Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 220: Christmas Eve

Some people struggle at the holidays, and at times I have too.

They are times fraught with emotion, when the grip of memory can just as much cause smiles or tears. You may miss the times you had that were special with your family and loved ones. It's good to relive the memories but they can be bittersweet. There are people who are long gone, but those times were intimate and important. And now they're slowly fading into your personal history.

It can be tough. It can make you blue. This is especially true for those who have fallen on tougher times. Maybe they have lost their family somehow. People die or grow apart. Kids grow up and move away.

This isn't meant to be a downer. In fact I've been more in the "holiday spirit" this year than I have in a long time. It was a conscious decision, an effort to make this season happy and memorable. I think for the most part I have succeeded. I've done the little things that mark the season, and I've tried to be kinder and more patient with the little irritations that can be heightened when you're caught in crowded scenes.

I spoke to my dad tonight. He grew up in the Dust Bowl: A 1930s Okie. You can't get more "Depression era" than that. To recap, his mother never graduated high school, and his father ran off when my dad was 12. An undereducated mother of five, alone in a dirt-poor town of less than 2,000 people in post-war America. My dad's family in the best of times knew only struggle.

I asked him tonight what he remembered about Christmas as a child. "Well we were poor," he said. "And everybody knew it, and people would look down their nose at you. You'd be wearing hand-me-down clothes and people acted like you were nothin'."

And that's what my dad's family had at Christmas: nothing. "We were lucky if we had an apple and an orange," he said. "There wasn't any money. I'd work chopping cotton to help out. We had to live at Granny Keeter's for a while."

An apple and an orange. Merry Christmas.

My mom's family had similar struggles, only a little more money. Her family actually got gifts at Christmas, but in her case, it might be a pair of socks. She said one year they got a doll -- to share with the five sisters.

Socks, and a part of a doll. Merry Christmas.

The next time you hear about people getting maced during a fight in a store to get some stupid toy, have some perspective. The struggles my parents had may seem quaint... but with millions of people in this country out of work, this Christmas is going to be pretty threadbare for a lot of folks. Some probably aren't getting new Droids or iPads. Some aren't getting the new Batman game. Some aren't getting the Air Jordans.

Some aren't getting anything. They'd be lucky if they had an apple, an orange, or a pair of socks.

I haven't had a paycheck in well more than half a year now. But I'm lucky... M has a good job and has also found a part-time job, and I've learned (unfortunately through trial and error) how to watch our money closely and keep out of trouble. We're making it.

And although nothing is definitive yet, there has been a promising prospect recently that I'm hopeful about. And an earlier interview, once again, I was close to landing the job. To my knowledge I still could, but I think I probably will be the bridesmaid again. That's OK, because at least I felt like it was a good prospect. If I don't get the job, someone else does, and ultimately that helps everyone.

We need to remember how lucky we are, and how great life is. Though unemployed since mid-May, I'm sitting here in decent clothes, in a warm house, in a loving environment. There is food in the kitchen. And I was able to procure some modestly priced gifts.

A lot of people tonight are crying because they don't have any money. They don't have a job. They are estranged from, or have lost, people they love. They will wake up tomorrow, alone and lonely. No one will give them even an apple or an orange.

Remember these people. Think about those "ghosts of Christmas past" and present who touched you, and count your damn blessings.

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