Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, December 07, 2007

In Response to Julie's Question or From Who to Grinch & Back Again

by Kerry Blair

When I was a child Cindy Lou Who had nothing on me. I started making Christmas presents in July and humming “Jingle Bells” in September. By October my beagle sported homemade felt antlers, and a 2’ tall aluminum Christmas tree adorned the nightstand in my bedroom. (Of course it had a color wheel! I can’t believe you’d ask!) Christmas pageant practice started in November, thankfully, so it was Joy to My World every day of the week right up to the big night. (I’ve never been to a Christmas pageant that didn’t make me cry. One year as an angel the tears ran down my throat and gave me such a bad case of the hiccups that I fell off the riser, crushed a shepherd, bowled over two wisemen, and knocked Baby Jesus right out of his mother’s arms and into the first row of the audience. The next year I was the stage manager.) Rather than being tired of Christmas by the time the 24th of December rolled around, I was manic with excitement. The year I turned eleven I left Santa a plate of homemade lasagna and gave his reindeer bags of nuts from our pinon pine. (Yes, eleven. Possibly I was not the brightest bulb on the ol’ Christmas tree.)

Believe it or not, my enthusiasm for all things merry and bright didn’t wan much for two decades. Then came the year I found myself with four children (aged ten and younger) and a new calling as a ward RS president in an area with a lot of welfare need. As if daily food orders and bishop’s shopping at DI didn’t keep me busy enough, I thought we ought to take a small gift to every sister in the ward. Six four-story apartment complexes, two mobile home parks, three condo communities, and a sprawling suburban neighborhood later I had swollen ankles and blisters on my knuckles from knocking on doors. Ironically, very few sisters were touched by our holiday cheer. Most seemed annoyed to have been caught in their nightgowns at noon and/or pulled away from their evening television programming. For the first time in my life, my Christmas spirit was badly bent, if not broken.

To make matters worse, my husband worked ten hours a day at his regular job, then refereed high school and Park & Rec basketball to make ends meet. There was no help -- or hope -- on the horizon. I’d never been so overwhelmed. Thus it was not until bedtime on the 23nd of December that I realized I had no gifts for my children. Not even a tube sock to hang by the chimney with care in the hope of getting at least a lemon from the tree in the backyard. My husband had just dragged himself home with visions of long winter naps dancing in his head, so I took the only chance I was going to get to go shopping. I raced from my house and to my van gave a whistle.

It was after midnight when I arrived in the parking lot of Toys R Us. I had exactly fifty minutes before even those die-hard merchandisers of childhood fantasy called it a night and went home to bed. No problem. Within ten minutes I’d conquered the GI Joe battlefield and was barreling around the corner to My Little Pony paradise. That’s when I ran into (yes, literally) my neighbor, the second counselor in our ward bishopric. Joe was about my age, worked even longer hours than my husband, and had four little children of his own at home. I grimaced. If it was true that misery loved company at least I had an ally!

Waving a hand to take in the over-priced merchandise, the otherwise deserted aisles, and the clerks snoring up at their registers I said, “Can you believe we're doing this?”

A huge grin split his face. “No! Isn’t it great?”

Something was wrong. Very wrong. He didn’t seem overwhelmed. Stressed-to-the-Max. Angry. Like me he was a good person, forced by the heavy burden of modern life and church service to embark on a shopping expedition at 12:30 AM on Christmas Eve. Why in the name of all that was Grinchy was he smiling?

“I love to buy toys for the kids!” he said. “It makes Christmas for me.” He picked up a purple pony. “Do Hilary and Melinda still love these things?”

I waited for a bell to ding while I looked around for Clarence. This man must have had a near-bridge experience on his way over to Pottersville. Then all at once I knew the difference between us. I was standing there only to complete yet one more onerous task before December 25. Joe had come to choose just the right gift to surprise and delight his beloved daughter. While I had been throwing things in a basket in order to cross yet another chore off my list, Joe had been Christmas shopping -- subbing for St. Nicholas -- and loving every minute of it.

My Grinch-heart grew two sizes that day.

Night.

Whatever.

Years and years have passed but I can still see in my mind’s eye his silly Jimmy Stewart-like grin. That Christmas and every Christmas since I’ve made a concentrated effort to keep Christmas like Joe did. I live in the moment rather than letting the to-do lists overwhelm and Grinchify me. When I string lights I revel in the fresh chill air, breathe in the faint scent of pine and chimney smoke, and imagine a soft glow lightening the heart of anyone who drives by our home. When I write cards I think of the people to whom they’ll go and thank God for the blessing that each friend or family member is in my life. (Every card. Every time.) When I frost a cookie I remember how much I loved beautiful cookies as a child and hope that someone else will be equally delighted to bite the head off an angel.

Of course I simplify where I can! No homemade reindeer antlers for the dog this year. (I bought them at Old Navy.) And I think I might leave Oreos for Santa instead of pasta -- you know, those cool red-filling ones. They’ll fit nicely beside him on the sleigh-seat and he’ll smell like chocolate instead of garlic when he gets home to the missus. (When it comes to Santa, I’m still not the brightest bulb on the tree.)

Yoo hoo, Cindy Lou! I’m back!


8 Comments:

At 12/07/2007 2:42 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

Thanks--I needed that!

 
At 12/07/2007 3:14 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Kerry, you are such an amazing example to me, do you know that?

I *knew* you were a WHO! I totally called that one! :)

 
At 12/07/2007 5:06 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

That was great. I loved it.

 
At 12/08/2007 1:19 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

A near-bridge experience on the way to Pottersville . . . Kerry, you are a jewel!

 
At 12/08/2007 2:00 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Kerry, if you ever, ever try to tell anyone that you are not a writer, I am going to hit you over the head with this blog until ink leaks from your elven ears.

This is post printed and inserted in my highest place of Christmas writing honor--inside the front cover of "A Visit From St. Nick." With all of my kids letters to Santa and my presonalised Twas the Night Before Christmas Poems which I wrote for each of them.

You are amazing!!!

 
At 12/08/2007 11:51 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

What Jeff said. =) Kerry, you are one in a million.

 
At 12/11/2007 2:05 PM, Blogger LizAnne said...

You are the best person I know to keep Christmas in your heart all the year long. You are wonderful. Great blog.

 
At 12/14/2007 12:50 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Here is something I discovered years ago that helped me make sense of this Kerry Blair phenomenon–she is one of the three nephites!

Thanks for showing us how to raise a family and be a friend Kerry!

-Joe

 

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