CHRISTMAS 2017 OR BAH, HUMBUG! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is the time of year we usually share memories of Christmases past as we deal with this holiday season. We have already watched a few of our favorite “r/x” movies. “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Carol” (the 1951  Alistair Sim version). It was fun, in the moment, viewing those classics, but the feel-good vibes didn’t linger.

This, I suspect, is the winter of discontent for many of us. I think of my fellow retirees, those deep into double-digit years of retirement. The “golden years” myth disappeared long ago. The celebratory wine now is cheap hooch as we absorb the first year of the White House tenant and his minions. How would Charles Dickens begin chapter one of this historical piece?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It was the worst of times….

We’re bombarded with holiday TV specials, new age Carols I don’t recall, sung by smiley faces I don’t recognize.  The nightly network news/24 hour cable news are relentless with “Dr. Strangelove” breaking news tweets, apocalyptic natural disasters involving every country on the planet, and daily offerings of mass shootings.  The news outlets usually give us a “kicker” story with a Hollywood happy ending. I don’t find myself smiling.

As I write, I find myself in a Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey moment wondering how it went so sour.  I know I’ve made my share of mistakes on the home front but they hardly seem deserving to be one of the usual suspects in this turgid real life melodrama.

Our furry kids —  Bonnie, Gibbs, and Duke seem oblivious to the scenario. They’re waiting for Santa Claus, sure their dreams of mammoth offerings of biscuits and other treats will be waiting for them when the Big Guy drops by our house.

The dogs are our comedy central. They make us smile and laugh in the middle of our anger and, yes, self-pity. I can feel the “woe is me” heavy on my shoulders as I write. I’d like to think I’m not alone in my whining.

When our world was young, I never took time to see or hear what my parents were doing during this time of year. I didn’t see my Mother grimace as she pored over the bills, the annoying phone calls from the bad bank people and others asking for past due payments. I didn’t really pay attention to my Dad’s exasperation over where the hard-earned pay from his two jobs went.  I didn’t see the anger on his face or frustration in his voice because I was too busy pestering them about the stuff I wanted from Santa Claus. After all, what I wanted was really the most important issue. That much was clear to me.

One December evening, I recall my Mom biting her lip, reaching for patience and calmly telling me, “Garry, one day when you’re a man, you’ll understand why your Father and I seem so short with you. You’ll see. I just hope I’m around to see how you handle things.”

I thought Mom was kidding with me, putting me off about my toys list. Adult stuff which didn’t make sense to me. Mom and Dad were always quietly — or so they thought — arguing about how they could pay for essentials and take care of me (and later, my two younger brothers) and my not-so-secret Santa list.

I’d usually shrug them off. It was just boring parent stuff, I reasoned, then sneaked off to listen to my radio shows. Off with my heroes of yesteryear,  The Lone Ranger,  Sgt. Preston, Superman, The Shadow, others, I was oblivious to the real world problems of my parents.

All was calm, all was right.

Mom isn’t here to see how I deal with things now. Neither is Dad. They’d probably grin at all my soul-searching and “why me?” queries.

I’ll never know how many bleak Christmases Mom and Dad endured while making sure everything was good for me and my brothers. Kids never know. If they’re lucky, as we were,  it’s a Walt Disney world with no grumbling about the state of our nation. No awareness about how bad hombres are in charge of our ship of state.

Marilyn and me, in a much lesser role, will try to make Christmas 2017 a happy time for our family. Marilyn is already busy with tonight’s dinner.  Tomorrow’s festive dinner is in progress. She feels much the way I do about this Christmas but carries the major load in keeping us afloat, including taking of me. That’s her year round gift to me.

Marilyn isn’t Clarence but she’s long overdue for wings.  Wait! Don’t I hear a distant bell?

Attagirl, Marilyn!

Photo: Garry Armstrong

HARK! THE HAROLD CHRISTMAS RINGS – RICH PASCHALL

A SUNNY FLORIDA HOLIDAY, By RICH PASCHALL

It was the Sunday before Christmas and all through the house the only creature stirring was Harold, the well-organized man from the Midwest.

