Christmas Differences

Seems like this close to a year, I should be updating Retirement Diaries. On the other hand, isn’t everyone doing the same thing? Staying home? Lots of people dying every day. It’s depressing. We’ve lost several in our Michigan community. Out of 100 or so people, five died within a few weeks. I’ve had to make an effort to stay upbeat, not let fear or depression swamp me. It’s hard. I think it is for most of us.

Al and I have always thought differently about Christmas. It was so difficult in the early years of our marriage. My mother made our Christmas mornings magical so I enjoyed everything about it and Al didn’t share my enthusiasm. He didn’t like the commercial aspects of the holidays. But he never woke up to a living room filled with toys not just under the tree but set up like little scenes. For me, there was the little table and chairs, with a doll in one of the chairs and the Easy Bake oven on the table. Everything sparkled. One year there was a guitar for one of my brothers and a drum kit for the other one.

I didn’t know that having a special Christmas with lots of toys was commercial. I didn’t think about that. But now I see what Al means and it doesn’t matter to me that we don’t give each other loads of gifts. But it mattered to me when my boys were little. Al and I had very different childhoods and it took a few years to understand each other and all the various family traditions. We got to know each other better just by talking it out over the course of ten or twenty years. LOL I’m not even kidding. But we’re fine now and I don’t expect him to have loads of presents for me under the tree.

Many years we’ll think of one big item that we both want and we’ll buy that. Some years he surprises me with a special piece of jewelry. This year, trying to declutter the house before putting it up for sale in the spring, my mind has been hammering home to me that I have way too much stuff. It wasn’t always that way, but somehow I have about twenty boxes of Christmas decorations. I’ve sorted them into donate/trash/keep piles. Then I had to do two piles, one for Christmas in Florida this year and one for Christmas in Florida when we buy our new home. Because our condo is cute, but it’s little.

We are leaving in a week and I’m excited despite Covid. I still love Christmas. So far we have donated two large loads of Christmas things, including a tree and ornaments. I used to shop at thrift shops and Salvation Army so I’m always happy to donate things I can’t use anymore, thinking “someone will like this tree.” I tell myself a little story about how there’s a person or a couple or a family who don’t have money for a tree and they happen to spot my donated tree for $5 or whatever the price. And they’re thrilled to take it home and hang ornaments on it, wondering what kind of person gives away such nice things.

Very early in our marriage I would say to Al “I can’t believe you don’t like Christmas! Who doesn’t like Christmas?” and he’d say “I like Christmas, but I don’t like the commercial aspects of it.” And I would roll my eyes, thinking he was Scrooge. But now that our life overflows with so much stuff, I see his point.

Rock Star

A package came from overseas. My dear friend Ali sent a stone that came directly from a mountain in Greece. It’s gorgeous! She also sent some other things from England. And it’s not even my birthday! I have so busy with NaNo, typing out 2K per day every day. So getting Ali’s gift was a bit like a reward for hard work done (and lots more yet to do, about 5 days away from half way:) I have to say I was also thrilled with the exotic Royal Mail stamp.

I only thought about this after I received the stone, but Ali has provided me with something I have been heartbroken about missing. Al and I had been planning a trip to Greece in 2016 with a stop in London (and a short train ride to Ali’s village from there for a nice lunch:)) Then the Greek currency crisis happened and we really didn’t want to travel there with the economic flux. So we postponed the trip. I’d built it up in my head, and was so looking forward to it. I’d done a great deal of research and was primed to go. I really thought I’d be meeting Ali IRL sooner than later. And then, alas, fate.


A big part of the trip to Greece, a highlight, was a trek up a mountain on an uninhabited island that was once a spiritual mecca for pilgrims. There are still ancient ruins at the top of the mountain, and in fact all over the tiny island. It’s like a museum on the Aegean sea. Alas, I will have to wait for Greek fortunes to turn. But in her own perceptive way, Ali sent me a piece of a Greek mountain and also something of England too.

The Necklace

This Christmas season has been sensational so far. And I’m not just talking gifts, or food, but fun shared and writing accomplished with a giant dollop of lazy reading thrown in. Add to that the fact that school is out, I have a free winter, and lots of plans. Plus the snow has been lovely.

It wouldn’t be life if there wasn’t some mischief in the mix, and as usual, I whipped up some of my own. We had the brilliant idea this year to do all our shopping online and not bother with stores and post offices. Daily, new packages would arrive. We had to sort out if it was in my name was this because it was my gift from Al? Or was it mine to him? Or was it one from the kids to Al that needed wrapping?

We had a pretty good organizational method for this, but one thing we did not reckon on was that not every e-retailer is as nice as Amazon when it comes to hiding the bill in a big yellow envelope saying to keep the surprise, do not open until after Christmas. One such package was delivered addressed to Al. My gift from Al was already wrapped and under the tree. It looked like the size of a book so I was thinking maybe a new tablet.

Al said the new package was just something for a house project. The receipt wasn’t in the box, but under it. All this on the porch, which is simply shoddy delivery. Hey at least they tucked the receipt under the box so it wouldn’t blow away.

I brought the offensive slip of paper inside and absently peeked. It was house stuff, not a gift. No problem. Except at the bottom of the listed items, it said “amethyst necklace.” Al feigned complete ignorance, pointing out we’d said one gift each, and he’d gotten mine. There it was, under the tree, if I cared to look. My mind flashed to Emma Thompson finding the necklace in her husband’s pocket, thinking it was hers, and getting a book instead. I usually trust Al 100%. He is just not that kind of guy, not a cheater. He’s too shy, for one. Also, he’s loyal. And he loves me.

So he’s getting indignant about me going on and on about it, but finally he makes a joke “You’ll just have to wait to find out.” This was maybe ten days before Christmas. An eternity. The box sat unwrapped, still sealed, on the counter in the laundry room where he likes to let his junk mail and newspapers accumulate until I organize it all (while tossing the one crucial thing he had been specifically saving). I did my sweep of the countertop and put the box on his shelf in the wardrobe closet.

Al remained uninterested in the box and I grew more curious. I looked for the receipt. It had disappeared. Where had I put it after the shock of seeing that necklace on the invoice? This made my imaginary case against Al stronger yet. He wouldn’t? Would he? It’s true he’s hardly ever home. All that work. Or was it work? The package sat there until Christmas morning, where, before he had any coffee, before any gaily wrapped gifts were distributed, I brought it to him and said “open it.”

He shook his head. “Okay.” He opened the box and out spilled a little cheap necklace like thing, tucked among the household hardware items. “Is this it?” I was relieved when I thought I caught a glimpse of a tiny chip of purple. I took it out of the plastic packet. “Yes, this must be it.”

“But I didn’t order that,” Al said. “Musta been a freebie.” Case solved. Or was it? I certainly didn’t want that necklace. And why would a store include that type of freebie with hardware? Perhaps they thought that men who ordered house fixing things for the holidays needed a bit of help in the choosing proper gifts department.

Finally it was time to get down to the real business of Christmas, which was opening presents from the kids, sending texts, having Facetime. Tim had on the Red Wings jersey we got him. I unwrapped the cookbook they’d sent. This goes on for a bit because Facetime is not totally reliable so there’s much flickering out and calling back and finally giving in and just chatting in the old-fashioned phone way.

After the calls, we had coffee and tea and warm steel cut oats laced with sweet cherries and pecans. Okay, we had cookies too. Also Rice Crispy Treats. Finally it was time for me to open my tablet. I hazily warned myself to be pleased even though I’ve got a perfectly good iPad. White box. Inside that a red box. And inside the red box, this