Saturday, December 22, 2007

Historians take note: I have been reborn into Grinch form as of precisely 4:36 on this day... .

It's been coming on for several years; this total disillusionment with all things Christmas. Noticed the first signs the year Dorian accepted, finally, that there was no Santa (it takes a bit longer for the retarded so it was necessary to indulge in reality hints over the year leading up to full disclosure). That wasn't easy for either of us, but in time she bought into the notion that being Santa was almost as much fun as pretending.

Being one who didn't give up on the myth until I was about nine, (I know; my imagination blew away any signs that may have suggested otherwise). There were those years as a teenager when it was great fun to exchange gifts and swig the eggnog. There were those great years when being Santa for my children was just about the greatest dream come true.

The apex was probably the year that Mel presented me with a set of car keys for a brand new simulated wood-paneled luxury Mercury station wagon sometime in the Sixties. This would have been during my "pretty little brown Doris Day in the suburbs" period. It was a big year for the Reids. I believe the following year scored nearly as high when I opened up a huge gift box containing a magnificent Martin concert guitar which still leans (though now silent) against the wall in my living room; a reminder of a Betty who once was... .

Today is December 22nd, and the first day to begin the shopping ritual. What a disappointment! Rose early this morning to drive first to HoneyBaked fully expecting to find the cars wrapped around the block (should have suspected something was amiss) but a parking spot was waiting just beyond the entrance so I thanked the parking gods and slipped in. There were no lines out front. Thought for just a minute that the place may have closed, but no; someone was coming out as I looked around for an open sign. He was clutching the familiar large plastic bag.

Walked into the store that was only sparsely-filled. In less than 8 minutes I'd worked my way to the front counter only to discover at least part of the answer to the missing crowds. I asked for a medium-sized ham and was told that there were none left under 9 lbs. Sounded about right so I automatically offered my Visa card as one of the many clerks behind the counter said, "that will be $54.83! Something snapped. I wasn't sure just what it was, but life would not be the same again, and in that moment I knew that we (the economy and I) had crossed a threshold of some kind. Nor will Christmas. Then I remembered that last Christmas the ham cost under $40, but still a shocker at the time. It may have weighed less, but the cost was not as stunning as today for some reason. Maybe it was because I'd spent $3.36 a gallon for gas on my way to the store, this morning. Next year I'd need to put the ham on Layaway and pay it off in installments, if there is a next year, that is! It's about time to institute ham hocks with red beans and rice as the festive "traditional New Orleans" Christmas dinner of choice. And -- that old saw about "God willin' and the creek don't rise" is no longer a joke -- given the grave warnings of mounting evidence of radical climate change underway... .

The shock didn't hit me all at once, but this was like the beginning of a kind of long-delayed sobering up after years of drunkenness. I remember then how shocked I was at the announcement during the week before Thanksgiving that the stores would be open at 4:30 a.m. for the early birds! Some stores advertised that they would be open all night. I was appalled! What have we come to? What kind of people get up in the middle of the night to head for the department stores to buy "stuff" they don't need and probably can't use before recycling time?

Alright. Time to rationalize this ham thing. Decided while driving back to Richmond that I needed to frame the question differently. If I were to take my family out for Christmas dinner, it would surely cost far more than this. Comparing it to the restaurant bill (and the fact that I wouldn't need to bake it myself), it made a kind of sense; but only barely. But this would be the last year of commercially-baked hams. I would join those who have regained their sanity and prepared their own this year.

But common sense had now risen to the front of my brain and was not to be denied. It followed me into the Mall where I walked from rack to rack looking for wearable gifts for my pre-teen granddaughters. Awful! All of the fabrics had that woody feel to them -- the feel and smell of synthetics. Everything was poorly made and styled like miniature women's wear with plunging necklines on little girl's sizes 7-10 with spangles and logos and brand names painted, sewn, and stamped on everything! The prices were outrageous! Even at the markdowns of 50-60%, there was little worth owning. (Whatever on earth are young parents doing these days?) I could not pay these prices only to turn the girls into walking billboards for some offshore sweat shop.

Left the Mall and stopped in at Barnes & Noble (no independent bookstores are left in my community) to pick up a half-dozen classic books for the children -- no problem there. Then on to the Christmas tree lot to empty my wallet in the spirit of the season.

You know what? I realized as I drove into the lot that Christmas had died at around 4:36 Pacific Coast time, on this day of December 22, 2007. I have never in my long life ever not had a live tree. I hate the artificial ones. We have an 70 year accumulation of family ornaments stashed away waiting to be hung and admired, with all of the memories attached. I've never even considered not putting up a tree... .

When I saw the sign announcing "..all trees under 5 ft. now $39.00 it was over. I was not about to buy a dead tree for $40! And as I looked at them -- regularly trimmed with an electric pruning saw -- looking identical and without the familiar pungent fragrance of evergreens (since they were cut back in October and trucked in from Oregon). The second level of "snap" happened and I turned away to buy a large poinsettia ($17.95) and headed for home with my classics books in the trunk of the car and feeling sad for the end of a long era of believing ... only it's not Santa who's lost credibility, this time it's the entire economic system based upon greed -- and our unjustifiable all-consuming way of life in a world of such need.

Tomorrow I'll set out again to check out my Christmas "pulse" for any signs of life. If this is anything more than fatigue and/or a continuation of missing Rick, I'll let you know. I don't believe it is. It is my suspicion that a lot of folks are sobering up this year from decades of over-consumption, and that the economy will take a crushing dive come the New Year.

We may have permanently lost our "Peace on Earth Goodwill Toward Men" on the battlefields of the Middle East. I hope not.

Maybe all I'm needing is a good stiff eggnog and a few choruses of "Children go where I send thee."

Stay warm.

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