Saturday, December 28, 2019

Chapter 15 - The First Date



(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13 and Chapter 14).

Byron pulled up to Julie’s home exactly three minutes early at 6:27. Actually, he had been sitting in his car for over ten minutes about a block away, because he didn’t want to pull up too early. He had decided that three minutes early was about the perfect amount of time and now approached her home. The home was a perfect picture of suburbia. Like every home in Las Vegas it had been built in the last few years, but unlike most Vegas homes it didn’t look exactly like every other home on the block. It had well planted flower pop outs on the windows, a decorative vine arch over the entry and a nice picket fence around the yard. It was clear that Julie had done a lot to make this place hers. Byron was a little embarrassed seeing the home, the only thing he had done to make his home any different from the other homes in the neighborhood was slowly kill all his landscaping through neglect. Julie's thumb and probably all her fingers must have been more green than his.

He approached the fence with flowers in one hand and corsage in the other. The fence was a short, white picket fence, and he decided stepping over the fence would be easier than trying to open it with his hands full. Without too much effort, he put one leg over the fence. As his one leg hit the ground and he was left straddling the fence, he realized this fence was a bit higher than he had expected, and he had to stay on his toes to avoid injury. As he swung his other leg over the fence, the cuff of his pant leg caught the tip of a picket. He stopped before falling, but this caused him to hop on the one foot to keep his balance. He continued to hop in an effort to release his cuff. Quickly he realized that one limb was not enough to stable himself so leaning to one side, he dropped the flowers and his hand connected with the ground. With his stability regained he maneuvered the cuff of his pant leg off the fence, put both legs firmly on the ground, and dusted himself in an effort to recompose his suit. Quite proud of having not fallen, that is until he looked up. There Julie stood on the porch looking quite amused. “I didn’t know we were going dancing,” she said as she stepped off the porch and began to walk towards him. She stepped past him and reached for the gate. She flipped the latch and opened the gate. “Let me show you how this works.” She said in a sarcastic tone.

He was far too embarrassed to make any remark on the incident. So he said all he could think of. “I got you these.” He picked the flowers off the ground. Considering they had just been tossed a few feet to the side, they didn’t look too bad.

“Thank you” she said with a grin that told she wasn’t sure if flowers weren’t a little much for a first date. Which of course Byron was oblivious to.

“Oh, and I got you this.”

“You got me flowers and a corsage?” she said questioningly.

“Is that bad?” Byron knew he had seen his roommates and friends in the past get flowers, and sometimes corsages for nice dates. Had they never been given together? He hadn’t thought of it before.

“No, I guess it’s not bad. I just never heard of getting both. Do you usually give a girl both?”

When it came to dating, Byron knew he had no “usual,” but he thought now wasn’t a good time to bring it up. “No, I mean not all dates. Just nice ones.”

“Well, thank you. I guess,” she said, As uncertain of her own sincerity as she was of his.

She looked up at him to see if he was going to put the corsage on her wrist, but since he was already headed to the car, she did it herself.

While he did not know etiquette about putting on her corsage, he did not fail in the “getting the door” department. He opened, she sat, and he closed. At least that part went smoothly. As he walked around the car, Julie was busy inspecting it. The leather interior felt good, and she was surprised to see the car was so clean. She had no idea what kind of car it was, but she guessed it was expensive.

He opened the door and got in, and before starting the car he asked, “Which tie should I wear?”

“Which tie? She said confused.

“Which tie?” he restated gesturing to the back seat.

There she noticed the ten ties lining the back seat. As she looked, Byron noticed for the first time what she was wearing. He had been so embarrassed by the fence snag, and then so worried about the flowers and door, he had not noticed her dress. It was a light purple dress with short sleeves. It was long itself, rather modest, but a little form fitting, which considering her form… he didn’t mind. She turned to respond and he quickly turned away trying to look like he had been inspecting ties rather than thighs.

“Why are you having me pick? She asked.

“I wanted to match, us being married and all.”

“Oh, I see.” She looked over the ties and realized the answer to which one she would choose was “none of them.” He may have good taste in cars, but definitely not ties. “Why not the red one,” she finally replied.

“Does red go with purple?”

She knew the answer was “no” but had no reason to tell him that none of his ties went with her dress. And she was proud to realize she didn’t own a dress that went with any of his ties. So she simply answered, “yes.”