Harold had retired and moved to the beautiful, peaceful community on the gulf coast side of Florida. There he carried out his days according to the perfect retirement schedule. Every day had a purpose, and Harold executed the day as if he was the sole architect of the universe. Sometimes the universe cooperated.

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On this beautiful Sunday morning the Oracle of Organization marched to the front door to collect his newspaper as always. As he stepped out onto the small cement landing he called a porch, Harold discovered that the weather was already warm and delightful. The 7 am temperature already hit the mid 70s. Harold just knew the day would be everything he planned when he reached retirement and moved from a snowbound city to a place where he would never shovel snow again.

He took in the pleasant atmosphere for a moment before seeking the paper. “He missed the porch again,” Harold said to himself referring to the “paper boy,” who was actually a hard-working college student. He then went to the walkway to retrieve the local news and sports.  He did not mind this time as the weather was better than can be expected in late December, even for Florida.

When Harold finished his breakfast, his coffee and his local news, he was preparing himself for a thorough cleaning of the apartment that was already cleaner than anything you have ever seen. It was the Sultan of Sanitation’s normal Sunday routine and even a sunny day with a deep blue sky would not deter Harold from his appointed rounds about the apartment.

As he gathered up his cleaning supplies and retrieved the vacuum from its storage room, the phone began to ring. Harold was quite surprised as few people had his phone number and the device rarely rang. He could not imagine that marketers would disrupt a Sunday with their meaningless calls. “Perhaps it is Bill,” he thought. Bill only called on Mondays to make a joint venture to the supermarket, so the ringing was totally out of character for a Sunday. Reluctantly, Harold went to the phone.

“Hello?” Harold said as if asking a question.

“Hello, Harold, it’s George.”

“George?” Harold said, unsure of the voice at the other end.

“Yes, George. You know, your former colleague.”

With that clarification Harold could place the voice. When he was the chief mechanical engineer at a Midwest manufacturing plant, Harold worked with George. He had even run into him in St. Petersburg when he went to a baseball game. He could not imagine ever hearing from George again.

“Well, George, what can I do for you?” Harold replied in a rather business like way.

“Do for me?  Why, nothing Harold. Martha and I just thought we should call and wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Really?” Harold said rather incredulously.

“Of course,” George said with a laugh. “We just wanted you to know we were thinking about you and want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Well, uh, that’s so nice, George. Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Perhaps we will run into you again on our next trip to Florida. Take care, you lucky retired guy.”

“Thanks, I will” and at that George hung up. There had been no phone calls on Harold’s Sunday itinerary, but he was glad for this one.

As the week wore on, Harold wished a very Merry Christmas to the few people he encountered. On Monday, he wished his neighbor, Bill, and all the folks working at the supermarket a Merry Christmas.  The same happened Tuesday when he went into town.

On Wednesday, it was Christmas Eve. Harold saw no reason to vary his schedule and at the appointed hour, he headed out to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. He greeted everyone with a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” As usual, the crowd shouted out to Harold, but they were surprised when the normally reserved retiree from the North answered with robust greetings.

To add to the Christmas joy, Harold’s favorite waitress, Tiffany, was on hand to serve up the soup and sandwich special. “Harold, you are in a festive mood,” she told him when she came to take his order. Harold beamed as he had never done before.

When Harold was ready to leave, Tiffany rushed over and gave Harold a big hug. “Merry Christmas, Harold, it is so good to see you in such a joyous spirit.”

Harold did not know how to respond. He was unaccustomed to such a show of affection. He stood there with a rather embarrassed look as he tried to collect himself.

“Thanks,” Harold said sheepishly. “I am glad to be here on Christmas Eve.” At that he waved to the staff and they all shouted holiday greetings in return. Harold marched out of the restaurant and into the warm Christmas Eve afternoon with the biggest smile Harold had in many years.

For Harold, a short phone call from a former colleague just days before Christmas brightened his mood for the entire week and was the best gift he had received in many years.