An Observation: Deck the Halls and Take a Break

In a few weeks, 2020 will be here.

2020. Who still thinks that 2000 sounds futuristic? And where are the flying cars?!?

Hold that thought.

In any event, 2020 is a census year. I’ve been asking friends what they think the count will be in our fair city this time. My current estimate is “A LOT,” based purely on my observations regarding the infrastructure–specifically, traffic.

Especially during the holidays.

I’m not just referring to road traffic, either. I made the mistake of going shopping on a Saturday and decided that I’m not doing that again unless it’s an emergency, like a sudden household chocolate shortage.

No, the shopping on a Saturday will largely stop, because I was waiting in a checkout line recently when someone decided to place their hands on me to move me out of their way BEFORE offering an “excuse me.”

dont touch me GIF
If I leave the house on a Saturday again, I’ll be wearing a huge “DON’T TOUCH ME” sign on the back of my coat.

As I looked around at all the people and all the holiday “cheer,” I decided that it was time for everyone to take a step back, breathe, and look at something nice for a few minutes.

There. Isn’t that peaceful?

We are BOMBARDED this time of year with a pursuit of perfection in our holiday plans. The perfect party, perfect gifts, perfect everything…when in reality, most of us will have a more Griswoldian experience.

national lampoons christmas vacation GIF

We need to SLOW DOWN for a moment here. (Unless you’re making a right-hand turn, which, for some reason, appears to be incredibly difficult. I suppose that’s a big reason why we haven’t pursued flying cars more vehemently.)

Seriously, though…stop and breathe. Simplify what you can. If it’s worth moving a complete stranger aside in order to create the “perfect” Christmas, trust me, it actually isn’t worth it.

A Christmas Wish: Better Late Than Never

The Christmas season is a time of high expectations for most kids. They eagerly absorb the magic of the holiday and hold out hope that their wildest gift dreams will come true. Most of us can think of an extra-special Christmas present that awaited us underneath the tree on at least one occasion. I remember the feeling of seeing a brand new bicycle when I was six years old and thinking it had to be a dream.

Some wishes, though, seemed destined to remain a distant dream. Take, for example, the pony phase.

Virtually every little girl on earth goes through the pony phase.

“Mom, can I have a pony?”

“When do I get old enough for a pony?”

“You know what we need? A pony!”

And virtually every little girl on earth hears the standard responses.

“We don’t have room for a pony.”

“Ponies are expensive and they’re a lot of work.”

“You’re not old enough for a pony.”

During my pony phase, I heard them all. That wasn’t going to stop me from asking for one for Christmas, though. I knew I’d keep hearing the same answers, but a girl can dream, right?

So, I took my appeal to a higher power. I wrote a letter to the big guy himself.

Yes, I wrote a letter to the head honcho…the wish-granter…the red-suited miracle worker himself. The MAN.

SANTA CLAUS!

will ferrell santa GIF

I can’t be completely certain about this, but I don’t think my letter ever made it to the North Pole. And why would I think this? Well, because I still heard the standard pony responses from my parents and I just knew Santa wouldn’t ignore my request. After all, Santa Claus makes the magic happen, right? I mean, I was a believer! Santa was the MAN! I dutifully left out milk and cookies for him each and every year, and I continued to defend his very existence every time someone tried to make the schoolyard argument that he wasn’t…you know, real.

Well, the years began to go by faster and faster and I had a lot of great gift requests fulfilled (many by Mr. Claus himself, of course). However, my pony had still never materialized. In the end, I accepted it and decided it was probably a good thing. After all, that pony never would have fit in my dorm room in college or in any of the places I’ve lived since then.

A couple of years back, I started thinking about the gift that got away and realized that I still hadn’t heard from the big guy about it. (I still suspected a “clerical error,” and by “clerical error” I mean that a certain parent or two pulled a Ralphie-and-Mrs.-Shields-Style-What-I-Want-For-Christmas conspiracy.)

