By Grant McGee: Columnist
To me, a good Christmas is about lifting your spirits. A good Christmas is about smiles and sharing and stuff. The presents, the food and all the other Christmasy things are just icing on the cake.
What was your best Christmas ever?
I’d have to say mine was 23 years ago. If life is like a river, well I’ve paddled my canoe through some pleasant passages. And then there were some treacherous stretches full of rapids and whitewater.
That “best Christmas ever” came at the end of a year where my li’l canoe of life had gone over a waterfall and all my supplies were lost. I had totaled my car in a wreck, then lost my job and finally my apartment.
A pal had a job open up and brought me on board. Soon I was settled in to a new town and some new digs, the second floor of an old 1920s house. No fridge, no stove, no furnace, no furniture, no TV — but I had four big rooms, an enclosed second-story porch that faced the sunny south, a sleeping bag, a trunk, my stereo and all my record albums. What more could anyone ask for?
The job didn’t pay much. What I did make went for bills, rent and setting aside some bucks to get a car.
I cooked ramen noodles — lots and lots of ramen noodles — on a hot plate. And there was toast — lots of toast.
Nowadays, when I look at a pack of ramen noodles I get a queasy feeling.
Winter came and my apartment turned into a fridge. When I filled a tub for a bath the cold, cold porcelain would sap the heat from the water. One room was so cold for a couple of weeks I could keep ice cream in it. One subfreezing morning I even woke up with frost in my mustache.
Then I got a call: My folks were coming to see me for Christmas. We were going out to dinner and they had a surprise. It was a good feeling, knowing they were coming. Plus I’d get something other than ramen noodles and toast to eat. I was happy.
Mom and Dad took me to eat at one of the nicest places around. We laughed, talked and I caught up on what the rest of the family was doing. My folks brought presents too: new shirts, new pants. Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad about my circumstances.
Before they left my dad told me not to feel so bad about having to start all over.
“Yeah, but you’re not eating ramen noodles and toast every day,” I laughed.
He had some other tidbits of wisdom to share before they left that day, including that it wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t have a car. He was right, plus I found the walk to and from work kind of relaxing.
My father wasn’t with us much longer after that visit; that’s another reason I remember that Christmas. But I always remember that December get-together, and can still see my dad smiling from the driver’s seat as he and Mom were about to drive away.
“Things are a little tough for you now, son,” I remember him saying, “but someday you’ll look back on all this and laugh, maybe even write about it.”
And I have.