Would this be the year I'd fall off the wall on the front porch while stringing up the evergreen garland and white twinkly lights? If 2022 weren't memorable enough, falling backward into the scratchy pink bushes would do the job and serve as a catchy first line in next year's Christmas letter.
A light tumble balances a Christmas letter that is generally filled with more good than bad news. No one wants you dead, maimed or otherwise incapacitated, but there is nothing wrong with delivering a slice of humble pie.
Christmas can be a tricky holiday because it involves people, expectations, memories and money. No big deal. Just everything that could make most of us fall off the rails.
What I look for is a sign, something that rises above the Christmas music in the credit union and the winsome brown antlers on SUVs to put me in touch with something that feels more familiar and more like home.
It doesn't have to be the star rising over Bethlehem or a choir of heavenly angels, although those would be welcome too. It could be as simple as Veronica delivering homemade pumpkin bread along with her sugar cookies topped with white icing. If anybody can spread Christmas cheer, it's Veronica, our universally agreed upon neighborhood saint.
She spreads love around like gardeners do winter rye. When you see Veronica coming, she's either going to give you something or invite you to something.
The kids help too, and Christmas is best seen through their eyes. To a child, December is one miracle after another. Their tree, your tree, Christmas lights, decorations around the neighborhood and fires in the fireplace. Adults may require a push start, but kids under 10 hit the holidays with a full head of steam and sprint toward the finish line.
Christmas is better when the kids still believe in Santa Claus and our grandchildren, spanning in age from 2 to 7, still do.
Sue is teaching Nora how to play "Jingle Bells" on the piano. One hand now but next year, probably two. She hits the keys hard. I'm surprised they don't fly off.
Sue does her best to set the stage. She hangs the stockings, decorates the tree, fastens the wreath to the front door, stacks the Christmas books in the red basket ("Madeline's Christmas," "Claude the Dog," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Story of Holly and Ivy," "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Polar Express"), sends out the Christmas cards, sets out the Christmas snow globes on the table by the front door, buys the presents for the kids and grandkids, bakes Christmas cookies and makes party mix.
The least I can do is to take one for the Christmas team by bending, twisting, reaching and doing a backwards somersault into the pink scratchy bushes in front of the porch.
We bought our tree this year at the lot on Mount Vernon across the street from Bakersfield College. The tree seems smaller than usual but maybe that's fitting: We're shrinking and so is the Christmas tree. In a few years, we'll be no bigger than elves and our tree will be the size of a shot glass.
Sue is vigilant about watering the tree. I've always wondered how a tree sucks up water through a trunk. Isn't that what the roots are for?
The day after we'd put up the tree, she asked me to check the water level. It was dry and so I filled it with the green plastic watering spout. That was one thirsty tree and perhaps proof of Sue's bottomless store of country wisdom.
Later that day I was sitting in the living room with Charlie, the terrier mix, and he went straight to the tree and started drinking out of the bucket. Hard to know who is thirstier — Charlie or the tree.
I asked Sue what she wanted — other than a husband who might smile more. I wanted her to let me off the hook and she did.
"The watch you gave me a long time ago broke and is unfixable," she said. "The company said, we'll give you a 50 percent credit on a new watch. For another $200, I can get a new watch."
What a great idea. Buy a new watch band too if you like.
We watched the Toys for Tots motorcycle run that started at Beach from a friend's house on 21st. Henry, 2, loved the action.
It started at 10 and ended by 10:12. Nothing better than a short parade. There was no time to get cold or stiff.
"I've got some toys I'm going to donate," Sue said. "Would you mind if I included the unopened box of Honey Nut Cheerios?"
The unopened box of Honey Nut Cheerios?
Now wait a minute. I know kids are starving and can't get one good meal a day, but you want me to give up a box of Honey Nut Cheerios? That's asking a lot. There are boundaries to my generosity.
The week before Christmas, we drove 200 miles to watch the Christmas pageant in which 5-year-old Lillian and 7-year-old Andrew had seminal roles along with 200 other kids.
The pageant, held in Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, told the Christmas story. Andrew and Lillian were dressed as a shepherd and Virgin Mary, respectively. I lost it about halfway through.
Maybe it was the kids, earnest, sweet and innocent, watching the parents watch their children or singing "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World." I sang loud enough for our entire row.
When we sang the line "Sleep in heavenly peace," I thought of Rob, a friend we lost recently. Sleep in heavenly peace, Rob.