So, I revisited my thoughts of Christmas past…just because.

I never mailed this one. I just felt like writing it.

I had a little chuckle over it and went about my regularly-scheduled holiday season, which was chaotic, as usual. I went through that season and the next, and here we are in good ol’ 2017.

I’m a band director, and I’ve grown accustomed to spending many holidays with the band at Christmas parades. 2017 has been no exception.

Our first Christmas parade of the season turned out to be quite interesting.

We discovered that our position in the parade lineup was much farther back than we had ever been–next to last entry, as a matter of fact! This meant that we would be waiting (on the coldest day of the year) for a very long time. However, this also meant that we were directly in front of the holiday stars themselves…

Santa and Mrs. Claus.

I noticed their float down the block while I was attempting to keep my toes thawed. Very festive, very Christmas-y. About fifteen minutes before we marched off, their float pulled in behind us. After a minute or two, I heard it.

“MS. GARLAND!!!!”

I looked up, and Mrs. Claus was motioning to me.

(How do you like that? Mrs. Claus wanted to visit with me!)

We chatted for a few minutes (being old frien…umm, new acquaintances and all), and I was just about to return to my post when I brought up an old subject.

I told Mrs. Claus about my unfulfilled wish.

“Say, I asked for a pony sometime in the eighties and it never quite got to me.” Smile, wink.

Mrs. Claus just laughed, and we waved at one another and headed back to our places. Merry Christmas, nice seeing you, et cetera.

About two weeks later, I was in my classroom wrapping up some loose ends before the holiday break…when my phone rang.

The office.

“Ms. Garland, you have a package down here when you have the chance to come by.”

“Oh, okay,” I replied.

I haven’t ordered anything lately. Hmmm.

It was a Christmas gift. In a very large bag.

How festive! But what’s in it?

A card was attached. To protect the identity…err, conceal the handwriting, I’ll type out portions of the beautifully handwritten card:

When I spoke to you…my heart was broken that I had somehow missed your request some years ago…I went back to my archives (you should know that I keep every letter from every child!) and I couldn’t seem to find yours…I hope this fulfilled, late request brings some happiness to this year’s Christmas season!

Love, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus

I opened the bag.

My own pony.

Finally!

Naturally, we’re making up for lots of lost time.

We just had to go shoe shopping together!
We’re great pals. We like the same kinds of movies and everything.
Who says the horse can’t stay inside?

Christmas wishes can and do come true, even if they’re sometimes a few decades late. Merry Christmas!

An Observation: ‘Tis The Season

I recently heard a statistic that approximately one-third of gifts given during the holidays are eventually returned.

Now, I know times are changing. And I know that people often give receipts with their gifts in the event that something is the wrong size or if you needed something different.

However, the idea of returning a gift goes against everything I was taught about Christmas etiquette as a child.

Oh, a rock! I...guess I was good this year.
Oh, you got me a rock! I guess I was good this year. Rock beats scissors…and coal. Thank you!

I remember one lesson in particular. (And I’m going to keep things generic here.) I had received a gift just before Christmas (we’ll call it Gift A) that could only be used by another gift (henceforth known as Gift B) that I did not have and did not know–at the time–that I would be receiving for Christmas. So, I did what any eight-year-old would do…I blurted it out.

“But…I don’t have a Gift B! I can’t play Gift A without a Gift B!”

I found myself being picked up very quickly and taken from the room very quickly for a not-so-quick lecture about accepting the gift you are given–graciously–and remembering that it’s the thought that counts. It’s not all about “me, me, ME!”

When you're eight years old, it's all about...ME. (I was 30 in this picture, so...yeah.)
When you’re eight years old, it’s all about…ME. (I was about 30 in this picture, so…yeah.)

