple thoughts until they’re written down. I just can’t seem to completely move forward with my life knowing I’ve left some unwritten thoughts behind. I feel as though I’m incapable of retaining any new material unless I let some of the old stuff go. I guess I’m one of those who needs closure. I’ve heard that humans use only about 10% of their brains, so I’m sure there’s plenty more space available in my noggin, but I’m not willing to take a chance.

I also write to leave behind evidence that I once existed (in case anyone in the future is interested). I certainly wish I knew more about my heritage…more about my great grandparents…more about my grandparents…and even more about my still living parents. Some people are just more aloof than others and unwilling to share much of themselves, even with their family, and that’s okay. However, I don’t mind at all if people want to get to know the core of my being. In fact, I prefer my relatives know who I was and what I was about. I at least want future generations to have the option of knowing.

I write to remember, reflect, and reminisce about the good old days. So many memories are precious, and sometimes that’s all we’ve got. I put pen to paper because I enjoy the process. There’s nothing like penning my thoughts at 4:45am while sipping on a Starbucks coffee. To me, writing is akin to taking a seedling of a thought or an idea and nurturing it until it blossoms into a bouquet of words worth reading. I write because of the satisfaction I get when seeing the end result of my toil emanating from the computer screen.

I also write so my voice can be heard (even if I’m the only one listening). In case you’re unaware, I tend to have an opinion about everything. I read the Sunday newspaper and watch the local newscasts, and I’ve noticed journalists and reporters alike (whether intentionally or not) usually miss the real story. I write what I think, no holds barred, and what I think others really need to hear. I write because of my desire to be part of the discussion.

I write publically to examine, to explore, and to even sometimes entertain someone’s unorthodox behavior that has already been made public. For example, by now everyone and their mother knows about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of our National Anthem. The reason given by the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback, for his defiance, was that he wanted to call attention to what he perceives as failed race relations in this country. The disgruntled Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” I expect more patriotism and less oppression drivel from a biracial (raised by White parents) millionaire football player.

The primary discussion seems to be whether or not the mediocre quarterback has the right to turn his back on the American flag (and this nation). Unfortunately, he does. In this country – the land of the free – a person even has the right, if so inclined, to set fire to the Stars and Stripes for crying out loud. I think an American athlete not standing with his teammates (and everyone else in the stadium) while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is being played is like not brushing your teeth before going to the dentist: It might not be the law, but it’s certainly expected.

The National Football League’s response to this matter was to immediately issue a statement which said, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.” I highly recommend the NFL adjust its laissez-faire attitude concerning the time-honored pregame ritual. The League OWNS its players. That may sound a bit harsh, but it’s absolutely true. Every NFL player must conform to a strictly imposed way of life, both on and off the field, or risk being fined, suspended, or even terminated from the League.

Players are not allowed to promote any charities (unless sanctioned by the League) while inside a National Football League stadium. They cannot alter their uniforms in any fashion whatsoever, and their conduct is heavily monitored throughout the entire game. The players don’t even have a say as to what brand of cleats are attached to their feet. Therefore, I would think adopting a new, more respectful policy, regarding what’s acceptable during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” isn’t too much to ask of the mighty NFL.

And there you have it. My mind has been cleared of the whole Colin Kaepernick situation. I now have some space in my noggin for another seedling of a thought.