The most wonderful time of the year – NOT! Well, at least not for some people.
Hum drum, melancholy, down-trotted, heartaches, an abundance of sadness during a season where most shout gladness.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Carol of the Bells, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. What? Did I hear you say holiday bliss? But can everyone claim such cheer? The holidays may not be so bright and chirpy for everyone. In fact the holidays may be the most stressful time of the year for some families.
Have you ever thought to stop for a moment to consider those who are filled with holiday despair? Perhaps we can help ease gloominess by paying attention to the needs of people who are not extraordinarily happy during the next few weeks.
Stress may be due to a variety anxieties, and/or concerns we may not share, but anxieties just the same. I’ll touch on a few: divorce, death, new family member arrival(s), financial hardship, incarcerated parent(s), abuse, marital concern, changes in routine, and so much more.
We may not be aware of the “baggage” that some people are burdened with during the holiday season, but after the stories and testimonials of these very fine authors your hearts and minds will change forevermore about Holiday Blues.
Dr. Cherrye S. Vasquez, Guest Editor
MY HOLIDAY SELF-INDULGENCE
By D. L. KEUR
It starts before Halloween, the commercials, the displays, the hype–spend, spend, spend: “Thanksgiving…Christmas,
Thanksgiving…Christmas–buy now, buy here.”
First, I try to ignore it all. Then, I try to dismiss it with a yawn. But the advertisers keep yelping their pretentious ‘hap-happy’ “buy” jargon, and, pretty soon, my temper rises.
After rage comes discouragement. Then, disgust. What about all those who suffer during this self-indulgent luxury of spree? What about the starving, the lonely, the victimized, the pain-wracked, the abandoned?
I spend my assets, my “holiday cheer”, to help those in need, and then make dinner, as usual, and everyone at table agrees.
Living in the Purcell Trench in North Idaho, D. L. Keur as E. J. Ruek is busy pre-press editing her latest novel, Old Hickory Lane. Visit her on the web at http://www.DLKeur.com and www.EJRuek.com.
THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER
By SAL BUTTACI
Carla’s comin’ home again this Christmas holiday.
Been that way for years and me and the wife
We say for sure this year and we set the extra plate.
The wife cooks Carla’s special meal and both of us
share the same thin thread of hope and faith.
A miracle’s on the way; she’ll come through
just like she promised all those times before.
Carla’s comin’ home again this Christmas holiday.
We saved her silly woolen cap. Her favorite leather boots
stand at attention in the foyer.
We ain’t gettin’ any younger, the wife says,
Maybe we should –– But I say quietly, Maybe we should not,
Because you know Carla, full of surprises,
can walk through that door and give us back them years.
We come this far. We know she’s out there headin’ home.
Have some faith, dear. Keep on your hoping because
Carla’s comin’ home again this Christmas holiday.
Our Baby. And then all them tears don’t mean a thing.
The wife she nods her head, goes on back preparin’
the holiday meal. A heavy snow tonight
might slow Carla down, but she always loved to taste it
in her open mouth, catch the flakes fallin’ down.
Her laughter we saved like presents in our minds.
Some days it ain’t so clear, but the wife and me
We’ll know it when we hear her in the yard again
When…when…when Carla’s comin’ home.
She’s comin’ home again.
Sal Buttaci loves seeing life flash before his eyes. Visit him at http://cherryevasquez.tateauthor.com/uncategorized/a-bio-flash-from-sal-buttaci/
BITTER SWEET DAYS
By MARTA MERAJVER-KURLAT
The waves lick my feet
As I stand on the shore.
Smoky green eyes,
Beloved and mourned,
Entice me to celebrate
Sun-given life, our ritual
Of bygone days on that very beach.
I demur. Eyes and ocean
Blend in a seagull’s call.
At one with the tide
He guides my steps.
Someday our hands
Will clasp again,
Smoky green eyes, eternally young;
Brown, tired eyes yield to your wish
Rejoicing that you keep watch.
Marta Merajver-Kurlat writes novels, self-help, and essays in English and Spanish. http://www.martamerajver.com.ar/marta/
WHY I DON’T TRUST SANTA
By KENNETH WEENE
A puppy. However improbably, Santa had brought us a baby cocker spaniel, the one thing I wanted most in the entire world.
