The Little Drummer Boy is hammering away in the coffee shop. He’ll be rat-a-tat-tatting till December 26, the little twit.
The TV announcers gush about this most wonderful time of the year, which inevitably seems to involve a Lexus in your driveway or something sparkly around your neck. (Unless, of course, nobody loves you enough to go deeply in debt on your behalf.)
The music is syrupy, the mood manicky, the expectations are mountainous, and it’s still November. Given all the recent bad news, you begin to suspect that every other Goodwill Santa Claus is probably an aspiring child molestor. You also swear you will strangle the next organization nut who asks you about the status of your shopping list, since you haven’t bought a Christmas present since 2003 and yes, you know, you are ruining the economy by being such a contrarian.
Oh, yeah. Nonstop holiday bludgeoning happens to all of us, driving most of us so bonkers that pretty soon we’re guzzling eggnog and claiming we love it. It happens to me every year. I start getting a little cranky the minute the jingle bells are revved up. I like the holidays just fine; it’s just the season of untrammeled greed and mandatory good cheer business I could do without.
But! This year, I found an antidote.
My husband and son and I went to the airport two days before Thanksgiving to pick up our daughter and her boyfriend. As usual, the plane was early or we were late, or both, and we ended up standing at the foot of the escalators waiting for them.
We were in a small knot of people on the bottom floor. Two families had made handwritten welcome signs. Grandchildren jumped up and down. Three women clutched one another, screeching, “Look! There she is!” and pointing to an older woman who slowly descended on the escalator. They mobbed her when she stepped off, gripping her in tight hugs, all of them crying and laughing. A mother and college-age daughter lunged at each other and wouldn’t let go.
By then, I was already semi-weepy, warmed, my heart thumping like a rabbit’s, with a big, silly grin on my face. We still stood guard at the end of the escalator, looking up and waiting.
Our son noted that we had never shown up at the airport when he was coming home. I reminded him that that was because he’d always had a mob of friends to pick him up and we hadn’t been allowed to come to the airport (although he did usually stop by our house for a few minutes to drop off his suitcase and dirty clothes).
“There they are!” our son said, pointing. And there they were. Our daughter and her boyfriend waved and smiled and floated downward toward us, looking young and gorgeous and happy.
Maybe they were playing The Little Drummer Boy on the sound system. Maybe, somewhere, TV announcers were gushing and jingle bells ringing and somebody was tying a red bow around a luxury car in the front yard.
There was still a lot I objected to in this holiday frenzy, which made it all the more important to laugh and cry when I got a glimpse of people I love. Maybe you have to refuse to be distracted by the flotsam and glitz and schmalz — and look a little harder for something real.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Check out a story from the storefront: The Year the Bagels Turned Red and Green