Christmas is different now, but different isn't bad -- it's just different.
Thomas called a week ago. I couldn't tell what he wanted. The 49ers are doing fine, it's too early in the season to discuss the NBA and Thomas doesn't call for money.
"Dad, you wouldn't happen to be doing anything Monday night?" he said. "I'm coming home, but my ride only goes to Porterville."
I like Porterville. My friend Kurt Nielsen lives in Porterville, but Porterville is not Bakersfield and Bakersfield is where we live. Bakersfield is where we huddle around the fire for Christmas.
"Do you think somebody can pick me up?" Thomas said. "I get in around 9 p.m."
Christmas can be like Frankenstein. Sometimes it requires a jump start to spring to life. Thomas' call was that for me.
"Yes," I said. "I'll be there, and your mom might come with me."
I'd go alone, but Thomas' mother wants a piece of this gift. Car time with her son. An hour with the three of us, Thomas being the draw.
A few days later, Herbie emailed. Like Thomas, he's coming home, just not all the way home. He's flying in to LAX from Cabo at 4 p.m. Monday and asked if somebody might be available to pick him up.
LAX at 4 p.m. This Christmas present requires more travel time, but if Santa can come from the North Pole, I can drive over the Ridge Route and back.
"I promise to be a good conversationalist," Herbie said.
Good, because that's what I want for Christmas. Conversation and company. Time with the people with whom I've spent much of my adult life.
I have music I want to play, questions I'd like to ask, but if everything else fails, companionable silence is good enough.
Sue still hangs stockings over the fireplace but there is more citrus in them. Last week she was given a box of tangerines and I suspect many of them will be stuffed into stockings. Tangerines add thickness and raise the spirits of the stocking owner.
"Spirits" that are then dashed by the four or five tangerines crushing the miniature chocolate Santa that has fallen to the bottom of the stocking. In many parts of the world, a single tangerine would be considered a cherished gift. Not here; here a tangerine is a head fake.
Sue and I have agreed not to give each other presents. I may buy her candles. Women love candles. If they had their way, they'd set up a candle museum in their homes and make their living rooms look like church.
Tomorrow is Christmas. I'll start a fire first thing. Before anybody's up or thinking about unsnuggling from their covers.
I'll sizzle a pound of the thick-sliced bacon from Wood-Dale Market, thaw the cinnamon rolls from Suzanne Prasser of TooLicious Sweets & Treats and whip together about 14 eggs with Tabasco, salt, pepper and half a pound of grated Toscano cheese with the pepper rind intact.
I'll cook the eggs in the bacon drippings (that has a nicer sound than grease).
For Christmas dinner, Sue is making Beef Bourguignon. So is her friend Sally. They made their decisions separately, without having talked to each other. A Christmas miracle featuring Beef Bourguignon which, as comfort food, is miracle enough.
On Christmas, we seek quiet. Peace on earth is fine, but peace in the house is better. We'll try to get a handle on our house and if you get one on yours, we're halfway there.
Halfway there and halfway home. We are happy to do the rest because family is a gift we do not take for granted.