In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, I want to slow down for a minute. Maybe even stop for a spell.
It’s been enjoyable and yet somewhat hectic going through this publishing process, and I know I have to keep the momentum going. Even as I write this, I’m in the middle of going through my galley for Spree, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I haven’t dipped into the entire ms in quite a while, and it’s like happening upon some old friends unexpectedly.
But for the last few days, something else has been weighing on my mind. And while doing all this promo-type stuff is important, I want to stop and go back in time a bit, and maybe take you with me. Maybe share a little season pause together.
I grew up on a small tributary of Glade Creek in western Madison County, Arkansas. We were close enough to the highway—where 412 crosses Glade Creek, in fact—to hear the traffic going by—though there wasn’t near as much of it back then as there is now.
This little nameless creek the flowed into Glade—at least it is nameless to me—passed right in front of our house, in between it and the dirt road. No telling how many times I went up and down that dirt road on the various bicycles I owned. Miles and miles I put in, I’m sure, far beyond counting.
What I’m remembering of that time—the late seventies and early eighties, specifically—was Christmas.
I know it sounds so cliché, but we were a farm family. I’m not sure what you call this arrangement, but my dad worked for the guy who owned the farm. In exchange, he received a very meager salary along with a house and paid utilities. The only thing my parents had to pay for was long distance phone calls.
The farm was typical for the area, a mixed beef and chicken operation. When it snowed—and it snowed a lot more around here in those days—Dad would have to get on one of the tractors and go feed hay to the cows, along with making sure none of the water froze up in the chicken houses.
For this, he got paid less than a hundred dollars a week.
So it’s not like we had extravagant Christmases. Most of those bicycles I mentioned were hand-me-downs, second-hand things I was glad to get. I remember the year I got a ten-speed that Mom found in a pawn shop. I’d owned nothing but the old eighteen-inch bikes up to that point, and I was so proud to have that ten-speed. Problem was, it was a girls’ bike, or at least it looked like one, and no self-respecting teenage boy of that day would be caught dead on one. So I managed to find a boy’s ten-speed frame somewhere and started changing everything over to it, a project that never got finished.
The sad part of this is, I don’t think it was a girl’s bike at all, but a unisex one. But we’d never heard of such a thing back then.
But what I remember most about Christmas is that tree. We always had a real tree, one we cut from somewhere on
the farm. The smell of cedar still makes me think of Christmas. Mom would carefully save all the ornaments, even the icicles that were made of some silvery stuff and hung on the branches. I can remember how much I hated gathering that stuff up with it came time to take the tree down.
Taking the tree down was something I didn’t think about much, though. Mostly, it was seeing those lights nestled down in the deep green boughs, the cedar scent mingling with that of some kind of Christmas goodies Mom was making. Maybe it was fudge, or peanut brittle. Maybe it was some kind of Christmas cookies, or a pie. Didn’t matter what it was. The smell of it mixing in with the cedar, and the lights glowing in their green depths, the fake icicles glittering with every draft of air—that’s what I think of when I think of my childhood Christmas.
And then there was the mystery. Those presents—and they always managed to get me and my brother good presents—sitting there under the tree, square shapes hidden by bright wrapping paper. The anticipation was almost too much, at times, but all the same, I often didn’t want it to be over with. In a way, I dreaded Christmas day—we were never a family that opened presents Christmas Eve, the thinking being that Jesus wasn’t born the night before His birthday, so why should the presents be opened early?—because it meant the end of the speculation, the end of hoping.
One of the best years was when I got my first brand new bike. I guess I was about twelve or fourteen. I can’t tell you what brand that bike was, but it sure was a beauty—bright orange, about the color of the General Lee on that show The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course I noticed that, because I was crazy about that show back then.
The sad part was, here was this brand new bike, and I couldn’t ride it. Not only had it snowed about four inches—which that alone meant we weren’t going anywhere for Christmas—but I was stuck on the couch with stomach flu.
Can you imagine? A brand new bike, my first, sitting there in the living room, and then on the front porch, and all I could do was look at the thing.
You can bet I rode the crap out of it when I could, though.
So I want you to stop a minute. Slow down, pause, in your shuffle and rush to buy the latest video game or device, and go back in your mind to a time that, no doubt, was simpler. Childhood always is, isn’t it? Take a minute out of this hectic commercialism that Christmas has become, this rush to acquire things, and remember the real reason for the season—joy.
I’m not gonna tell you to subscribe to some particular religious view, and I won’t be passing a hat around. But just take a minute, go back in your mind to when your heart was maybe happier, more at peace with itself, and soak all that in before you go back to fighting all those shoppers out there.
Remember the simple joy Christmas used to bring.
And maybe you’ll be a little happier with this Christmas when you do.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!