The missing years

My dad passed away peacefully on a beautiful Sunday morning 20 years ago today. These deathiversaries – as I am wont to call them – have become sacred days on my calendar and I try to celebrate my father in a special way. He loved being outdoors, so you’ll most often find me on a long walk or a stroll in some gardens. And I find myself almost always happy. That was one of my father’s most indelible traits – he was an eternal optimist. Damn him. It’s a tough act to follow for sure.

Twenty years is a big one to wrap my head around – so I did some math. That’s funny because I’m not good at math but I did figure out that I have now lived 31% of my life without my father. That’s almost a third of my life – you can check my work on that. I’m not sure why I did that because it certainly didn’t comfort me. I guess this is just my convoluted way of telling you that I have lived a long time without my father.

Same.

Lately, I’ve been imagining a conversation with him – probably over a Coors Light – his beer of choice. I would give him a recap of some of the highlights of the past two decades. (There are a lot of ways to measure 20 years.) Without a doubt, the very first thing that I would tell him is that his beloved University of Virginia Cavaliers won the NCAA National Championship in basketball in 2019. Nothing on this earth would have made him happier. Nothing. My father loved sports – as a participant and a fan. More importantly – to me at least – he was a good sport, too. He was a humble winner – although his teams didn’t do a lot of that – and he was the rarest of men – a gracious loser. No one was louder than him watching a game – well, maybe me and my sister. We inherited his sonic capacity for yelling. I don’t use that voice very often anymore – it terrifies my cat and makes my dear wife question her choices in life. Dad was always in it to win it, but was amiable in defeat and would optimistically lament, “We’ll get ‘em next time.”

Here’s an ironic sidebar. That magical night UVA captured the national championship, I watched the game alone in my condo silently while said dear wife was sleeping. You see, she cares less about sports than anyone I’ve ever known. It is one of her few flaws and I have learned to live with it. Let me remind you that that game went into overtime. Silent overtime. Granted, I was ferociously texting with my sister in California and my dear friend Chris in Charlottesville – but I didn’t make a peep. That said, I’m fairly certain that I damaged some internal organs by keeping all of that emotion inside. When the game was over and UVA had finally won THE BIG ONE, I wept with unbridled, albeit hushed joy. And I swear I could smell my father’s cologne. He was right there beside me. He still is in so many ways.

Rarer than a Bigfoot sighting – my dear wife enthusiastically cheering at a football game. (Probably because it was over.)

I would also tell my dad about the lore of the Bubba lucky charm. He had season tickets to UVA football games – no doubt where he honed his good loser skills. After he died, I kept the tickets for a few seasons. They were great seats, and it was nice to get together with Chris in Charlottesville on sun dappled fall afternoons. I don’t recall exactly how it began, but we invented a good luck ritual to use during games – the Lucky Bubba. My niece and nephew called my father Papa Bubba, and it became an endearing nickname that we all used. Chris and I decided that during each game we would be allowed three “Bubbas” to use when we needed something good to happen for UVA. We took this lark quite seriously and used our three lucky charms strategically. Sure, more often than not, UVA would still lose the game, but the Bubbas worked enough times to keep us engaged. And when a Bubba brought us to victory – well, that was the best. We still rely on Dad’s lucky charm – mostly by text. Laugh if you will, but we’ll always have that 2019 national championship.

Me (quietly) celebrating UVA’s Natty with my dad. And yes, those are of tears of joy.

I would most certainly tell my dad that I got married – real married. A lot can happen in 20 years. He would be pleased that I married a woman who shares his very best qualities. My wife is also an optimist and like my father, wakes up cheerful every morning. And like him, she is tall. My father regarded height as a virtue. He was 6’4’’ so I guess he did have a particular perspective on the subject. My wife also shares my father’s reverence for nature – particularly flowers. He had a green thumb and grew the most beautiful roses. He loved caring for them, and I can still picture his long frame bent over pruning his beauties on a hot day.