He started the car and after buckling up, began to drive away as he started to tie his tie.

“Shouldn’t you finish tying your tie first?” She said, as more of a suggestion than a question.

“Oh, I tie my tie while I drive all the time.” This wasn’t true, but he didn’t want to be late, and doing something Julie found risky made him feel a kind of gratification that overpowered his feelings of awkwardness. It also reminded him of his high school days where the tactic was probably most often applied to remedy the same feeling. Perhaps he felt a bit of a need to prove himself after his encounter with her fence.

Byron and Julie were both at a loss for words. What do you say to your spouse that you haven’t seen in over two years. It was funny that when they were seeing each other everyday planning the wedding they had tons to talk about, but now they should have two years worth of things to talk about and couldn’t think of anything.

“So, how have you been?”

“Good, you?”

“Good.”

That was it. Silence draped over them as both were stuck in thought trying to think of what to say or talk about.

“Want to listen to the Radio?” Julie asked.

“Sure.”

And thus ended the conversation until they arrived at Lake Las Vegas, parked and began to walk towards the pavilion where the wedding would be taking place. ‘If this entire night was going to be silent it was going to be long indeed.’ thought Julie. Byron wasn’t much happier and his only thought was, ‘Ms. Whitaker better be happy about this.’

But both of their feelings changed as they approached the location of the wedding. Dusk was just settling over the Las Vegas Valley and as it did the heat of the sun dissipated to a perfectly cool evening. The lake glistened in the last flecks of sunlight and a subtle breeze drifted by. The grounds would have looked more at home in the gardens of an English countryside than a dessert casio. There was green grass, small bushes and fountains throughout. As they got closer to where the ceremony was to take place, they noticed two rows of chairs that faced towards a beautiful waterfall were at the base stood an archway clearly set up for the wedding. Soft jazz music played in the background. The surroundings began to leak into both their moods and they couldn’t help but feel a sincere joy for being there. Byron looked over at Julie and realized that she added perfectly to the amazing setting. The last two years, which up to this moment he would have described as rather peachy were now looking more like a waste. Why had he waited so long to see her?

“Julie”

“Yes, Byron.”

“I’m glad you came.”

“You know, I am too.”

There were small groups of people gathering and taking their seats but there was still over a half hour before the ceremony started so they felt no rush to sit down.

“I wonder how Mr. Goodman is doing?” Byron questioned.

“Who is that?”

“The groom.”

“I am sure he is doing a lot better than you were on our wedding day.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Byron and Julie.” A voice called out from behind them. Turning around Julie and Byron came face to face with Father Young. “How are you two?”

“Great.” Julie got out. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m the lucky man performing the ceremony. We don’t do them at the church anymore, because we still haven’t got the stains out.” He looked over at Byron. “Just kidding,” But did add, “but we did have to replace that section of carpet.”

“Sorry about that.” Byron apologized.

“I’m just happy to see you two. And glad to see you two together.”

“Why? You thought we wouldn’t make it.” Julie said with a hint of offense.

“Not that at all. It’s just that I like to keep up and help the couples I marry and I haven’t had a chance to touch base with you. So, I am glad we have this interview.”

Interview? It was such an odd term for randomly running into each other. Byron didn’t like the word choice or how he said it. “But it looks like we have enough time before the ceremony starts can you two step this way we can sit over on that bench.”

Interview had been exactly what he meant. “Oh, Father, I think we better say hi to some of the other guests. Don’t you think?” Byron said.

“No, plenty of time for that after the ceremony.” And he herded them towards a small bench surrounded by some rather tall bushes. It was about as private as one could get in the area. Byron and Julie sat down. There wasn’t room for anyone else and there wasn’t anywhere else for Father Young to sit, but it became clear that he had no intention of sitting and he peered down at them as he began the interview.

“So, how is the marriage?” Father Young asked, thinking he would just need to dust the surface to see how this young couple was doing.

Byron looked at Julie, Julie looked at Byron. Neither of them wanted to tackle the question and was trying to convey to the other that they should take question 1, but they had very little history on reading each others ques. Finally, Byron spoke up, “The marriage?.. It’s great.”

The right answer, with the wrong delivery can very much be the wrong answer. And Father Young decided he better put away his dusting brush and pulled out his shovel and start digging.

