Shortly before a dream was about to come true… moving to the South, marrying a Southern Belle woman with her Southern Belle accent and her two Southern Belle children, then seven and ten and giving me the opportunity at fatherhood that I thought had long passed me by, I would have agreed to anything.
And I did.
Miss Southern Belle about to become Mrs. Gordon McBrearty told me, “I spend about $600 on each of my children at Christmas time. Unless you cain agree to that, we cain’t get married.” This was in 1994. By today’s standards, that $600 is the equivalent of $928.69 in 2012. (http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm)
This was the summer of 1994. Christmas was a long way off.
Five months later found us in the parking lot of Toys ‘R Us as I tried to figure a way to get two buggies’ worth of toys into the trunk and back seat while the now Mrs. Southern Belle went over the nearly thousand dollar receipt and an executive at American Express was composing a personal ‘thank you’ email. I didn’t think it possible to spend a thousand dollars ($1800, today) at a toy store. I didn’t realize that toys were available that cost almost a hundred dollars each, and this was long before Play Station.
Toys ‘R Us sells a lot, but they don’t sell socks, underwear, Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, books, apples, tangerines or sweaters, all the key ingredients of a successful Christmas when I was their age.
Christmas morning was a really big deal. The sheer volume of wrapped presents made it a big deal. The two boys were polite and gracious, it wasn’t their fault I had sold my Christmas soul to the bleached-blonde, red-nailed devil, The Ghost of Christmas Excess.
This was all new to me. What I noticed, though, was that long before the mailman nearly gave himself a hernia trying to lift our American Express bill into the mailbox, there was a cry in the air.
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
I did a quick inventory in my mind. “What about expensive gift, Exhibit A?”
“Expensive gift, Exhibit B?”
“Can’t find it.”
“Expensive gift, Exhibit C?”
“Batteries are dead.”
“Well, watch your TV.”
“Can’t change the channel.”
“What do you mean, ‘you can’t change the channel’?”
“No batteries in the remote.”
What came to mind was a family with six children I knew of in Sudbury, a mining town in northern Ontario. One of the sons came visiting Christmas Day, so we asked him what he got for Christmas. “Nothing,” he replied, “it wasn’t my year.”
‘Volume’ does not translate into happiness. My argument in the losing battle was that when things come too easily, they aren’t appreciated.
Christmases and thousands of dollars came and went. Both boys had Play Stations in their rooms and both boys got their own computer, the day the pressure was on to get one of my Christmas presents up and running – a router so that all three computers could be on the internet at the same time. Ours must have been the first house on the block that had a hard-wired network, as wireless still was a few years away.
Christmas became my least favorite time of year. I would find an evening of solace in shopping by myself, supposedly looking for gifts for Mrs. Belle, ones that had been chosen weeks earlier. It gave me a few hours to watch other people being happy at Christmas time.
It would take me hours to wrap those presents, locked up in a room by myself, listening to an Oldies Station out of Chattanooga on the computer. Each present was wrapped with precision and painstaking care. Not because I was a perfectionist, but because I could be alone longer.
Money had removed completely the fun from Christmas and I longed for the days of an apple and a tangerine in my Christmas stocking, a scarf knitted by my grandmother wrapped up as a present and two toys, one from Santa and another from my parents.
It took ’til June before I got bored.