Why improbable? First, we were Jewish and didn’t celebrate Christmas. Second, we had no chimney; at six I knew Santa Clause came down chimneys. Third, Mom didn’t want a dog. She had her reasons: Too much work; my brother and I were too young for the responsibility; Dog food was expensive; AND, she couldn’t touch animals.
“It’s called a phobia,” she’d say and begin crying.
I’d cry, too.
Still, despite all Moms’ reasons, Santa had brought us that light brown ball of fur.
Too bad Santa couldn’t bring my mother a new head. We were at school. Mom had nudged the puppy towards the stairs; we lived on the second floor. “He had to go out. He had to go to the bathroom,” she explained.
Down the puppy tumbled. All day he lay at the bottom of the long flight of steps yelping in desperation—all day until Dad came home.
They told us the puppy died. Later I learned Dad, had taken him back to the breeder.
So much for Santa.
Ken Weene, who has subsequently owned many dogs, writes literary fiction and humor. You can check out his work at
HOMELESS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
By MICKI PELUSO
Christmas carols waft through the crisp Manhattan air as the steady ringing of the bells of Salvation Army Santa sets the pace for shoppers hustling from store to store. The magnificent Rockefeller Center Christmas tree heralds the promise of Yuletide celebrations ushering in the season of love and joy.
But for thousands of homeless people in New York City, the season is a harbinger of struggle. Huddled in alleyways, bus terminals, doorways and other temporary hovels, attempting to ease the chill of winter, they find no joy.
Some keep their faces to the ground, too hungry and lethargic to honor the Christ child’s birth. Others glance upward, perhaps searching for a special star to offer solace to a life of misery, but more likely hoping for handouts–a dollar or two to stem the ever-present gnawing of a tortured empty stomach. Years ago, it was a nickel, but inflation has reached the street people as well. New York City with the highest population in the country also has one of the largest numbers of people for whom Christmas is just another exercise in survival.
Perhaps it is the fear of ‘Except for the grace of God go I’, mentality that keeps us from recognizing them or addressing the biblical question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Now that the holidays are upon us it’s a good time to reconsider our priorities. We live in a country of great contrasts; from the extremely wealthy through the weakening middle class to the struggling lower class. Not enough of us consider the ‘no’ class, the people who have nothing; because acknowledging the problem necessitates a resolution.
Still, the day after Christmas there will be those who will ponder, like in the old Peggy Lee song, ‘Is that all there is?’ Too often Christ is removed from Christmas and we sense, but cannot name, the hollow feeling left after the frantic rush to make one day memorable. The homeless, hunched around garbage can fires, or sleeping over subway grates to catch the warmth of a passing train, do not have the luxury of such contemplation.
As our world grows smaller, the plight of the homeless becomes a global concern, bringing crime, disease and poverty to our doors. No one appreciates a guilt trip during the Christmas season, and no one wants visions of starving people interrupting the Holiday feast, overflowing with homemade delicacies, cookies and candy canes hanging from decorated trees. We work for what we have, ever harder in this sluggish economy and we deserve the rewards of our labors. True. But in the spirit of Christmas it is important to remember that over 2000 years ago, the Christ child lay in a manure-filled stable in Bethlehem, on a straw mattress of questionable cleanliness, wrapped in swaddling clothes that did not come from Macy’s.
Emphasis today weighs heavily upon material gifts. Charge cards promote gluttony of expenditure that has little to do with the meaning of Christmas. The legendary Little Drummer Boy had nothing but a song to offer the new-born babe. That gift was cherished more than the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the wise men from the East, because it was a gift of pure love.
This season let us all think about how much we have, and how fortunate we are to be spending the holidays with loved ones instead of a damp, freezing floor in Grand Central Station. Above all, let us love one another. And if we can extend that love to the homeless street people, the next holiday season may witness a practical solution to our mutual shame. Love is a self-perpetuating emotion; and all it takes to activate it is to exchange it among ourselves. Merry Christmas!
Micki Peluso is a journalist who writes poetry, short fiction, non-fiction and one memoir. Her personal blog site is http://www.mallie1025.blogspot.com
PARTY LIKE ITS 1499
By ANNE SWEAZY KULJU
Holidays got you down? What is it, the fattening foods you know you won’t resist? Is it the fear you won’t get that Pet Rock you’ve been hinting at? No, I know what’s got you down. It’s the relatives, right? That tribe of primitives that always makes the Season fright? Well, if you are one of those people who normally dreads the holidays because your family is a bunch of Barbarians, allow me to make some suggestions for a happier holiday season this year.
