Before I go, I have something to say

Ready or Not

The car was just beginning to warm up as we pulled over to our friends’ house, brightly strung with holiday lights. As we approached the door, I hissed at my husband, “If anybody asks you if we’re ready for Christmas, say YES!”

I don’t remember what he said. As a man, and as a man who really couldn’t care less about keeping up with the Joneses, I know he would not have been the slightest bit embarrassed to admit that no, we were nowhere near ready. We had barely made it through Thanksgiving.

Well, that’s not quite true. Thanksgiving was just fine. First we went to the mental facility in Keokuk where my older sister lives now, and had not only turkey and all the trimmings, but a rousing musical show combining religion with patriotism, neither of which I had ever thought of as especially Thanksgiving-ish. But it is a good place, the perfect place for her, and I was grateful.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving Day, we managed to put together a splendid meal including a home-baked apple pie. The gathering was small, but festive, and appropriately thankful.

But we all knew what was coming next. Over the years, both my son and my daughter have been newspaper carriers, and wow, were we surprised when the first Thanksgiving paper came out. Bigger even than the Sunday paper. It was scary big. Was there any news in there? I don’t recall. All I saw was ads, oceans of ads.

I’d already consigned the Black Friday junk to the recycling bin before Allison and Dan showed up, forgetting how much they liked to see what was new, what was on sale, what, maybe, they might want to have themselves. As for me, the day after Thanksgiving is the day you couldn’t pay me to leave the house.

By now, it’s almost – well, you know. And you know what’s expected. I suppose each family varies somewhat in its holiday traditions, but generally speaking, we’re all talking about food and decorations and gifts and what have I forgotten?

By the time this issue comes out, we’ll be down to something like 3 Days and Counting. By which point, if the tree isn’t up and the gingerbread village isn’t constructed and you haven’t found anything for Great-Aunt Lucy, well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but don’t be surprised to find a lump of coal in your stocking.

Here’s the thing. A friend of mine went to an event where people talked about the holidays, and how people sometimes get a little stressed out, a little blue, a little bit “Are You Talking to ME?” about all this stuff we’re somehow supposed to do while continuing to work, if we’re lucky enough to be employed, or looking for work, if we’re not, and while taking care of children who have been wound up into a state of near-mania by all the ads and visits to Santa and sugary candy canes. Some people, normal people like you and me, might feel like just throwing in the towel on this whole Christmas thing. Going to church, maybe, but that’s it. Especially – forgive me, I have to say it – in this economy. My friend told me that one couple in the group had already told their children that this year, there would be no presents. None. Nada. Zip.

These are grown children they were talking about, but still. Isn’t that just too sad? My children are grown, too, old enough to, well, make me feel really old. But I still like to get them surprises, and they like to reciprocate, if they can. And if they can’t, there are alternatives. I remember when they were young, and would occasionally give me a book of coupons, handmade promises of “one Saturday without TV” or “No fighting” – acts that required great self-discipline, but cost not a cent.

Surely if we put our heads together we can think of similar gifts for grownups. I would be thrilled to receive a book of coupons from a friend or family member for things like “Loading the dishwasher all week,” “Rubbing your shoulders for ten minutes,” and “Vacuuming the inside of your car.” Think of all the free things your friend/son/mother hates to do but has to do, and offer to do it, just once or twice.

How about baking cookies? Providing a simple meal? Cooking doesn’t have to be costly. Or, if your giftee is down in the dumps about the cold and ice and snow, remind them it’s only temporary, and give them a summer kit, including car wash coupons (yes, I mean doing it yourself with a hose) and recipes for icy treats. (I’ll give you my frozen lime pie recipe if you ask nicely.)

One thing we do in our little family is silly and cheap and fun. We have boxes I received when I worked in marketing. A PR firm desperate for our business sent the staff one box marked “Hungry?” with a Snickers bar inside, then another with bottled water, labeled “Thirsty?” Since I added them to our Christmas, we’ve had fun for years trading back and forth. Last year, Allison ended up receiving both, so this year, she’s It. But it needn’t cost much. Just a tea bag in the “Thisty” box and some homemade fudge in “Hungry,” and we’re set.

So try it. Sure, it’s dark and cold and nobody has any money. But we’re in this together, and with just a little effort, we can all shine a little light in the dark. And yes, this is really me, the glass completely empty gal. If I’m willing to try it, so should you.

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