Christmas ghosts and memories 

The holiday used to be much better

The holiday used to be much better
Christmas used to be much better. This year, I don’t really have any plans for the holiday, save watching my niece open her presents on Christmas Day. After that, it’s a family meal and I’m off to test the limits in a bottle of Hennessy.
We never had a ton of money, but my mom and dad always made sure we lived like rich people at Christmas. My sisters and I didn’t know about the overtime that was worked and the credit cards that were maxed out in order to give us a happy holiday. We just knew that Christmas was a festive time. The smell of Chex mix baking in the oven will forever be associated in my mind with her. I miss the counters filled with pies and cookies and other treats. Nobody could bake a turkey like her.
Of course, in past years, Christmas used to mean a three-month orgy of anticipation followed by a week of surprisingly anticlimactic enjoyment. You find that Christmas doesn’t mean as much as you grow older. The anticipation is gone; I already know what presents I’ll be getting. I get the same ones every year. And I give the same presents year after year, too. But some things are better now than they were back then. I appreciate family so much more. Spending time with my family is much more exciting and fulfilling than a living room full of presents, even if most of them are for me. Christmas is also the time when I think about the people I miss the most. It’s when I miss my mother, who passed away this week in 1999. Christmas brought out the best in her in many ways, especially in her cooking. The smell of Chex mix baking in the oven will forever be associated in my mind with her. I miss the counters filled with pies and cookies and other treats. Nobody could bake a turkey like her. We never had a ton of money, but my mom and dad always made sure we lived like rich people at Christmas. My sisters and I didn’t know about the overtime that was worked and the credit cards that were maxed out in order to give us a happy holiday. We just knew that Christmas was a festive time. Despite their best efforts, at least one of the three kids would go into a pout on Christmas Day. If I’d been them, I’d have smacked the crap out of whoever was throwing a tantrum, but they always showed forbearance. Parents just buy their kids too much shit for Christmas. If I could go back in time and advise my parents, I’d tell them to buy their kids a six-pack of tube socks, a book and one toy. Instead, we got way too much stuff and became overmaterialistic adults as a result. Still, some of my best personal memories stem from my childhood Christmases. I guess it’s natural during the holidays to mourn the people you’ve lost. The good thing is that the memories will always be there and the great times never forgotten, no matter how much time has passed. I also think of my old boss and buddy Harrison Ullmann around the holidays, too, because he knew how to celebrate Christmas. When you live your entire life like it’s a party, the holidays become even more special. It’s funny. There are some people in the city who seem to want to take over Harrison’s role as the voice of the city. Nobody will ever be Ullmann, but some want to try. It seems like grave robbing, at best, to invoke his name in the cause of self-aggrandizement. I treasure the years I spent working with him, and appreciate his mentorship greatly, but I would never compare myself to him. I recently reread Rat’s Ass Republicans & Other Hoosier Tales, the posthumous compilation of his best columns. I was amazed, once again, at the way he could craft prose and spin stories. I’ll never hit his levels, but I can try and hit my own. In the book, there is a long essay about Christmas that particularly hit home. Since I am inarticulate compared to him, I will only say that it reflects my feelings as well. It also states my holiday wishes to all of you. “If you read these columns very often you will know that I am often cranky about the world around us and grumpy about the foolish and hurtful things we do to each other. But you should also know I am happy in my own life and cheerful about the good and useful things we could do for each other, if only we could. There is a fashionable pessimism in our time, a conventional wisdom that there is little that any of us can do about anything that matters. We are inclined to sit, surrounded by our chores and our stuff, telling each other that someone else should give us something better than we have found to give ourselves. I am unfashionable in my optimism, ruined for pessimism by my children and grandchildren. You should be so fortunate. God bless us all as God has already blessed me.”

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