“How is the communication between you two?”

Again they looked at one another.

“Oh it’s.” Byron started

“Communication?” Julie started over Byron

“Oh, sorry, you go.”

“No, go ahead.”

“No, you, go ahead.”

“What were you going to say?”

“Nothing, I don’t want to talk over you.”

“You won’t, you can go.”

Byron made a zipping motion over his lips and pointed to Julie. She breathed deep, turned to Father Young and said, “The communication is great.”

“I see, so when was the last time you two got out on a date? I don’t have to tell you Byron, dating in marriage can be very important.” Byron was beginning to see why some men in his office hated him so much.

Julie decided that this interview turned interrogation had to end. After all, they had a good marriage. They were happy, and better off than a lot of marriages she knew, even if they didn’t see each other. So, she decided to take over. “Father Young, you are so right.” And to add credence to what she was about to say she put her hand on Byron’s knee while she spoke. “Byron and I were just talking the other day that we need to get out together more often. That is why he asked that I drop the other commitments I had and come with him to this wedding.” She turned gave a look of perfect love, as if to show her admiration for him as she continued. “And we have decided next weekend to do something extra special.” She turned back to Father as she closed with, “I am so glad we get to be at this wedding to remind us of the vows we took.”

Two thoughts instantly went through Byron’s head. The first was that he really liked her touching his knee. He knew it was part of the show for Father Young, but fake or not he couldn’t help but like it. Second, Julie had missed her calling, there was no doubt she should have moved to LA and been in the movies.

“I am glad to hear that.” Father Young said as he put away the shovel and pulled back out the feather duster. “Don’t let it go too long between rekindling the romance. Well, I better get up to the front. Wish me luck, I never thought I needed it at these things until after your wedding.”

At first Byron was extremely happy to see him walking away, but as soon as he was a few yards away Julie moved her hand and Byron wanted to call out, “Come Back.” But he knew the act was up.

“You were amazing.”

“Thank you.” Julie accepted as she stood.

“That was award winning. And I know, I have seen a lot of people try to fake happy marriages in front of me.”

“I would like to thank the academy.” Julie pretended to give her speech.

“How did you do it?”

“Father Young wanted to see we had a happy marriage and we do, don’t we?”

“Ah.. yeah...I...guess.”

“I mean I am happy. Aren't you?”

“Yes. I am very happy.”

“So, once I decided we are happily married, I knew I could do what Father Young wanted to see to get him off our backs.”

“Well, my hat, if I had one would be off to you. Shall we take our seats.”

They headed to the seats and luckily for them just in time. They had barely let their posterior hit the chair but the wedding march started. As Ms. Whitacker stepped into view Julie couldn’t help but think of the day she had married. All she could remember was looking down and seeing Byron sitting on the pew looking like death itself. Remembering him in that vulnerable state, and thinking of her reviving him in the back office brought a rush of emotions. She really did care for this crazy guy, whom she called a husband. Looking over at him she suddenly realized that he was rather attractive. He was no model, but a sensible, very attractive man. Why hadn’t she noticed it before, was it the wedding, the atmosphere, the fact that he was wearing a normal suit? Whatever it was she was happy, to call him husband.

Five minutes later and Father Young was saying, “I now pronounce you Husband and Wife. You may now kiss the bride.”

They stood and cheered as Julie leaned over to Byron, “Wow, no one even passed out.”

“That’s because they are doing food, drinks and dancing afterwards. If I knew there was an eclair waiting for me after the ceremony maybe I would have stayed conscious for it.”

“Well we can go get some now.” But in so doing Julie had underestimated the passion for eclairs held by the Whitickers and Goodmans, before she could finish her sentence the line for stuffed pastries had already over stuffed the small gazebo where the pastries were being held. “I guess we are going to have to wait a little longer on that eclair.”

Music had once again started and there was a small dance floor set out for dancing. Byron may have never been a casa nova but the one thing he did know how to do was dance. “Do you want to dance?” He ventured.

“You dance?”

“A little. My mom may have forced me to take a class my freshman year of college.”

“Forced?”

“I say forced to protect my manhood, but I may have enjoyed it.”

“I would love to dance.”

Byron took her hand in his, slowly put his arm around her back and pulled her in close as she put her arm on his back. Her dancing experience was limited but with his lead she quickly got the basic foxtrot step.