My family didn’t invent holiday dysfunction… but we may very well have perfected it. I’ve always been a good cook, so this meant the insanity usually came to my house to celebrate. It took time and maturity on my part before I finally realized, insanity need not exclude hilarity.
Doesn’t laughter make everything better? I’ve learned to mellow some in my midlife years; I’ve learned that if I can’t beat ‘em (I can’t run as fast carrying a big club as I used to), I should just kick back and enjoy the fun. I mean, say what you want about those guys in the animal skin pants, they’re not all wrong–those guys know how to party. So without further ado, here are my tips for surviving the holidays when the Barbarians are coming to your castle;
Add some excitement to the dinner. Stow a battle axe (no, I’m not referring to your mother-in-law) nearby the roasted ham. You can’t imagine the children’s glee that’s generated when your crazy uncle uses it for carving. Sure, a little food may fly, but my goodness, what did they think you meant by a six “coarse” dinner. Geez;
Add some suspense to the party. Put the family bitch in charge of the cauldron of burning pitch, and seat her next to your brother, the court jester. Then, have everyone bet on what time she rolls out the catapult;
Add some culture to the mix. Yes, Barbarians are by very definition, uncivilized. So why not introduce a little… refinement? Offer a prize to the Hun with the nicest fur, plan to attend a Midnight Mass –marauding, or try singing some nostalgic Barbarian Christmas Carrols: Jingle Bones, It Came Upon A Midnight Spear, Silent Knight, Oh Cannon-Bomb, Rudolph the Red-nosed Philistine, and that timeless favorite, Chestnuts Roasting o’er a Grecian Fire; and, lastly,
Add some fun for the kids. Make games a part of your new holiday tradition. Here are some time-tested mini-Barb favorites: Pin the Mace on the Face, Red Rover Red Rover Trebuchet a Man Over, Grand Theft Battling Ram, Keep Away From the Celts, and my personal favorite, the Scavenger Hun.
So remember, even if you have always dreaded the holidays of yore, with a little imagination (and a whole lot of mead), you can turn those holidays blues into Medieval old news. Just remember to keep your sense of humor about you… and party like its 1499!
If you agree with Anne Sweazy-Kulju (and Anatole France) that history books that contain no lies are extremely dull, visit Anne’s website: www.Historical-Horse-Feathers.com, and read more of the
author’s fun perversions of the past!
Courting Celia. This is Celia’s holiday blog
By Delinda McCann
The holidays are a hard time for caregivers. We remember our joys of past holidays. We remember the disasters or grief of the holidays when a loved one was ill or engaged in embarrassing incidences. We have some idea that the holidays ought to be a happy time. Maybe they will be for many of you, but for others they will be a lonely and sad holiday. I’d like to offer these words of comfort.
The first Thanksgiving was a miracle of survival. Those who gave thanks were separated from family they would never see again. They’d given up the luxuries of civilization. They were among strangers with different customs. They faced an uncertain winter. Instead of giving in to fear, they had the courage to give thanks.
For that matter, the first Christmas wasn’t all that hot either. Think of Mary uncomfortably pregnant and farther along than her marriage would validate. She must visit her in-laws then inconvenience them by delivering a baby–making herself, the room she was in, and everyone who attended her unclean. That first Christmas was at best uncomfortable.
May we all find the sense of humor to laugh over our difficulties rather than seeing them as disasters and may we find the courage to face the New Year.
Delinda McCann Delinda McCann is a social psychologist who has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over twenty years. She has served on committees for the state of Washington and has been an educational advisor to other governments. Visit Delinda’s blogspot at: http://delindamccann.blogspot.com/
A December Dirge
By R. L. Cherry
The old man stared out the window, watching the snow drifting down behind the cut-glass panes. At least he thought it was snow. It could be his blurred vision. The reflection of the twinkling Christmas tree lights made it even harder to be sure. He blinked his eyes, wishing he could rub them. Ever since the stroke, he couldn’t even lift a hand. Mutely, he watched, unable to turn his head to see who was speaking behind him. He knew it was Fred, but what he was saying was indistinct, undecipherable. Every so often he would understand a word and tried to make sense of what was being said, but they were disjointed, solitary. Christmas. Family. Will. They were understandable, but they didn’t make sense. He sighed. If only he had listened to the warnings.
