Last Christmas

This past Sunday, I opened my eyes to greet Christmas morn just before 7 o’clock. My first waking thoughts were of fond distant, boyhood memories… perhaps, it had even been a quickly fading dream? Whatever the source, my recollection was of bounding down the staircase to find all the presents Santa had left me under the tree.

As I caught my older self smiling, I realized that this special morning required a break in the routine. Instead of immediately heading off to the kitchen to scare up some breakfast, I’d first head out on a half-mile hike to purchase a newspaper.

Some might call me a throwback to a bygone era, but there’s just something special about shutting down the tech to read from an actual, held-in-the-hands, ink-on-paper publication and, afterwards, filling in the Sudoku, Jumble and Crossword Puzzles (LA & NY Times) with a ballpoint pen.

And so, I donned my down parka and stepped out onto my front porch. It being mere days following the Winter Solstice, it was still dark outside and the overnight hush that had descended over my lifelong hometown was still working its magic.

The only audible sounds were the gentle, yet steady, chilly wind whooshing through pine needles and the crunch, crunch, crunch of my Sketchers™ as I traipsed through the lingering patches of snow and frozen slush.

The ambiance of the homes lit up with festive, outdoor and indoor decorations, against the backdrop of an inky sky, easily transported me off into a timeless, fantasyland, all of which significantly slowed my customary walking-run stride. I now wished to make these scenes last an eternity.

It was around this time that an approaching jogger and I exchanged our “Merry Christmas” greetings… but as for any other townsfolk stirring about, either on foot or in their vehicles, these incidents were so rare it eventually felt as if I were all alone in a community of 9+ thousand… in a world of 7+ billion.

I’ve come to know, all too well, these “last man on earth” vibes and the strong sense of impending doom…

While wallowing within the post 2016 Election Day funk.

While fretting about a nuclear saber rattling Twit’s Tweet posted just three days prior to Christmas.

While dreading the incoming admin’s flat-out opposition to intellectual curiosity, integrity, diversity, equality, liberty and sobriety.

While dwelling upon how, in all likelihood, we’re a nation transitioning towards an ecological, economic, and societal nightmare… if not all out apocalypse.

Such serious reservations regarding that well-heeled, untrustworthy entity even caused me to free associate the motto appearing on my own nation’s oft-filthy lucre. Indeed, “In God We Trust” gets minted onto all of our currency and coins. As if what? That we could ever expect God to teach each and every moneygrubbing american [sic] not to worship that false god… a.k.a. the almighty buck? If He has attempted to get His message across before, it has, for the most part, fallen upon deaf ears.

My Godly thoughts next gravitated towards Christmas’ true meaning… about a birth, which, purportedly, had taken place long ago on this very night… off in the faraway land of Bethlehem.

It was about then when I sufficiently surfaced from my deep thoughts to realize the time had come to plink my six, silvery 25-cent pieces into the liquor store’s, storefront vending machine. Through the display glass I had already read one of the front page headlines… a report telling how homeowners, who are installing solar panels, are getting penalized with sky-high property tax assessments. Imagine that… instead of being commended, folks are being condemned for going green… having to shell out extra “green” because they had hoped to help save our planet.

Slowly shaking my head side to side, I slid my newspaper into my tote bag. At that stage, I could’ve immediately headed for home, but, all the sudden it dawned on me… considering the inconsiderateness of the soon to be installed new admin, this could very well be the last Christmas I (or anyone else) would be experiencing.

With that in mind, this called for a course-correcting maneuver.

I reset my bearings to pass through my once-upon-a-time neighborhood… revisit the place I had called home for the first seven years of my life. Perhaps I might even catch a glimpse of a framed in the window, fully lit Christmas tree? Maybe it’d even be located in the very same southwest corner of the living room, where, more than half a century earlier, my sister and I had discovered all the toys Santa had left for us?

