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  • Life Amid the Holidays, Vol. 1

    At some point every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my inner cynic starts thinking: Maybe Scrooge had a point.

    I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about the holidays that bring out my inner churl, but it is hard to escape a simple fact: Every year for more than a decade, starting at age 8, I spent part of the holiday season visiting relatives in the hospital, waiting and wondering when the dreaded shoe was going to drop like an anvil on a member of my immediate family.

    And after that lucky streak, I upped the ante by becoming Charlie Brown in my own Christmas special.

    My father’s illness covered my tween years; my grandfather’s my early teens. After my grandfather died nine days before Christmas in 1981, the pattern became more erratic, even if the result didn’t. One year it was my dad’s gallbladder operation, the next it was my uncle having a car radiator explode in his face just before Thanksgiving.

    (If there’s one thing I can safely say about my uncle, it’s that his failure to differentiate between a warm engine and a hot toddy made him the winner in the “Most Unique Reason to Spend the Holiday in a Hospital” category. And that was the year we won the medical triple crown, with my mother separating her shoulder and my dad having knee surgery. But again, I digress…)

    Remarkably, as they did throughout their married lives, Mom and Dad managed.


    As my mother recently noted, I had a thing for things; as a parent, I have found this is an affliction many children have. This presented an ongoing management challenge for my parents, who scraped pennies together to make ends meet against our wishes for the next big thing, which ultimately would be pushed aside in pursuit of the next-next big thing. (After all, my birthday is in mid-January...)

    Looking back, I now see how hard it must have been. To my mom’s everlasting credit, she worked tirelessly to ensure that my sister and I had a nice holiday season, even if that meant excavating me from my traditional sleeping spot under the tree late on Christmas Eve, or putting our dog Frisky’s paw on a rubber stamp pad so the “reindeer” could sign Santa’s thank you note for the milk and cookies.

    They did this while somehow putting food on the table, paying the bills on time, and getting us what we wanted (within reason), even if that meant they had to recycle bows and wrapping paper from year to year and event to event. It also meant that the largest Christmas present always came in "the bag," which was then folded and put away until the next year.

    I didn't realize then how small blessings, built up over time, could turn into large ones. One of those blessings came from my second set of “parents” — Fran and Bill, the childless neighbors from across the street who “adopted” us as theirs. Having them always made the holidays a little easier.

    As the years passed and the hospital visits mounted, however, I found myself approaching mid-November waiting for the other shoe to drop. My deeply jaded side wanted to conduct an office pool under the title of “Which member of Glenn’s family will be subjected to the holiday drama trauma this year?” (Double points if it was anyone but my father.)

    My (italics added for emphasis) bad luck almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bah humbug, indeed…