Fred paced back and forth behind the old man’s wheelchair, glancing around at the walnut paneling and original Remington paintings. Why hadn’t the old cheapskate bought Picasso’s or Manet’s? They’d have been far more appropriate for Upstate New York than cowboys. And worth a hell of a lot more. “You know that I’m here, faithfully coming to your side when no one else does. If you recover, remember that I’m the only one of the family who cares. I’m staying for as long as I can, even though it’s started to snow.”
He glanced down at his Rolex. He’d been there almost an hour. Even if he had wanted to stay longer, he would have to leave before the snow stuck on the roads. His Porsche was not made for this kind of weather. He looked over at the two male nurses in grey sweats, lounging in arm chairs and watching him as if he were some circus sideshow. A couple of bums.
“Hey, don’t you think his diaper needs to be changed?”
The older one nodded but didn’t move.
Fred shook his head with disgust. He walked over to the old man’s side. “Well, I’d better go before I get snowed in. The wife would be upset if I missed Christmas with her.” He hesitated. “Maybe she’ll come next time. I’m sure you’d like her.”
He bent over and started to kiss the old man’s head, but stopped. With a scaly scalp visible through the wispy, white hair, he just couldn’t. Instead, he quickly patted the parchment skin of the old man’s bony hand and pulled his woolen lap robe up a little. “Take care. I’ll see you later.”
Fred grabbed his Burberry trench coat and scarf from the leather couch. He glared at the nurses. “Why don’t you get off your asses and do something to earn your wages?”
The younger one seemed to feel a little guilt and looked away. The older one just sat there and smiled.
Fred stomped fifty feet across the marble floor to the massive walnut entry-hall door and yanked it open. He cast a last scowl at the worthless pair of nurses, and then slammed the door shut as he left.
The older nurse gave a short, humorless laugh, brushed back his grey hair and stood. “Well, Jimmy, now that the ass-kisser has paid his annual visit, we can have a drink.”
“He only comes by once a year?” The younger man paused. “And it’s Jim. I hate Jimmy.”
The older man shrugged. “Whatever. Yeah, Freddy-boy only comes by every Christmas Eve. It’s just to remind the old man of that Christmas he’d said he was going to cut off the rest of the family out of his will. It’ll be ten years ago tomorrow. Only problem was that the old coot had his stroke that night and never got it recorded. So Freddy comes by to remind the old guy in case he ever recovers.”
He walked around the long, marble-topped bar that stretched across one side of the room. With a gilt-framed mirror behind it and the Remington paintings, it looked like a classy version of a Wild West saloon. Or bordello. The older man pulled out a couple of Waterford crystal glasses and a bottle of 30-year-old Macallan Scotch whisky. He poured a generous amount into each glass, added ice, soda and lemon twists, and handed one to Jim.
“Thanks, Bob.” Jim took a sip. “Hey, this is good stuff.”
“Yeah.” Bob walked back to the arm chair and plopped down. “Nothing but the best for the old man. He had cases and cases of good stuff. His lawyer carted off all the wine and Freddy grabbed the port and cognac, but I prefer the hard stuff anyway. Gets me a good buzz quicker.”
Jim walked back to his chair, but didn’t sit. He studied Bob. Years of booze were taking their toll, leaving the older man with red-veined cheeks, sagging jowls and a paunch. His sweatshirt had food stains. “Uh, ya think we should change the old man? His diaper’s probably dirty.”
Bob shook his head. “Jimmy, I’m paid to keep him alive, not comfortable.”
“Jim, not Jimmy.” Jim cocked his head. “You hate him, dontcha?”
“Why? I mean, you worked for the guy for what, about twenty years before his stroke. Why do you even stay if you hate him?”
Bob downed half his drink in one gulp. “I worked for him for twenty-four years before his stroke.” He studied his glass, the lights of the Christmas tree the lawyer had made him put up glistening in the prisms of the crystal. “I stay for two reasons. First, it’s for the money. The lawyer likes having me around ‘cause I keep the old guy alive. As long as he lives, the lawyer makes more and more money. So he pays me good. He’s paying me four times what the old skinflint did, plus a big bonus each Christmas he’s still alive. The other reason is to watch him suffer.”
Jim dropped into his chair. “Whoa, man, that’s cold. You like to see him suffer? Why?”