My dad was an everything’s coming up roses kind of guy, so it makes sense he had such a way with them.

I don’t know if I would tell Dad about the pandemic, but I have often thought that he would have done well with it. My dad was a resolute handwasher. He grew up dirt poor on a farm with no indoor plumbing, but I guess my grandmother instilled the importance of proper handwashing in him. He had big hands to match that tall frame and when he would come in from working in the yard, his first stop was always the kitchen sink to wash his hands. His hands were graceful, and he was never in a hurry as he scrubbed them. He was almost prayerful about it – as if he were giving thanks for the beauty of the earth and the soil between his fingers. I can just think of him washing his hands and feel peaceful.

The lucky truth is that I have a conversation with my father almost every day. These chats can run the gamut from fuchsias to flounder to Tony Soprano. My dad is in so many of the things that I love, too, and I’m sure that’s no coincidence. I don’t have to search for a connection to him – it runs deep inside me. No, I’m not the eternal optimist he was, but I am more often hopeful than not, and I think he had something to do with that. And Lord knows, I’m a good loser and I have found this to be an invaluable gift in this life.

My father had a mantra long before mantras were fashionable. He would tell us, “Only cry in victory, never in defeat.” As I kid, I thought he was talking about sports. Turns out it can be applied to all sorts of situations and his words have been a compass for me these past 20 years. And that is why should any of my tears fall today, they will gently land on the corners of a smile.

Thanks, Bubba.

I keep this photo on the bookshelf in my office. It is the essence of my father – outdoors, shirt off, cold beer in his hand and a smile on this face. Cheers, Dad! And keep those Bubbas coming – we need them in all sorts of ways.

All heart

It’s a traffic jam when you’re already late

A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break

It’s like ten thousand spoons and all you need is a knife

It’s meeting the man of my dreams

And then meeting his beautiful wife

Lyrics from Ironic by Alanis Morissette

Go home, irony. You’re drunk.

I will remember my late friend Johnny McGee for many reasons, not the least of which being that he is why I have lost my affection for irony. You see, I’ve always been rather enchanted with the concept of irony. It can be funny or dramatic but almost always clever. Irony used to amuse me, but not so much anymore. A few weeks ago, my friend Johnny, a man with the biggest heart I’ve ever known, died of a massive heart attack. Yes, a little too ironic.

Everybody loved this guy.
All photos courtesy of Charlie-Theresa Dodson McGee

Johnny and I met over 25 years ago when I moved to Greensboro from Washington, DC. with my then partner for a new job opportunity for her. Most of our friends thought we were crazy for deliberately moving to a state where gay basher extraordinaire Jesse Helms was a longtime senator. We were certain that we would be the only gays in the village so imagine our surprise when we found the Triad to be teeming with our tribe. I met Johnny – and his husband Bruce – at a meeting of the Triad Business and Professional Guild – a deliberately ambiguously named networking group for the LGBT community. Several Guild members were teachers or worked in law enforcement and were not out professionally for fear of losing their jobs. It was a different world in 1996 and the Guild was created to be a safe space for all.

Johnny and Bruce. These are a few of my favorite men.

Johnny and Bruce were gentle giants who stood out in a crowd so I’m sure they were one of the first couples that we met. This blog post is about Johnny, but it is hard for me to type his name without Bruce’s. They were together for 36 years and I seemed to almost always say their name as one word – Johnnyandbruce. When you met them, you immediately felt comfortable – they were both softspoken and kind. And I would soon learn that they were tremendous advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Triad. They were founding members of Triad Health Project (THP), a local AIDS service organization that continues to this day. THP’s main office number was originally Johnny and Bruce’s home phone number – just process that. Client records were kept securely in a shoebox under their bed and Johnny and Bruce were often surrogate family for people who had been abandoned by their own.