You wouldn’t return a hand-crafted, construction-paper-and-macaroni card from a five-year-old, would you? (If you said “yes,” I urge you to put the sarcasm on hold for five minutes and think about how you felt when you made a paper clip necklace for a treasured adult in your life when you were a kid and they never wore it because it didn’t match their sweater…but I digress…)

Yes, it might be a cliche, but the thought really does count. The best gifts I receive each year are usually the simplest ones. Handwritten letters and cards are awesome! Even a rock can be a great gift if the person who gave it was being thoughtful (and they weren’t throwing it directly at your face).

Furthermore, the gift you receive from giving is probably the greatest of all. I love to watch other people open the gifts I give them because of the thought I’ve put into each one for each person.

So, before you go asking for a receipt to return that gift you just received that you didn’t need before you got it anyway, think about the person and the thoughts behind it.

Besides…a rock makes a great paperweight.

A Memory: Inner Strength, Outer Wimp

When I graduated college, I had to be difficult and graduate about a week before Christmas. (I actually managed to make that happen twice. My apologies to my family for the inconvenience. For the purposes of this story, however, I’ll be referring to my first holiday season graduation. It’s the one where I thought I knew everything, for future reference.)

My last experience with playing in the college pep band was a very memorable one. I remember lots of stuff, so I have to distinguish from different levels or memorability. This one qualifies as “Very Memorable” on a scale from “Memorable” to “I-Desperately-Wish-I-Could-Forget.”

As I took my place in the stands one final time and looked out across the basketball arena, I decided to live for that moment and enjoy the rest of the crazy ride. I didn’t know that by the end of the night I would have conducted the band in which I was playing…and made an utter fool of myself on the basketball court in the presence of a few thousand witnesses.

Let’s start with the high point of the afternoon, shall we?

The student conductor knew it was my last game–indeed, I believe I was the only December graduate in the group that semester–and she called me down to the front to conduct a simple tune. I grinned from ear to ear the entire time.

But…you didn’t come here to read a story about the stuff that went well. No, no. Everyone wants to read about the stuff that went wrong.

I’m not, nor have I ever been, anything other than petite. In college, I was extra petite. The so-called “Freshman Fifteen” had been more like five for me, and my arms have never exactly looked like anything other than sticks.

Self-Portrait, The College Years.
Self-Portrait, The College Years. Note the lack of muscle tone. It’s important to the story.

But, being as stubborn as I am to prove that I can do anything anyone else can do, I jumped at the chance when someone from the event staff at the ballgame found out it was my last game and asked me to volunteer to throw out free t-shirts to the crowd from the basketball court.

So, I followed the bubbly young lady down to the sidelines as she handed me a gray t-shirt tied into a knot.

“Okay, your job is to pump up the crowd and when they start waving their arms like crazy, throw this t-shirt. Oh, and throw it as far as you can.”

“No problem!” I said, looking at the shirt in my hands and thinking that I was going to send the thing sailing. After all, it had a big knot in it, so I was going to have no trouble launching it to the cheap seats.

When the buzzer sounded, I followed the other volunteers down to the court, grinning like crazy and yelling like a fool while waving the knotted t-shirt over my head. I spotted a gentleman about ten rows up who seemed really interested in winning a t-shirt for the child who was with him. I looked around. All of the other volunteers had thrown theirs already while I was still trying to make a decision.

“Hey! Over here!” yelled the man in the crowd.

With all the strength I could muster, I pulled my arm back into my best major-league windup.

And I threw the shirt.

As hard as I could.

And then the knot broke free.

The t-shirt unfurled, waving through the climate-controlled breeze in a manner that would have made an American flag jealous.

(I could swear I watched this part in slow-motion.)

I saw it sailing majestically through the air, doing its awe-inspiring dance as it fluttered towards the stands…

…falling gracefully to the floor a whole three feet in front of me.

The man in the crowd started laughing hysterically.

I shook my head, pouting as I reached for the shirt and half-heartedly tossed it towards the first row.

I received my degree for Christmas that year, but, evidently, there were still a few things I needed to work on. Inner strength counts for a lot, but upper body strength had suddenly moved much higher on the list.