“Because he ruined my life.” Bob finished his drink. Then he pulled himself out of his chair, went to the bar and mixed another. He turned to Jim and leaned on the bar. “I stayed here twelve hours a day, six days a week back then. Ten years ago, I was supposed to have Christmas off, but the old fart changed his mind and said I had to stay.”
Bob laughed. “Said he’d been attacked by three weirdoes who broke into his room in the middle of the night, that they’d threatened him if he didn’t give up his money. Claimed I’d have to have given them the alarm code or let them in. After I made sure the alarm hadn’t been tripped or turned off, I told him it must have been a bad dream. He swore it hadn’t been. He said he wanted me to stay around until he checked everybody out. The cook, the butler, all those other guys, too.” Bob took another gulp of his drink. “Then I got a call from my wife. My youngest kid was always sorta sickly and he wasn’t doing too good. I begged the old jerk to let me off, go home to my kid, but he said I’d lose my job if I left. So I stayed. Funny thing is that after his stroke, it didn’t matter about anybody getting into the old man’s bedroom that night.”
“That ruined your life?”
Bob nodded. “We only had one car and I had it. Kid got worse, so my wife finally called an ambulance. It was real icy and it got in an accident. Big mix-up for hours. By the time another ambulance got to my house and took my kid to the hospital he was real bad off. Took him to County Hospital ’cause I didn’t have no insurance or enough money for a decent one. It’s a real second-rate place. Plus it was Christmas, so they couldn’t find a specialist. My kid died. The old man might as well have killed him himself.”
Jim leaned back in his chair, eyes wide. “Wow. Bummer, dude. I can see why you hate him, but why stay?”
Bob shook his head. “My wife blamed me. Took the rest of the kids and bailed before I finally got home. Never found out where she went. The old man’s lawyer said he needed me more since the old guy’s stroke and I didn’t have no place to go. Told him I’d stay 24/7 and keep the old coot alive for enough money. It was the old man’s money, so I got it. Everyone else’s been let go over the years, so it’s been just me with the old man. Now I get to see the old man suffer like I suffer and still make some big bucks.”
Jim shook his head. “Guess it’s lucky for you the old guy had a stroke, huh?”
Bob was taking a drink of his Scotch when Jim said that and he started laughing so hard he choked. Jim sprang from his chair and began to pound Bob’s back. Finally, Bob regained control and waved Jim away.
After taking a deep breath, Bob continued. “That Christmas, the old man had all his family here. I don’t know what set him off, but he started screaming and telling them all to get the hell out, that he was cutting them out of his will. Said all of them were worthless, except for Fred.” He chuckled. “Funny thing is that he always called his nephew a no-account spendthrift, but suddenly he was the golden boy. So they all ran out, except for Fred. Then the old man told him to get out too, so he did.”
“That’s when he had his stroke?”
Bob studied the younger nurse, and then took a swig. “No, not right then. Not until after my wife called to tell me my kid was dead and it was my entire fault. The old man was on twenty-six different medications, so I played around with them before I gave them to him. Then he had his stroke.”
Jim stepped back. “Wait, you’re saying you caused it?”
“Probably.” He draped his arm across Jim’s shoulder. “But you won’t say nothing, will you, Jimmy? I had you hired to help me, so I know your background. You spent time in the pen for extortion. You stole from patients and maybe even killed one, ’though they couldn’t prove it. You’ve got the gravy train here. I’ll make sure you make a bunch of money, with bonuses, as long as the old man lives. I’m betting you’re not dumb enough to kill the golden goose.”
Jim stood, silent for a moment, and then extended his hand. “You can call me Jimmy. Here’s to keeping the golden goose alive.”
They shook hands.
Bob topped off his drink, and then staggered toward the old man. As he did, he bumped over the fake Christmas tree, leaving it on the floor with the fallen angel tree-topper mortally shattered. He grabbed a handle of the old man’s wheelchair and jerked him around, staring into his terrified eyes.
Bob Cratchit raised his glass. “Here’s to you, Ebenezer Scrooge. Merry Christmas. My dear Tiny Tim is in heaven now because of you. But I’m going to make sure your life on earth is hell for as long as I can.”
Mr. Scrooge closed his eyes. Why hadn’t he listened to those three weirdoes, those Christmas ghosts? But it was too late now. A tear trickled down his cheek.
R.L. Cherry is a novelist, columnist and raconteur. Sample his short stories, articles and blog at www.rlcherry.com