FLORENCE GILKESON: I Don't Miss the Pressures of the Holiday
From time to time, we hear reports that holidays are fraught with tension and lead to a miserable experience for many people. It seems that we expect too much of others and of ourselves and somehow the season never lives up to expectations.
Then there is the matter of dealing with pesky relatives, not to mention noisy children caught up in Santa Claus excitement. By contrast, some folks worry about those of us who are "alone" at Christmas.
As one who has emerged from days of bountiful Christmases to simple life, I can attest that the transition is not so difficult. It's a relief.
All around me, people rush around, waiting for stores to open at unearthly hours in order to pick up the latest bargain. Or they worry about gifts for those hard-to-shop-for adults and older children. Will sizes be right? Does this one or that one already have such an object?
My gift list is so limited that the major recipients are people from the Christmas Cheer families adopted by my church. Some helpful individual -- probably a social worker -- neatly wrote out the recipient's gift preference, along with sizes where applicable.
Such tasks rarely bother me, although I confess to fretting a good bit last year. I walked miles in stores I rarely visit trying to find toys for two small children. All I could find were toys made in China, and I certainly did not want to poison two poor youngsters.
By now, I have decorated my Christmas tree, a live one picked up at the Laurinburg Optimist Club's tree lot. The Optimists buy trees in western North Carolina and use proceeds for youth projects.
The ornaments are a hodgepodge of handcrafted heirlooms, foreign-made crafts from Church World Service, gifts from friends and store-boughten junk.
Aunts crocheted angels, bells (complete with clappers), butterflies, trees, stars and doves. Young friends, now middle-aged, crafted a camel and a wise man from a do-it-yourself kit. A friend hand-made a Raggedy Ann doll and a gingerbread man. My mother-in-law made the bejeweled Chrismons. My own mother tatted intricate snowflakes.
The Christmas of my childhood was lavish. Mother decorated our home from front to rear with holly, mistletoe, pine and cedar branches. Hand-wrapped gifts were piled high.
Dinner was turkey, sometimes with oyster dressing, accompanied by ham, beans, candied sweet potatoes, collards, cranberry sauce, pickles, cakes and pies.
This perfect Christmas picture was dulled one year. My father and an uncle had retired to the farm woods for a morning of hunting, leaving the women to prepare dinner and chat. While they were gone, into our yard walked three men, two of whom were supporting a friend holding a blood-soaked towel to his throat. They asked for a ride to the hospital.
Mother was busy with dinner, and I was the only other driver who knew the way to the hospital. One aunt could drive but, as Mother put it, didn't "do that sort of thing." The assignment fell to me, an unlicensed teen. A nondriving aunt agreed to accompany me.
All three men reeked of rancid alcohol and sweat. We drove the several miles with the windows open, despite frigid weather. From time to time I would cut my eye to the back seat and the victim of the knifing "accident" and my stomach would churn at the sight of his gaping wound, revealing neck and jawbone.
Christmas was never the same after that. The man survived, but the experience introduced me to a different perspective on the observance.
My Christmas will be traditional again this year -- services and programs at my church, my decorated tree and a festive dinner with friends. It is time to reflect on blessings far more precious than the material things in life.
In keeping with my Southern upbringing, Merry Christmas and blessings to you all.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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