Defining the season had never been so important

He was nearly done with the analysis of his regional office’s latest “opportunity” when he heard the ding of an incoming text.  It was the kids’ lists of demands/wishes for Christmas.  “Just a friendly reminder because he’d gotten it wrong before and she knew he wrote them down but just wanted to be sure… “   He grimaced and focused all the attention he had left now at 6:30 back on the case.

The account wouldn’t save his office for this year but landing it at the last minute for a January 1st start would lift his field people and office staff.  It might even give him a helpful little nudge with his boss around bonus time just around the corner.  He’d wrung his hands and mind over this thing for the last 30 hours since it was dumped on them.  The deal was dicey.  As much as it could help, it could hurt them tremendously if things went sideways.

He had the email with the proposal attached ready to go and was about to hit send when the second helpful text came through.  It was just a tip that Megan liked the perfume from De’chante even though you could get it at Traydack’s.  He had known that the second time he’d been told last night and it was crystal clear when he was reminded this morning.  He clicked send with a snap, not so much from a position of confidence as one of desperation and shut his computer down.

Six days before Christmas and the insanity inside his house was certain to be mirrored at the mall.  Jan had been buying gifts for everyone and their dog (literally, she gave one to the Thompsons dog, Arfie) since August and their dining room table was awash with tape, wrapping paper, bows and ribbon.  She was only partially through her “action items” which included such things as “wipe down light switches” and “measure and curl ribbon”.  He had the list, one of five she’d created for all their tasks, nearly in triplicate electronically and his marching orders complete with coupons.  All he had to do was execute and things would be fine.  He wasn’t sure sometimes why they bothered.

Megan and Chris both seemed barely interested in making out a Christmas list.  Pulling Megan out of YouTube dance videos was like deprogramming a cult member and Chris always had his nose in a book about the cosmos or some involved webinar on space.  He wondered if they would even offer a request if they weren’t prompted and goaded by their mom.  They were both off school early for the holidays and the only things they really seemed interested in were their friends and the aforementioned past times.  He knew he didn’t have much room to talk regarding interest in the holiday.

The year’s end always, always, brought at least several frantic potential clients, big ones, who had put off making their decisions until the last minute.  Days before the holiday they would unceremoniously drop their raw information on him and challenge his office to sell them.  After a few of these he wasn’t just distracted he was detached and disassociated with anything non-work related and he found himself resenting these “opportunities” even as he wrestled to be involved and invested in “the most wonderful time of the year.”

As soon as he stepped into Target he knew he was in trouble.  People buzzed everywhere, chirping and shouting.  Babies cried and young children pled their case for the newest toy that was all the rage this year.  The icing on the cake was
“The Christmas Carol Channel” semi-blaring Burl Ives “Have a holly jolly Christmas” in the background.  ‘We’ll see about that’ he thought darkly as he removed his coat and tossed it in a cart.  Far from jolly, his mission here was “seek and destroy/purchase.”  Chris wanted the newest space something or other for his gaming set.  It was episode 6 or version 7 he wasn’t quite sure but it was supposed to be here.  It wasn’t.  He left Target as quickly as he’d arrived, sweating and focused on the nearest Game Stop down the road.  It wasn’t there either.

He entered Walmart without his coat (he was learning) still sweating and wondering why they hadn’t joined the legions of their friends who purchased online.  Again, the chirping and whizzing and crying and pleading were evident.  And the music, of course the music, happily played in the background, “walkin in a winter wonderland.”  He’d hardly call it that but it was what it was.  The music broke and the DJ congratulated and thanked their listeners for supporting their charity toy program for yet another year.  “Because of your generosity, over 1,500 children in the metro area will be able to enjoy a real Christmas.”  He wasn’t so sure about that either.  It seemed like “enjoying” might be a stretch but he had to admit, the melee in front of him was what constituted a “real” Christmas these days.  He slogged along.

As the 18-ish stock boy explained, they hadn’t had Deep Space 8 for over two weeks.  Most of them had been sold on Black Friday.  Had he tried Game Stop or Target?  How about Shopko?  He was back in the car on the way to Shopko in record time.  It seemed like all he was really getting proficient at was driving from store to store and walking in only to walk out minutes later.  This time he tuned into The Christmas Carol Channel in the car “although it’s been said, many times many ways…”  His mind drifted, lost in the music for a second and then the DJ came back on with thanks again for all the support and toys bought for the needy so they could have a real Christmas.  Were they emphasizing the word “real” or was it just him?

