Wherever the Road Leads

Christmas in Dixie, Part Two

Huntsville, Alabama

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.

“I do.”

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?”

“It’s broke.”

“Expensive gift, Exhibit B?”

“Can’t find it.”

“Expensive gift, Exhibit C?”

“Batteries are dead.”

“Well, watch your TV.”


“Why not?”

“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.





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  1. Iceman Ogre  December 11, 2012

    An apple and tangerine. I just thought my wife and her family were crazy. The first Christmas with my Southern wife was a strange one. I remeber her and her brother were upset because they forgot the oranges! I kept asking WTH is with the oranges. I just thought it was their crazy tradition but turns out, it is the whole South’s crazy tradition.
    I have to admit, that my son is 10X more behaved and well mannered than I was when I was 13!
    I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, this was back in November and he gave me a list. I looked at it, and it was roughly a $500 list of stuff. When he saw the look on my face, he said, “That’s just what I want, but I don’t expect to get all of it.”
    I was shocked!
    I have tried to find deals to get him everything on that list, but to tell you the truth, I just can’t afford it! Those Xbox games, which the ones he wants are all new ones, are $55-$60 each! $50 if its used.
    When I was his age, I would have probably complained that it’s not fair and that’s what I want and blah blah blah.
    I am still trying to figure out if he is a good not-so-selfish kid because of where he was raised or because of who raised him. My wife says its because he’s a good southern boy but I like to think that I am just a damn good daddy!
    Haha, keep up the artciles Mr. Gordon. It’s nice to read something at work that doesn’t make me want to send hate mail to someone.

    • gordon  December 12, 2012

      I think tangerines, wherever they are grown, must come into season around Christmastime. Even my Christmases in Timmins, a remote mining town 500 miles north of Toronto included tangerines. Maybe you had a deprived childhood in New Jersey?

      Knowing you, I’m sure your son’s not-so-selfishness has a great deal to do with you being a damn good daddy, but if he knows ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes ma’am’ then you know that YOUR Mrs. Southern Belle has given him a good head start in life.

      • Iceman Ogre  December 12, 2012

        Ha, the yes sir and yes ma’am thing we are still working on. Honestly, I just started the yes sir a few years ago and I’m 34 so I cant be too hard on him for that. As long as he stay outta jail, gets good grades, goes to college, creates the next big thing, becomes a Billionaire(yes with a B ’cause a millionaire just wont cut it) and let me take an early retirement before I’m 45, then he don’t have to call me sir!

  2. Alistair Mair  December 13, 2012

    The phrase I have heard many times is “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Many will be surprised.


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