I penned a letter to the editor in honor of Johnny following his death and posted it on my Facebook page to share with folks who might not have heard the sad news. I was overwhelmed by the volume and genuineness of the comments on the post – some from folks I had never met. People used words like legacy, generosity, and compassion. Some recalled Johnny’s wonderful hugs. My friend Susan Ladd, a former writer at the Greensboro News and Record, credited Johnny and Bruce for helping to educate her and the community on the humanity of those living and dying with AIDS. A woman who was a student when Johnny taught high school Spanish and served as a Young Life coordinator wrote that he was “exuberant, loving, always positive and non-judgmental – all the qualities needed to work with highschoolers.” She forgot patience. Johnny had a lot of that, too, but he did not suffer bullies – or bigots – gladly. He was never afraid to be the voice for the marginalized.

When Facebook becomes Wailing Wall.

I find comfort in grieving with others and my aching heart was buoyed by so many folks sharing their thoughts about Johnny, one of the most humble men I have ever met. I spent over 25 years in non-profit development, and I learned early on that some people give for recognition – often the people with the most money – there’s my old friend irony again. Johnny McGee gave a lot in all manner of ways and never once did it for the acknowledgement – so it was fitting that I heard from Bruce later that evening. He messaged me and said, “Thanks for all the kind words in your letter to the editor. Johnny would be blushing all over.”

You know you are a mad baker when your nickname is Johnny Cheesecake.

Johnny was that rare man who was comfortable in himself. He was a big man – well over six feet tall – who was never interested in what was trendy. He could make a cheesecake that could put that factory joint out of business. And he loved his final teaching post at Bennett College, one of only two all-women HBCU’s in the nation – especially marching with his Belles in all white on special days. He was gracious to a fault. One time my partner and I were hosting a cocktail party the night before a big THP fundraiser. When Johnny got his invitation, he called to see if I needed to borrow any of his chafing dishes – plural. I teased him for years that that was the gayest thing anyone had ever asked me. I told him that lesbians and open flames are a recipe for disaster and we laughed ourselves silly.

Maybe now you can understand why the idea of Johnny McGee succumbing to an attack by the very thing that defined him is just too much irony for me to bear.

I’ve thought a lot the past few weeks about how best to honor Johnny. I know he would appreciate memorial gifts to Triad Health Project, but more than that, I think Johnny would want us all to simply be more kind. So, I’m going with a new mantra, with no sacrilege intended – WWJD. What would Johnny do?

Easy answer – the right thing with a ton of heart.

To scale drawing of Johnny’s heart.

Last call

I see what you did there.

I fancy myself a pretty good writer sometimes, although I know I am guilty of overusing metaphors. I’m like a kid in a candy store. Dammit, there I go. Anyway, sometimes the metaphors just find me, and I can’t turn away – like grabbing a peek at a car accident. See? Make it stop!

Looking for the light.

A few days before Christmas, I took my dear wife in for a colonoscopy. She’s a cool cucumber about the whole thing – she’s had several because her brother was diagnosed with colon cancer at 27. Yeah, that will get your attention. I wasn’t able to sit in the waiting area during her procedure because of heightened COVID protocols, so I found myself in my car on a cold morning at 7AM looking at the brick wall of the doctor’s office. The only thing I could see were a few lights shining in some tiny windows. I knew my loved one was on the other side of that brick wall, and, well, like I said – sometimes the metaphor parks right in front of you. That view was basically the past two years of this pandemic. So many people on the outside just hoping for a glimpse – of connection, of life, of hope.

Another pandemic parking lot view. The bleak midwinter.

