Happy Thanksgiving to you. But we're more than on the eve of turkey and pumpkin pie, we're at the beginning of the holiday season. Black Friday and all that, you know. Drag your heels, but when it's time to pitch the candied yams and soggy dressing in the fridge, it'll be time to get in gear.
Have you sent out the annual cards yet? I haven't, and I'm having the problem that occurs with increasing frequency as the years go by: Are old, distant friends still at the address I have or have they moved to an assisted living facility? Of course that assumes they're still alive. They probably wonder if I'm still circling the drain, too. And my list gets a little shorter every year.
This is the catalog season for me. I haven't gone to the stores and malls for several years. I view actual, physical shopping for gifts as an exhausting and, in many ways, threatening activity. Unfortunately, if you shop from catalogs, your name goes to lots of other catalog companies. I wonder why I get catalogs for saddles and other horsey gear. I don't think I've ever bought men's shoes from a catalog but I get that one, too. I could shop online, but I still find that a little scary.
There are other knotty problems. At what age do grandkids prefer a check to my idea of a lovely present? None of the grandchildren live nearby so I don't see them regularly and I know relatively little about their tastes and interests. Most of them thank me politely for whatever I send.
Every year I try a little harder to avoid the impulse to turn into a "Bah! Humbug!" curmudgeon. The temptation grows, however, by the umpty-millionth time I hear the little drummer boy rum-tumming away while I'm trying to navigate between the holiday displays and the racing, cart-pushing, cell phone-gabbing shoppers in the supermarket. I would love to transform, like the Hulk, into an enraged beast. No sweet-tempered, cookie-baking grandmother, I. Why does there have to be a cardboard display stacked with tiny cans of cinnamon and nutmeg in the middle of the aisle? It's tempting to use it as a target for my cart. I would be like one of those ice-breaking ships plowing toward the North Pole, clearing the way ahead.
When I calm down, put the groceries away and sit down for a few minutes I begin to view cookie baking as a fragrant, worthwhile activity again.
On my better days I'm able to conjure up the old-time spirit of the approaching holidays. There's no snow here, but palm trees evoke visions of Bethlehem and of potentates riding camels, following the star in the east. I'm very lucky in that Darling Husband is a sentimental pushover for holidays and loves to decorate the house, sip eggnog and plan little surprises for both Christmas and my birthday, which is two days later. Since his shoulder operation, he can no longer string festive lights outside, but we always put my mother's lovely, rustic Rudolph by the front door. He's about 2 feet high, made of a couple of pieces of bark-covered wood with stick legs and antlers. Of course he has lovely eyes and a red button nose. He wears a plastic holly wreath around his neck. (Rudolph. Not DH.)
So I'll bake cookies and try not to eat most of them. I'll study catalogs, write cards, trip over Rudolph by the door and try to keep DH from tearing open packages early.
I'm sure I'm not alone in having some unfortunate memories to deal with during the holiday season. The fact that bad things have happened over the years seems amplified because it's the season to be jolly. But I think it isn't possible to have lived a long life without having some bad stuff occur during the jolly season.
Bad stuff has no respect for holidays. We all hear and see warnings about holiday depression. I think the main problem is unrealistic expectations. We all want an Andy Williams Christmas. We believe in Scrooge's change of heart. But we start out this particular season knowing too many people have no work, have lost their homes and too many people despair, knowing that children's holiday expectations can't be met.
Hail to the volunteers, those who understand what "goodwill toward men" really means and who act on that knowledge. I'm too old and impaired to go to a shelter and help distribute meals anymore. I don't have enough money to be a benefactor. However, I can bake a batch of fragrant cookies for a shut-in neighbor who has no family. That will make me jolly. Ho, ho, ho!
Sheila Stoll is happy to hear from readers. Write her at PMB No. 309, 7904 E Chaparral Road, No. 110, Scottsdale, AZ 85250.