28 days of Christmas

Today makes 28 days I’ve been celebrating Christmas … against my will.

On Thanksgiving Day, the wife decided we should get the holidays rolling—two weeks before our normal decorating date. The upside to her decision was that I was too busy making 11 pizzas to help with the Yuletide frenzy. (On a side note, my brothers and sister demand homemade pizza whenever they come up. So, we just eat pizza on Thanksgiving and do the turkey thing on Black Friday. Nowadays we do the Tofurkey thing.)

For the first year I can remember, she had to solve the Sphinx’s second riddle, you know the one: how did eight, 30-foot strands of lights become a 12-pound sheepshank?

It was sweet, sweet justice to watch her fight with the malfunctioning staple gun as she hung strand after strand of half-working lights.

Of course, this holiday season has been pretty tame compared to my childhood Christmases.

The only excitement so far is when my son spilled a gallon of paint on himself while searching the shed for the legs which hold our aluminum Christmas shrub erect. He won’t admit to pouring it on the floor and proceeding to make satin finish angels on the concrete, but the scene of the crime tells a different story.

Now that I’m confident the statutes of limitations on trespassing, theft, obstructing justice, domestic violence and child endangerment have lapsed, I can say the wife’s grumbling over missing ornament hooks and decorations submersed in liquefied candy canes from yesteryear was slightly reminiscent of my father, wreaking of Apple Barrel Schnapps and Newport Kings, on one of his more memorable holiday rants.

Now, he and my mother argued about 312 days out of the year, so we were accustomed to the commotion, but the sight of him cross-eyed and cursing at a 30-year-old pretzel of lights, long-since outlawed as a fire hazard, was nothing less than disturbing—on a please-lie-on-the-couch-and-tell-me-all-about-it-for-$120-an-hour level.

Meanwhile, mom and us kids trimmed the nine-foot pine we pilfered from the back forty of a mid-Michigan-based, multinational corporation which will remain nameless.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m a terrible liar but, packed with Christmas spirit, this 12-year-old didn’t even flinch when I told that sheriff deputy my father was helping my little brother go pee in the bushes that wintry evening.

It was blizzard conditions when Dad emerged with that evergreen beauty. I’ll never forget the frantic yet elegant way he belly flopped into that snowdrift—trunk under one arm, buck saw under the other—when another set of headlights appeared on that secluded gravel road.

My father was no thief but he wasn’t about to let us go without a Christmas tree.

Sometimes there was no food and sometimes you got a bag of green plastic army men under the tree when you were 15; but there was always a big beautiful Christmas tree in the living room.

Luckily, those years were countered by good years, like when I was 9 and got my first Daisy air rifle.

Though the blood of 1,000 chickadees is on my hands, it was a truly great Christmas.

And, I’ll never forget when I was 5 and my aunt hauled all us kids—seems like there was about three dozen of us—into the back bedroom at Grandma’s to look out the window and see Rudolph’s nose in the distance.

Minutes later we heard jingling and stomping coming from the roof. We ran into the living room to find a gift-filled green burlap bag the size of a Guernsey cow.

That was also the year Grandpa gave me a beautiful handmade steerable sled. A runner is cracked and the shiny brown finish turned stone gray long ago, but that sled will be 38 years old this Christmas.

I firmly believe we are the sum of all our experiences, both good and bad, and I wouldn’t give up any of my Christmas memories for all the little green army men in the world.

So, even if your holy trinity merely consists of George Bailey, Yukon Cornelius and Clark Griswold, have a merry Christmas. Oh, and take it easy on the apple schnapps.