I had brought a book to read in the car, but my mind kept racing through the past two years – a dark pandemic montage directed by Guillermo del Toro. I thought about all those people who never saw their loved ones again after they went behind those walls. That was just too much to think about while it was still dark, so I tried to find something more cheerful to occupy my thoughts. That’s when images of the helpers came to me – thousands of people I will never meet that worked so hard to keep it all together for the rest of us. Then I zoomed in on the helpers that I do know and love. People like my good friend Ann, a public health nurse who retired last week after 44 years on the job. That’s a lot of Band-Aids. She gave me my first Moderna vaccination exactly one year ago on New Year’s Eve. I knew she was a lovely person, but to see her in action made me see what kind of nurse she was. The kind that doesn’t make your blood pressure go up. The kind that smiles so sweetly you can almost see it through her mask. She poked me so gently, I didn’t realize we were done. The past two years were hard on her – she never had the option of working remotely – and I’m so happy that she can enjoy some well-deserved rest.

My friend Ann. It’s fun doing shots with her.

And I thought about my sister who ran two cancer centers in California during the pandemic. Her life that first year was basically one never-ending loop of work. Her city was on lockdown, and she would drive home down empty streets each night. She has a compromised respiratory system and I feared that she would get COVID and die. I didn’t tell her that, but I knew she knew. She, too, never worked from home and kept so many immunocompromised cancer patients safe while they were undergoing their treatments.

The cumulative effects of all that isolation wore on her and I am so grateful to so many of my friends who were so good about texting her and sending her cards. I’ve said it many times – this pandemic has not been equal, and some have sacrificed far more than others. There is no grand scoreboard in the sky, but if there were, my sister would have a big lead. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of anyone.

My beautiful sister. Unmasked.

Finally, I thought of my wife, the psychotherapist. She worked from home for only seven weeks – guiding so many of her older and cyber challenged clients into the strange new world of Zoom. In her line of work, she sees a lot of folks with anxiety issues, so you can imagine what a two-year pandemic has done for her business. There’s something to be said for job security. She has chronic asthma, so I worried about her safety, too. One of the happiest days of my life was when she texted me to let me know that she was getting her first Pfizer shot. I cried. She cried. We all cried. And that’s okay because pandemics are not like baseball.

Joy. My dear wife could not have been named anything else.

I thought about all those days that Ann and my sister and my wife went to work in those dark unchartered waters. I know there were days even they didn’t know how they did it, but they did. And I’m so grateful for them and all the helpers that did the same thing. I’m a sentimental fool at heart and I usually wax poetic at the end of a year, but perhaps never so much as this year. We’re all exhausted and angry and scared and sometimes we are all those things at once. I don’t know how to make it better but telling a helper or two thank you can’t hurt. And I highly recommend squeezing the ones in your bubble.

A kind attendant wheeled my wife to the car when she was all done with her procedure. Everything had gone smoothly, and she asked me if I had read my book while I was waiting on her. I said, “No. I wrote a blog post in my head.” She asked me what the subject was. I smiled at her and said, “Helpers.” She seemed intriguied, but that could have been the lingering effects of the anesthesia.

And as we drove off to find her a big girl breakfast and a cup of coffee the size of an ice bucket, I concluded that metaphors are like helpers – you just can’t have enough of them.

This. Every day.

Miracle at Ace Hardware

I suppose if we’re lucky, we all experience a Christmas miracle or two during our lifetimes. Okay, maybe not Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life caliber miracle, but a little something special that happens around this time of year. I found mine last week at the post office of all places. Yes, the post office and even that Grinch Louis DeJoy couldn’t steal it from me.

Where the magic happens.

The post office I frequent most often is in the back of an Ace Hardware store. It’s conveniently located in a shopping center that includes a grocery store, a CVS, and a Starbucks. Let me digress for a moment. I am the least handy woman on earth. My toolbox is the size of a cigar box. I’m lucky that I have gifted friends who can fix things. That said, I’ve always loved hardware stores. Maybe it’s because it was one of my favorite places to visit with my dad when I was little. He was a super handy guy and took great pride in fixing things. Sidebar: This fixing almost always involved a lot of colorful cussing, which also intrigued me as a child. Anyway, he would often go to the hardware store on Saturday mornings for some part or widget he needed, and I would race to the car to ride shotgun with him. Calm down, Karen – there were no car seat laws back in the olden days. My mother had the reflexes of a panther and could catch a 40 pound kid sliding off the seat with one hand.

