Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's a Dollar General Christmas

So, like I said before... now that I'm back in the Dee-Eff-Dub, I promised to share some of my experiences from my month-long trek to my parents' home. My journaling while I was there was sporadic at best, and some things will probably never see the light of day. If I were going to do this the right (and most logical) way, I'd just post in the order things happened/I wrote. But I've never erred on the side of logic instead of emotion, so instead I'll post as I feel. And today, I want to feel good. So I'm leading in with one of my favorite portions of the trip. Odd as it was actually the day I dreaded most when I first decided to go. So here it begins...

December 25th

For the past two years, this day has been the Single Girls' Christmas. When my family really began to crumble emotionally a couple of years ago, my mom told me that maybe it would be better if I didn't come home for Christmas. Their situation was a wreck, and she believed that my shot to have a joyous holiday would be significantly improved if I spent the time with my friends. This is the gift my mother never realizes she has. The gift of putting me first and herself second; to let go even when it causes her pain. This is the gift I did not inherit. I am a chronic hanger-on; I have never known the appropriate time to let go and just let things be.

Therefore, I made my peace with being alone on one of my former favorite holidays. I felt miserable at the prospect.

Then two of my funny, sweet friends shared a secret with me. They felt miserable at Christmas too. As single women, they believed themselves to be lifelong prisoners of the family holiday. As they re-enacted their former Christmas Mornings Past -- backing up the SUV, unloading the 1/2 ton of presents you thoughtfully picked out especially for each and every member of your family... watching them open dozens of presents from husbands, sons, daughters, in-laws... and then spending 38 minutes meticulously opening your "gift from the family", stretching it out so as not to be twiddling your thumbs as holiday cheer erupts in a mass of crinkly paper and shiny ribbon, only to find a 4 pack of needlepoint tea towels or a soap on a rope in the shape of a cat. And then you put on your best smile as you hold up your brand spankin', possibly new reindeer sweatshirt up for the customary photo while your cousin fires up their brand spankin', definitely new laptop. All the while reminding yourself that this should be about the Baby J in his cozy manger and not about your simmering jealousy over the diamond earrings your sister just hauled in. This, they said, is the completely effed-up fact of The Single Girl's Christmas Morn.

But not that year. No way. That year, they had a plan. A plan to skip the family festivities and celebrate how they wanted to. And I was invited. We bought thoughtful presents which we opened while we drank bourbon milkshakes. We watched old movies and sipped mimosas while gorging on the goodies from our overflowing stockings. We refused to change out of pajamas until only moments before leaving for a movie marathon at the local cineplex. It was the beginning of a brand new tradition.

With one member of the Single Girls' Christmas getting married this year, I knew that my former favorite holiday would change again. And, just like the past two years, my mother tried to put my feelings first and scheduled her hip surgery for the 28th, so I could celebrate with friends since she and my dad just "don't have the Christmas spirit anymore". Her pain, however, began to increase daily, and her doctor had no other choice than to move her surgery earlier and earlier. Still her biggest concern was that my being home, taking care of her, would ruin my holiday break. Selfishly, I was concerned too.

As December 25th crept closer, no decorations were pulled out. No stockings were hung. No lights turned on, and no presents to shop for and wrap. By Christmas Eve morning, everywhere I turned, sappy holiday movies and cheery carols and the joy of others bombarded me. And it pissed me off. This feeling, of course, quickly turned to shame as it so often does with me. I was ashamed at my jealousy and spite, but I could think of no way to get past it.

That is, until I walked into the Dollar General. As I was browsing the aisles, picking over the day-old Little Debbie snacks and generic bath oils, it caught my eye -- the Christmas clearance aisle. Surely, the Aisle of Misfit, Shitty Decorations would only make me feel more depressed. I wasn't sure what was drawing me to it. Not until I spied a box; a box which described something that could only make me giggle at the sheer absurdity. It was a 3.5 foot pink artificial tree, complete with hot pink lights.

For real? I mean, nothing says "Celebrate the Savior" like an effing Disco Dynamite tree. It was so tacky that I simply had to have it. Christmas is nothing without a tree. And I am nothing without a little snarky tackiness. So I tossed it in the cart. Within moments, I'd found silver accents and a myriad of presents for both my mom and dad. Presents which were not only useful to them but also not going to melt my credit cards. Sometimes the Dollar General is a friggin' gold mine. As I went on, aisle by aisle, my mood began to lighten, and I even began to smile.

Maybe I couldn't have my bourbon milkshakes and heap of presents to open, but I could still have a good Christmas morning. Because I could do something unexpected.

Early this morning, I slipped out the front door, rescued my stash of gifts and decor from the trunk of my car and hid in my room, wrapping gifts and unfolding my tacky-ass tree. Sadly, I forgot to pick up Scotch tape, so while I wrapped, I had to improvise with some medical tape.

Incredible, I know.

I snuck out, set up the Pink Thing and its accompanying gifts only to find this.

A sweet message my dad had spelled out with dozens of dominoes once I went to bed. It took me a little while, but it's code for "Deana, Merry Christmas. Love, Mom and Dad." Apparently, we don't have quite as many dominoes as I thought. Or else, we need another card table. Either way, I still got choked up.

Pay special attention to the red dominoes. They are special.

When I saw these dominoes, I recognized them but only faintly. I could not place where I'd seen them before. Then my dad reminded me that these were my grandmother's favorite dominoes. They didn't play actual domino games with them often, but I remember building many a domino house with them as a child. The red ones made a much prettier homestead than the plain white ones. "Now," he said, "they're yours. Your Grandma Henrietta was one of the best ladies I've ever known. I'm sure she'd want you to have them." And he also gave me two of the domino scorers above. I spent many a summer evening as a child watching my parents and grandparents marking their nickels and dimes with these very scorers. Each time I play, I feel connected to my grandmother and her sweet laugh and kind eyes all over again. And I am comforted and reassured by this. P.S. That's my scorer on the left. That's me beating both my mom and dad by over 100 points each. A true Christmas miracle if ever there was one.

The very best part of the morning, however, had to be my mom's face when she came into the living room after waking up. She took one look at the Pink Thing... the Disco Dynamite Christmas Tree... and her weary and pained face twisted up strangely. Her eyes began to tear, and for a moment, I worried that I'd done the wrong thing. That somehow I'd made the morning worse with a silly tree and some dollar store gifts. That she'd be embarrassed at the fact they could afford no gifts for me. That a time when the house should be full of activity and fun was still relatively silent and a little lonely with just the three of us.

Then she started to giggle. My mom doesn't giggle. It was strange but awesomely so.

I am not a mom. I have never had a child to witness his delight on Christmas morning. But in seeing my mom's reaction, I can only imagine that it was similar to my face when I was young. When what I wished for (even if I didn't ask) would always magically appear. When it wasn't Christmas until there was a Christmas tree. Even if it looked a little something like this.

And that's how, even without the bourbon milkshakes but with an $18 pink tree, I still had one of my favorite Christmases ever.


  1. It sounds like you might be a little more like your Mom than you thought.
    ps i would say i think you're a beautiful writer, but that would probably sound pretty lame, so I won't

  2. Oh, AP.

    You continue to be one of the most darling people I've ever had the luck to meet. Never a day in your life have you been lame.

    And even if you were, I am sure that you were lame... but with pizazz.

    Thank you, friend.