“Want to learn more?”

“Sure.”

Byron only recalled a few steps from his class but it was enough for them to really enjoy being out dancing together.

“You are a very good dancer.” Julie said.

“You are quite good yourself.”

“I have a good teacher.” The song ended and everyone clapped. By now quite a few couples had joined them on the dance floor although most were simply swaying more than any official step.

The next song began to play, it was a waltz. “Do you know the waltz?” Byron asked.

“I’d really like to learn.”

Standing more by her side then in dancing he showed her the 1-2-3, 1-2-3 required to do the steps. After a few times side by side they re embraced and began to try it together. As the rhythm began a natural part of their movements they moved in closer and closer until they were slowly moving as Byron counted out , 1-2-3, 1-2-3. He grew quieter and quieter as they drew closer and closer. There cheeks met and they now silently moved becoming one with the breeze and the music. Unfortunately, the music eventually stopped, and although neither of them wanted to stop, continuing to dance without the aid of a song was too socially unacceptable. The next song was not a fox trot, swing, or waltz but rather more of a jump up and down and yell song, not being in Byron's repertoire, they decided to walk off the dance floor and back to another bench that sat down near the lake. Byron, took her arm as they walked.

“Thanks, that was a lot of fun. I never thought I’d like dancing so much.”

“I’ve always enjoyed it. But you don’t get many chances to do real ballroom dancing anymore.”

“You should go to your local bar, don’t most of them have ballroom dancing?” They both laughed.

As soon as they got to the bench Byron took a look back to the gazebo. The line had died down so he decided it was time to answer the call of the eclair. “I’ll go grab us a few goodies and punch.”

“Great.” Julie sat down and looked over the lake. It was perfect, really too perfect. She had never felt this way before. She found herself asking, ‘what changed?’ She hadn’t become rich, or gotten a new job. Everything she thought meant something in her life was the same right now as it had been this morning but she felt so different, so different, so good. The realities of life didn’t justify feeling this good but she did, she was fairly confident that if she took a few steps out into the lake she wouldn’t get wet, she had never felt so light, so vibrant. It was magic, perhaps she was under some sort of drug. But she couldn’t be, she hadn’t even tried the eclair or punch yet. No, she was in love. This must be what love was like, she thought, and she loved it.

At times putting a name to a feeling can be liberating and wonderful, but it can also have other effects. As soon as Julie realized what she was feeling was love, her mind took over and began to dominate a realm better left to the heart. ‘I am in love. I love my husband. That’s good. But if I would have known how wonderful love was, would I have committed to marry someone without it?’

Her heart would have known how to handle this. It was ready to joyfully accept this wonderful twist of fate but her mind was not as prepared. There is a reality that when we love someone, especially someone we don’t know well, we become prone to self doubt. Does he love me too? We ask. In grade school this plays out with notes carried by liaisons that ask the person to circle yes or no below the words, ‘do you like Julie’. But unfortunately, Julie didn’t have anything to write on, and no one to take Byron the message. So as Byron waited for his chance at the punch bowl behind Mrs. Goodman’s four pudgy nephews, Julie began to ask, ‘What if Byron doesn’t love me? After all, why would he. If he loved me he wouldn’t have waited two years to see me again. Yes, he danced with me, but he said he likes dancing. He probably would have liked dancing with Cinderella’s step sisters. No, what we have is purely a business deal. His caring for me was no more real than my act in front of Father Young. Of course, he would play nice and act friendly to me, but why wouldn’t he. It was all part of the act.’ She thought.

She could sense that the only thing more magical then the feeling she had would be feeling that way for someone and have them feel it in return. Because of Byron, that would forever be impossible. She had given up her chance at real love when she had committed to a marriage that was simply a business deal. Byron had gone from the man who gave her the magic, to the man who had robbed her of it forever, all while picking up an eclair.

“You should try these, they are amazing.” Byron said, with no shortage of frosting on his lips.

Julie turned and Byron was surprised to see tears in his wife's eyes. “I brought you some punch and two eclairs.” She tried to stop the tears as he spoke. “There kind of small but….”

“I’d like to go home.”

Byron wanted to object, but found it hard to argue something he didn’t at all comprehend. So instead all he got out was, “Okay.” Walking back to the car, he dumped the punch and eclairs into a nearby trash can and they had a long, silent drive home.