This guy could fix anything with a little cussing and a lot of duct tape.

I had no idea (still don’t) what most of the things in the store were, but I loved all the organized bins and shelves brimming with so many mysterious parts. I can remember what that store smelled like – woody, musty, manly. Think Hardware Store, a new fragrance for men and Sam Elliot as the celebrity spokesperson. It felt like entering a secret clubhouse because there were never many women, much less little girls there. My dad would talk to a lot of the other men, and they would be nice to me. And the best part was that the store had a little pen with baby chicks under a heat lamp. I loved holding those warm little peeps and feeling their tiny racing hearts in my hands and I’m certain that early bonding partially explains my vegetarianism as an adult.

Okay, so now you see why I think the idea of a post office in a hardware store is cool – convenience and nostalgia. My post office is tiny – two stations at the counter but usually only one person is working. Oh, and they never seem to have books of stamps for purchase. Seriously? It drove me crazy for years and then I just started ordering them online. I care about stamps – probably too much. I’m old school when it comes to correspondence. I still send notes and postcards, so I use quite a few stamps each year and I want them to be a little more creative than the FOREVER flag.

But my tiny post office is great for mailing packages. Parking is a breeze and there’s rarely a line. The clerks are friendly, and you can get in and out quickly. Well, except at Christmas, of course. The good news is that I only had two packages to mail. The bad news is that both were going to California. That’s a pricey passage via Priority Mail. True story – the postage for one of my packages cost more than the contents. Alas, both boxes included homemade cookies and I wanted them to arrive intact and relatively fresh – so speed was of the essence.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Strategy is key to mailing holiday packages. I arrived at the store a few minutes after the 8 AM opening on Monday. A very young woman standing behind the register at the front of the store greeted me with a forlorn expression. She squeaked out, “Good morning” in her tiny voice and then took a deep breath. I sensed she was preparing to deliver some grim news. She said, “The post office lady is running late this morning.” I swear she winced when the words left her mouth as if she were expecting me to punch her in the nose. I smiled and said, “Okay.” The look of relief on her face made me sad. I guess she’s been abused like many dealing with the public in these thinly staffed times. I continued to the back of the store and discovered my early bird status placed me at the head of a line going nowhere.

A few minutes later a young man carrying two envelopes walked up. He had heard the disappointing news, too, and shrugged at me like “what are you going to do” – and immediately got on his phone. I couldn’t hear his conversation, but the tone was stressful – too stressful for 8 AM. Soon, another woman with a couple of boxes joined the queue. By now it was 8:20. I considered leaving and coming back later but one of my boxes was pretty big and I was over schlepping it.

Amen.

My pondering was interrupted by the sound of the harried postal clerk announcing her arrival. “I’m here, I’m here! I’m sorry I’m late. My daughter has four children and had a flat tire this morning and I had to rescue her.” I’ve used punctuation here, but her explanation came out as one breathy, emotional run on sentence. I’m always amused how Southerners can just spill their guts to total strangers on a dime. Her apology was most sincere, and it would have been cruel to say anything but what we all said – “It’s fine.”

The clerk threw off her coat and turned on whatever makes the post office engine run. The stressed-out guy had stepped over to a rack of greeting cards to take another call and was pacing while he talked. He was starting to stress me out. I’ve realized during COVID II that sometimes I can feel the collective stress and angst of my fellow humans – especially in places like the grocery store and parking lots. And, yes, the post office. Even though I was clearly at the head of the line, the clerk bellowed out, “Okay, who’s first?” And then my better angels took over. I know, who knew I had them? I said to the stressed-out guy, “Go ahead. You just have those letters to mail.” He looked at me like I had offered him a kidney. He said, “No, no, I can’t.” I said, “Yes. It’s no problem.” He still seemed incredulous to my offer and asked me if I was sure – like this was a binding legal agreement. I assured him it was fine, and he said thanks and walked to the counter. And, as expected, his business with Chatty Cathy was quickly finished.