Shopko was actually just a couple of blocks from De’chante so with luck once he got the game from here he could pop over there, get the perfume and head home victorious.  Thankfully things were a bit more subdued as he stepped in the door.  Again, still the hustle and bustle, still the toddlers arguing like defense attorneys to the judge and jury that was their parent and of course, The Christmas Carol Channel.   “Merry Christmas darling” seemed a little less intrusive and calmed his nerves just a bit as he made his way to the electronics department where wonder upon wonders they had the game!  He snatched it up quickly and headed toward the checkout lane.  Nearly there, once again the promotion for the toy drive came on,    “a real Christmas” for all those kids.  His steps slowed within view of the finish line that was the register and he stopped.  A real Christmas.

Sweat rolled down his aching back and he gazed around him.  Many of his fellow shoppers, intent on their lists, never looked up nor spoke to their kids except to deny yet another plea for the coveted toys.  There wasn’t much that was merry about the scene and yet it was reality.  This was a real Christmas, at least as they’d created it.  “The first noel…” began over the speakers and he took a deep breath and did something he almost never did.  He left his sought after purchase on the closest shelf and strode out of the store.

In the parking lot he gave his phone a workout like it had never known before but the air was cool, he was no longer sweating and his mission was finally clear.  When he got home he plunked the grocery bag down on the counter in front of his wife.  She looked at him inquisitively.

“Gifts….?  You just went to HyVee?  You couldn’t find any of the kids’s stuff?  And why were you wondering what favorite Christmas cookie I have that I never have time to make?”

The woman could ask questions like no one he’d ever known.

“In order:  I have them, yes, no, I wound up giving up and how about we make those Meringue Hershey’s Kiss cookies together tomorrow afternoon?  I’m taking the day off.” He said as he ticked the questions off on his fingers.  He gave her a warm hug and a kiss.

“That would be wonderful honey.”  Her eyes were misty; his twinkled.

“Watch this.” he said.

He pulled out his phone, went to his text messages and hit send.

“What?  I don’t understand.  What’s the big deal?  Watch what?” she was still confused.

“DAD!!  Are you KIDDING me!??  Tell me you’re not kidding me.  Is this real!?”

Megan ran into the kitchen.

“The Nutcracker”?  At the Oswald?  On Christmas Eve?  All of us?”

“Yep, we’ve got tickets and a pass to go backstage and meet the dancers if you want to after the show.”

“Oh dad!” she flung herself at both of them.  “Wait ‘til I tell Tiffany!”

“Oh honey, you did gooood.” Jan was impressed like he hadn’t seen her in years.

“I’m not done just yet.  Check this one out.”  He hit send again.

Chris must have heard his sister’s commotion because he was close.

“Wait!  What?  Holy…   Is this right?  No joke?!”  He skidded to a stop in front of them.

“Yeah, buddy, apparently out there  in the country, on the winter solstice you can see, just with the naked eye, so much of the big dipper you never can in the city and they have telescopes set up with guides explaining what you’re looking at through each one.  They also have snacks and drinks and you can basically stay as long as you like, the whole three hours or however long and there’s a warming hut so your mom and sister won’t freeze.”

“Dad, that is so awesome, I can’t wait!  I have to check out their website and what they’re focusing on at this time of the year and…”  His voice trailed off as he hugged both of them.  “You guys are the best!  Love you.”

Jan looked at him curiously as Chris left to tell his friends about the totally cool thing he and his family were doing on the 21st.

“What happened to you between blowing my texts off at the office and just now?  How’d you come up with all this?  What made you think about doing this stuff and who are you and what did you do with my husband?”

He laughed and grinned.

“I’m the same guy, Jan, promise.”  “I have the ring and everything” he said as he waved his hand in front of her.

“But how…?”

“I don’t know quite what to tell you honey.  I guess, for me, and hopefully all of us, Christmas just got real.”

Here’s hoping you make and shape the season into what’s most important.  If you would like to read more, click here and you’ll be redirected to my blog’s home page where you can find some of our old family Christmas letters under the Archives section.  Feel free to spread this around to your friends and if they would like to subscribe for free they can do so by clicking this.  Subscribers receive an email from me on Saturdays with links to the week’s posts, that’s all.  I never sell or share emails so there’s no danger of getting a bunch of spam.