Crossing at the next intersection and briefly heading west… then south, I deliberately slowed my pace as, yet, another little boy recollection kicked in. It had been on an early spring evening where I had raced my bike at top speed down this very same stretch of sidewalk. Oh, the freedom that once represented. Oh, the freedom that might soon be torn asunder.

Once at the bottom of this hill (both in memories and reality), I felt disappointment as I discovered the new occupants were still asleep and their holiday decorations were all dark.

With a long sigh, I hooked a left at the corner. Passing by a nearby home, the sound of a man filling his bird feeder with seed drew my attention leftward. As our eyes met, he wished me, “Merry Christmas”… and I echoed those sentiments back to him.

By this time, dawn’s early light had changed the sky from black to bluish gray. Walking past a hedge still sporting most of its brown leaves, all the sudden, I realized I was practically living out the lyrical story, which songsmiths Michelle and John Phillips had related in their mega hit, California Dreamin’. Deep down I, too, was California Dreamin’ on such a winter day… especially since that West Coast state is where my last surviving family members reside.

As I trekked onward, my next stop was the nearby town square. For multiple decades that main four-cornered intersection had boasted our one and only stoplight. As I peered up and down Michigan Avenue, I couldn’t help but notice how, while the skyline had basically remained the same, the storefronts certainly had wound up quite different from their yesteryear signage… as had their new proprietors’ offered products and services.

A tavern, nightclub and a several eateries had replaced a “Mom and Pop” grocery store, the “Five and Dime”, the Family Apparel and Gambles Hardware stores and the Rexall Soda Fountain / Drugstore. About the only businesses that have stayed the same and still remain within their original buildings are a bank and barbershop… albeit both under new ownership.

Of course, Christmas morn’s nearly non-existent, vehicular traffic would’ve made it so easy for me to fully flip off the crosswalk’s “Don’t Walk” admonition, yet, I waited obediently. I wanted to take in and fully savor, in its entirety, the recently renovated and resurfaced, disappearing into the eastern and western horizons, Michigan Avenue, itself.

Upon crossing over to the south side of the street, I soon found myself standing in front of a factory. Prior to its construction, that entire block had been zoned residential… and one of those homes had been where I had lived during the first two months of my life. Of course, images of that long ago, razed house now only exist in the snapshots posted in my family photo album.

Traveling down to the next intersection, I crossed Michigan Avenue once more and headed northward. With that California Dreamin’ story and lyrics still fresh in my mind, I stopped at a church I passed along the way… pausing long enough to admire their Nativity Scene… to offer up my heartfelt prayer to Him… to beseech Him to intervene… to deliver the Christmas present of tact to that hotheaded man… to spare humanity our eons too early mass grave.

I no sooner said my “Amen” than I began diagonally traversing the soon to be filled, church parking lot. I next crossed a side street to wind up right in front of the very first house my (then) newlywed parents had rented upon their arrival in town.

At that juncture, my Christmas morning hike was starting to come full circle. I did opt to return, one last time, to see if the Christmas decorations had finally lit up my old home. Alas… they hadn’t.

For the first time since setting forth that morn, I checked my wristwatch. I had covered all of this old, familiar ground in less than 40 minutes. Considering that it’d take me another 15 to make it back home, my entire walk down memory lane would be completed in under an hour.

Starting to feel a bit hungry in the here and now, I headed for home… where I’d soon be brewing up some fresh coffee, flipping pancakes and drowning them in maple syrup… flavors I’d be savoring as much as the “flavors” of my sweet memories.

With each forward step, I found myself hoping that my prayers for repeated, Divine Intervention in post Inauguration Day 2017 DC will be answered. If that’s not to be… well…

All I can do is urge all who read this… all over our world… to cherish our waning days of “normalcy”… to fully appreciate whatever good, we may still find… to hold on to our pleasant thoughts for as long as we still can. Regrettably, that all can be easily obliterated once a small handed, small thinker pushes that Big Badass Button.

 

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