I assumed he would probably thank me again as he passed by me on the way out. What I didn’t see coming was that he stopped right in front of me and looked me directly in my eyes (the ones right above my mask line) and softly said, “Thank you. I really needed that today.” For a second, I thought he might actually hug me. And honestly, I think I would have been all in. I smiled back at him and said, “I kind of thought you did. You’re welcome.” No, an angel didn’t get his wings or anything, but in that moment, it felt like a communion of sorts. Two weary humans in a never-ending pandemic making a brief but authentic connection in the little post office in Ace Hardware. It was just what I didn’t know I needed.

Original art by the fabulous Woodie Anderson. art.woodieanderson.net

I was on a high when I finally got to unload my packages to the clerk. She put the big box on the scale and groaned, “Oh, no.” I laughed out loud and told her I knew how much it cost to send something cross country. She apologized again for being late and told me earnestly that there was no way she was going to leave her daughter in distress. “I’m the only one she haves,” she said. And then I heard the sound of my own voice saying, “Well, then it sounds as if she has quite a lot.” She smiled at me sweetly and this time I’m pretty sure I heard a bell ring.

Actual photo of me at the Post Office.

P.S. Shout out to the USPS! My packages were scheduled to arrive on Thursday and were delivered a day early. Okay, the two cookie containers in the big box were slightly crushed, but nary a cookie was crumbled Ding, ding! Another tiny miracle.

Pretty packages resting after their cross country journey to Berkeley.

I’m here for tiny miracles and tiny trees this year.

Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome

The familiar symptoms – the internal undertow, a heaviness in my step, a general malaise. I can feel it like a cold coming on. It’s coming on Christmas. Again.

Math was never my forte, but I’m oddly gifted at factoring holidays based on how long my parents have been gone. This will be my 20th Christmas without my parents. Twenty fucking years. I counted it out on my fingers like a six-year-old to make sure I had it right. Twice.

I know a lot of folks my age don’t have their parents anymore and mine would be old now – Dad, 98, and Mom would be 89. She died at 70. When I was 45, I had no idea how young that was. Lord, I was stupid. Now I am keenly aware of my own mortality, and I think of treasured friends over 70 and cannot imagine a world without them. That’s the thing about grief. It is unimaginable and interminable. And, yes, a lot of people lost their parents at much younger ages and I ache at their social media posts on special occasions every year. It sucks.

I take a fair amount of solace in the knowledge that I was rarely careless about spending time with my parents. When I look back on it now, it is as if I knew they would be gone sooner than later. I never missed a Christmas with them, and I was fortunate that the furthest away I ever lived from them was a four-hour drive. I share this not to make myself look like a good daughter because I was a good daughter. I honestly enjoyed spending time, especially holidays, with my parents. And I still hold many of their traditions sacred – like making a very boozy eggnog on Christmas Eve. That’s what my mom and I did together. So, maybe it wasn’t the Waltons, but even the Baldwin Sisters had their recipe.

Behold the nog! Keep away from open flames.

My symptoms presented sooner this year. 2020 was such an aberration because of COVID-19 and a lot of people were in a holiday funk. Well, at least the ones who listened to Dr. Fauci and didn’t travel or gather with family and friends outside their bubble. It was a global case of misery not loving no company and I didn’t feel as solitary in my sadness. It seemed as if the entire world was hunkered down watching every Christmas movie ever made. Disclaimer: I do not watch the Hallmark Christmas movies. I love a white Christmas as much as anyone, but there is white and there is bleached. I’m not claiming a higher moral ground here. At least a couple of times during the holiday season I indulge in what I call Dead Mother Theatre and watch some dark holiday classics where the mother dies around Christmas. Stepmom and The Family Stone are a must and last year I threw One True Thing into the rotation. It might sound sadistic, but watching these films allows me a good cry – sweeter and more sentimental than sad. It’s cathartic for me. My dear wife just shakes her head and contemplates hiding the ROKU remote.