Next up Chapter 16

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Scrooge Vs. Fred


Image result for carolers

“No Mom, we aren’t going.” It would be the only time our voices would be in unison all night.

“Get your coats on, we’re going.” She stated emphatically. Upset by our lack of any reaction besides the rolling of eyes and huffing in disgust she enlisted reinforcements. “Honey, tell the kids to get their coats on.” She looked down at Dad who was reading the evening Deseret News. Getting closer and adding volume she says, “Honey! We need to go, tell the kids to get their coats on.”

Putting the paper down he began to grasp what is going on, something he failed to note despite a very vocal argument having occupied most of the last 10-15 minutes. He shifts in his chair uncomfortably. Even with the amazing talent of being able to ignore sounds far beyond the limits OSHA would consider safe, he still deep down really just wants peace. As such, he hated taking sides, but quickly realized that there was only one side safe to be on. “Kids get your coats on.”

“Fine.” We know we have lost, but we know this is only the first battle. So we ad, “but we are only going to go to the homes on our street.”

“Okay, then grab some windex bottles, and a stack of newsletters.” Every year we handed out the family newsletter that always focused around the same joke, how Dad and the kids hated doing a float in the South Salt Lake City 4th of July Parade and how Mom had forced us to yet again. With the newsletter Mom gave a gift to the neighbors. So this year our living room was filled with a hundred bottles of windex.

The gifts were always something practical and cheap. She didn’t really have many other options. Dad for the past several years, had worked on and off as a substitute teacher, tutorer and newspaper delivery man. All jobs that made for hard work but little income. But what they lacked in income they made up for with conviction. Conviction to never take government or other forms of welfare. That is except the bags and bags of hand me down clothes that everyone knew they could drop off at our porch any time and that Mom would put them to good use.

“These pants I think would fit Megan, we can send those to the Millard’s.” She would say as she pulled the jeans from the large pile of clothes she had dumped out of the bags, carefully folding them and adding them to the stack she would take to the next family, since they didn’t fit any of us.

But now was not time for sorting clothes, she was preparing to give something else to the neighbors. We pulled on our hand me down coats and hats and headed out into the snow. Marie Landace, a kind widow, who lived next store since before I was born and her pet turtle were always our first stop.

“Hark the Harold,” Mom called out.

“We don’t know that one. Let’s do Jingle Bells.”

“No, here we go, she’s coming. Hark the Harold angels sing.” Mom started out loudly.

“That’s too high.” Dad interrupted but not loudly enough to stop her.

“Glory to the new born king.” She continued. By this time, the door was opened and slowly we each joined in, some even in the same key as Mom.

After the song ended Mom would say, “Who has the card and gift?” One of us would walk up and hand the newsletter and Windex bottle which Mom had added a note on the bottle saying, “May you see clearly this Christmas Season.” Or something, a little more clever but no less corny. “What’s your favorite Christmas Song?” She’d ask. Most people would then say Silent Night and we’d sing that. Then we would begin walking away as we sang, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’

As soon as we finished the street as we predicted she would push us to go to the next house and the next, and the next. With each house the murmuring and mumbling would increase. We would look for any sign of hope we would be on our way back home. When the windex bottles ran out we thought for sure we’d be done. But Mom would just plow on and carol even without the great gift. That was one of the advantages about giving out windex, you could be fairly sure neighbors weren’t going to brag to each other about the great gift they got from the Gee’s and thereby let out of the bag that one of them had been robbed out of there free cleaning supplies.

At some point Dad would sense that if we went on any longer he would end up with Children lying in the street refusing to take another step, and at that point he would say, “Honey, maybe we should head home.”

She would glare at him, adding, “Don’t you start to,” but she could sense things were falling apart as Children sang further and further from the doorstep and started trying to sing, ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ for the opening number hoping to shorten the performance. We would trudge home feeling frozen and hard done by, only to go out and do it the next night.

Caroling to the neighbors was as much a part of my Christmas as Santa, the Nativity, or presents. I loved Christmas and couldn’t wait for that day when I’d get presents. We, like most kids hoped to get the latest game console or other big ticket items but deep down we knew that wasn’t in the cards. Many of our friends would get those things but our presents were always less expensive, and our gifts were just as often practical as fun. Socks were almost a guarantee. My whole outfit may have been hand me down, but I had a brand new, fresh out of the wrapper, socks at Christmas.

