As we are closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving, these important holidays are actually also the only real days off I have. With no restaurant operations, there is nothing to worry about, nothing to lodge in the back of my mind, no unfinished business or undone minor repair able to nag at my consciousness.
With members of my family--such as they are--scattered about the country and world and with none actually sharing the same time zone with me, I also often spend these two holidays alone. While my brusque, curmudgeonly nature would tend to make this fact a foregone conclusion, I actually have a number of close friends, and my solitude is not the result of a lack of offers.
I like spending these days alone. I like the silence. I like the normal passage of time. I remember back in the day, Dallas star Tony Hagman used to take some flack for having a "silent day", a day when the show was not filming each week when he refused to talk to anyone, and would endeavor to be as alone as possible. Even back then when I was much younger, I got that--I understood the need to back out of the tent and sit in the field beyond the midway and the rides.
The trouble with having this glorious solitude on a holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving is that memories show up like distant in-laws or drunken neighbors--sometimes they can be a delightful distraction, but usually they just cause trouble.
Earlier this year my last living grandparent died. My mother's mother had four marriages [and four big inheritances] under her belt by the time she headed off to her heavenly reward. She never really liked children [even once they had grown apparently], and after the death of her last husband about eight years ago she happily trucked off to Monaco by herself to live the final years of her life around other snooty, rich old people. While elderly, her death was a little bit of a surprise because she really never stayed in touch with anyone unless she had family business with them. A doting grandmother she was not--but as with many of her generation and station she was a great actor, and she understood the value of, for lack of a better word, "occasion"--and many of my most vivid holiday memories involve her.
My grandmother would only cook on Thanksgiving, but when she did her recall of the fantastic dishes made by her own mother decades before was absolutely uncanny--and everything was from scratch. She was the youngest of nineteen children, and the stories she could tell of her youth were almost otherwordly when seen through the prism of my own, much more sparsely populated childhood. Her family was very poor when she was born, but by the time she was a pre-teen her father began to make some money, and by the time she was high school-aged the family was straight-out rich--as a result she never experienced the hardships felt by the rest of her siblings [while nineteenth and youngest, she was probably a real surprise to her parents as she was youngest by nearly six years] and they always resented her for it. The chill between her and my legion of great-uncles and aunts kept them far from us, and gave her stories an even more Fairy Tale-like tone.
The only girl I've ever really been in love with, who I have been tortured by seeing on a regular basis around town for the last several years, announced her pregnancy earlier this year and recently gave birth to a beautiful daughter. My chosen profession was the cause of the end of our relationship many years ago, and while as I've probably said before I am not parent material, seeing her so incredibly happy with both her new daughter and her new daughter's father does make me wonder about "Christmas' that could have been", not to mention "Christmas' still to come".
Several years ago at Thanksgiving I hosted about fifteen people for a holiday dinner at a venerable local competitor of ours--one of the only fine dining restaurants in this area open for the holiday [the place is nearly 100 years old as are many of their regular guests, making it a hotspot on both Thanksgiving and Christmas]. They were incredibly kind to me, and actually seated my party in a private room--because we were all alone I couldn't be distracted by the place's operations and as a result I remember everything about that day. That dinner, legendary in my memory, is the reason that I try so hard to make sure we never have a misstep anytime a large group is here for a truly special occasion. My date to that dinner was killed by a drunk driver about three years after that meal, while two of the couples so in love with each other on that Thanksgiving Day have since been married and divorced--and nastily so in both cases. I forgot my cellphone that day and used my girl's phone to call my dad to wish him a happy holiday--he actually answered the phone because he didn't recognize the number and must have been shocked into good spirits--I think that was probably the last civil conversation we had.
Two years ago when I went to buy my Christmas tree it was cold--cold. I like the cold and I didn't want to get out of my car--it was probably like...9. There was a big old work van parked in the field next to the tree stand that I assumed belonged to the stand, until I got inside the tent and saw this huge family looking to pick up a tree. A dad about my age, his wife, and five or six kids--and they were too lightly dressed. The kids were warm because they were picking out a Christmas tree and were probably already thinking about wrapped boxes underneath it, but you could tell the parents were colder than the air around them--because they were poor and they were about to disappoint their children. As I walked through the rows of trees, I heard one of the tree guys ask the other what the man with his family had asked him about a minute ago, probably right before I walked in. The man had asked the attendant if there was any way to work off the price of a tree, or if they had any damaged or old trees that wouldn't cost more than a few dollars. When the attendant told him that unfortunately they didn't have any work or any extra trees, the man assured them that he wouldn't be any trouble, but that he wanted to let his kids look around for a little while longer if it was OK.
He needed time to think of an excuse for not buying a tree. Any restaurant manager knows instinctively when someone is stalling for time to make up an excuse.
I interrupted the guys and asked how much their most expensive tree was--and was treated to one of the nastiest looks imaginable--they realized I had heard them talking and thought I was planning to upstage the man in front of his family on purpose. Before the guys could answer I told them never mind, handed them $100, and asked that they give the man and his family an $80 tree, keep $20 for themselves, and make up some story about an extra tree or whatever and I hauled ass out of there. I value money--probably too much--but $100 doesn't matter to me. I have dropped Benjamins on rounds of drinks, dancing girls [not to mention sitting girls and standing girls], Christmas tips, yard plants, tropical fish, fountain pens, and countless other ridiculous items and events. That $100 for me, that day, was the very spirit of Christmas itself. When I finally got back to the lot nearly a week later to buy my tree a few days before the holiday the attendants remembered me. They told me the children were laughing and the parents were crying.
I don't know that man from that day, but I size people up all day long. That man was a hard-working man with more bills to pay than bills in his wallet--a man who had a big family that he loved, assuredly a bigger family than he should have had if he had been planning rthings out with his head rather than his heart. He wouldn't have taken money from me, or anything else, directly. If I hadn't taken off from that lot like Junior Johnson with a load of moonshine he probably would have refused even the tree. But, I got out ahead of him--like Santa Claus up the chimney.
These holidays for me mark the passage of time--I am conflicted these days--more than ever before. Maybe a midlife crisis, though thankfully without the baldness, the boiler, or the prostate problems. Maybe just sedentary boredom from being in the same place for so long, maybe wanderlust, maybe even the spiritual emptiness that I am sometimes accused of.
This Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent thinking much on anecdotes like these from my past, as well as the paths that lay ahead of me in my future.
I am interested in seeing what becomes of all of us over the next couple of years as we are now faced with a complete vacuum of ethics and character not just within our own government but across the very face of the earth in most positions of leadership. I am interested in the new challenges that may face the company I work for, solid as it is, as we move into an economic firestorm created by 30 years of corrupt, underhanded governmental meddling in our economic system. I also hear that Ireland and New Zealand are very nice places to live, though understandably somewhat standoffish about immigration.
I'm at a crossroads, with a bunch of silver and gold and a yearning to see what's over the next rise. Hopefully I won't need a gas mask and an automatic weapon to get there, but I guess that is just part of the adventure.