Stepmom. I’m not crying. Oh hell, who am I kidding.

That’s the wife who got her first COVID vaccination on Christmas Eve last year. It was a fantastic present, but she was feeling a little puny on Christmas Day, so, we cuddled up and watched Christmas in Connecticut, the 1945 black and white classic starring Barbara Stanwyck. As pandemic holidays go, it was a fine one. And for the record, no mom dies in that movie.

This Christmas we had planned to visit my sister in California. That was until we discovered that air fare would cost more than a trip to Europe or a small car. We will now visit her in January and have fun with all the money we didn’t spend on holiday travel. My brother lives in South Carolina, but we are no longer close and COVID revealed that gated communities can exist in our own families. I love my brother and it is an abiding sadness to me that what we share now is mostly memories. I’m grateful that a lot of them are good ones.

Christmas past. My brother looks like he got into the eggnog. And the cocker, too!

I was reminded of one of those memories when I was at the beach last month. The power of place can be like steroids for memory – the sights and sounds generating a slideshow of old photographs in the Viewmaster of your mind. One day my wife and I set up our umbrella near a big family group. There were at least ten adults and a couple of toddlers all huddled under several umbrellas creating a festive circle. I could hear them talking and laughing and playing with the littles. It was a breezy day, and I noticed a small ball rolling out from under their camp. One of the adults chased it down and returned it to a tiny happy face. Suddenly it was 1986 and I was on a family vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia. My niece’s beach ball, the classic old school blow up kind, was billowing across the sand at a mad pace. My brother bolted from his chair and chased it for what seemed like a couple of miles. The rest of our clan stayed glued to our seats and laughed ourselves silly as he would see the ball in his grasp and a gust of wind would send it scurrying away. My brother is 6’3” and the image of a tall man chasing a child’s ball was funny. He finally caught up with it and returned it to my toddling niece who seemed confused by the giggly grownups. My brother made a sarcastic comment or two thanking us for our support, but it was all in good fun. And I’m certain he would have chased that ball down into the next county. It is a sweet memory that shines as brightly as the sun did that afternoon so long ago.

You might be wishing you had some of my eggnog if you’re still slogging through this cheery post. The truth is that I have a bipolar relationship with Christmas. I almost always have a manic phase of decorating and making cookies and declaring that we must have more lights! I have several glass Christmas trees that belonged to my mother and when I carefully unwrap them each year, it is one of the most joyously peaceful moments of the season for me. My wife genuinely loves them, too, so that makes their presence even more special. After our first Christmas living together, we decided to leave them up through January – the month of a hundred days. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and I know my mother would be most pleased – and no doubt a bit amused.

My favorite tree lot.

Those manic days are merry, and I savor them because I know there will be other days that are not so bright. The days when it feels like the entire world is smushed into an overdecorated snow globe singing Christmas carols between sips of their gingerbread lattes and I’m on the other side with my face pressed against the glass. Those days are the worst. I feel so exposed and vulnerable like my heart is only covered by tissue paper – every emotion seeping out.

Addy phone home. Me every December.

On those tender days, I try to retreat into the shelter of my own head. I spend quiet time with my memories, and they comfort me. I’m lucky that my memory is like the iCloud with unlimited storage. Bonus – I never have to change my password. My carousel of holiday memories is easily accessible and the images are sharp with those nice bright colors Paul Simon sang about way back when I was in high school. For all you kids born post 8-tracks, have a listen here.

Glee under the tree. The merry three.

Before my parents died, I was that obnoxious ninny who couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t love Christmas as much as me. Pro tip this Christmas – don’t be that ninny. For some of us, finding a balance between joy and sadness during the holidays is like trying to catch up with that bright ball careening down the beach. We might get there, but it will take a few stumbling grabs.

What Ted said.