As much as I complained you would think I and my siblings hated caroling but I loved how it made me feel. I wouldn’t admit it to my Mother and I’m not sure I even was mature enough to admit it to myself when I lived at home. But I remember one of the first Christmas’s I spent away from home. I was in Wisconsin on my Mission in the town of Beaver Dam. Christmas Eve can be a tough night for missionary’s. People are with families and busy and not usually up for visits. Our mission president said we could stay in after 6 that night. An unusual treat since most nights we stayed out proselyting until 9PM.

As I prepared to spend the night just shooting the breeze with my companion I thought of all those nights caroling back home. Part of it was simple homesickness but I knew that what I wanted to do more than anything was to go caroling. I asked my companion and being a brand new missionary he said sure. I don’t recall how many people we sang to that night but I recall one home very vividly. It was a small white home in need of some paint. It has steps leading up to a small 3 foot by 2 foot porch. The stairs had an old splintered hand rail made of 2x4s along it. We knocked and began to sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing or the plains...”

As we sang an elderly women slowly opened the door. She couldn’t have been younger than 80. As she listened tears fell from her face. We sang as she wept. When we finished she said, “This is the first time in my life I have ever had carolers sing to me.”

From that time to this, I don’t think there has ever been a Christmas that I have not caroled. And while at times this has led to awkward moments. We caroled to a couple and the wife was from Eritrea. She looked very confused as we stood at her door singing. She turned to her husband and in her native tongue asked what we were doing. He thought and said, “Well, in America people...actually no people don’t really do this.” We went on to become very close friends after this.

Near the beginning of Charles Dickens the Christmas Carol, Dickens gives us two conflicting views of what Christmas is. First Scrooge gives us his view after his Nephew Fred says, “Don’t be cross Uncle.”

He replies, “What else can I be, when I live in such a world with fools as this. Merry Christmas? What is Christmas time but a time for paying bills without any money. A time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer. A time for having your books balanced and having every item in them presented as dead (debt) against you.” He then says to Fred. “What good has it (Christmas) ever done you.”

And Fred reply's, "There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round-apart from... the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

To which Scrooge replies, “Humbug.”

These two views of Christmas may seem contradictory, one right and one wrong. Yet the truth is, they both simultaneously exist all around us.

I have no doubt that at times, Christmas was a great stress to my parents. They knew they could not get us the gifts we really wanted. Indeed, if it wasn’t for them, doing what they both hated to do, rely on the welfare of loving neighbors and friends there may have been several years where I may have not even gotten socks. No doubt, in those years it would have been tempting to see things in the light of Scrooge. I’m sure at times my parents felt a year older and not an hour richer. That they were paying bills without any money and that if they spent almost anything it would simply add debt to their lives, something they refused to do.

But that is part of what’s so beautiful about these two descriptions of Christmas. They are describing the same thing, the same situations, only different viewpoints.

Too often, we get caught up in the consumerism of Christmas, buying things for people that they don’t really need with money we don’t really have. When we do, we allow Scrooge’s view of Christmas to seep into our lives and drowned out, what Christmas is really about.

That was the beauty of caroling with my family. When the only gift you have to offer is a bottle of windex, your presence and a song; you begin to see what Christmas is really about, what he who’s birth we celebrate wants us to focus on...People. To make it a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable time.

I know that my parents like everyone else, struggled in a world that can’t decide between Scrooges and Fred’s view of Christmas. The conflict of these two perspectives and figuring out how to make Fred’s the more dominant in our Christmas season is what A Christmas Carol is all about. In my mind, the key difference is found in Fred’s phrase, “men and women seem to open their shut up hearts.” That is what we get to witness every time we watch A Christmas Carol, one man’s journey through the process of opening his shut up heart.

Most of us won’t be visited by three spirits in order to guide us through such a journey. Instead God has placed people and loved ones who can help us change from someone who is shut up and looks inward to someone who truly opens up and begins to see ‘people below us as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.’

I now realize that was what my parents were slowly helping me to see, with each door knocked and carol sung. How grateful I am for this time of year when I can once again head out, Christmas newsletters, and grumbling kids in tow and remind myself what Christmas is all about.