Looking back, I guess I didn’t know how good I had it.
Now, Mom and Dad are long gone, so’s the dog... and I’m hundreds and hundreds of miles away from my siblings.
Every family’s like that, to a certain extent. Nothing stays intact forever. Time might not win every battle, but it’s never lost a war.
Or spared a life.
Christmas offers at least the faint hope of forever, based on birth, which is where we get the word “nativity.”
Strange that its first recorded use was in the 14th century, or at least that’s what I’ve read. Those nativity scenes on display - including the one in our house when I was a kid - owe more to the time of the Black Death than to the Virgin Birth.
But, hey, that’s life, right?
No one here gets out alive.
Being born on Christmas Day, for mere mortals, was a drag, probably, for folks like Barbara Mandrell and Jimmy Buffett, since they got caught in that rarest of no-present zones. I mean what aunt or uncle couldn’t justify sending only a single present, when it covered both responsibilities?
Imagine little Humphrey Bogart, another Christmas baby, getting half the take of Phil Spector.
Or Richard Widmark, let alone Steve Allen.
“Of all the days in all the year,” he’d grumble, “I had to be born on Dec. 25.”
I don’t know.
Christmas is one of those days that you can’t justify being unhappy, even if your life is crumbling and it’s only a matter of time before something seriously hideous happens.
You tend to turn a blind eye to all the mayhem and disruption, the evil and the debts coming due, and simply pretend that there’s an “It’s a Wonderful Life” denouement waiting after that plunge from the bridge.
For all its canonization as the greatest Christmas movie of all time, Frank Capra’s classic is more than a little bleak, what with its central character wanting only to flee his hometown, only to be frustrated at every turn by calamity and necessity.
He never uttered these words, but they might just as well have come from George Bailey as Michael Corleone: “Every time I try to get out, they drag me back in.”
For most of the movie, Jimmy Stewart portrays an unhappy man and that, I suppose, is the movie’s saving grace. When five thousand bucks turns up missing and he’s ultimately on the hook for it, he’s totally true to his character, calling his uncle “an old fool” and muttering about scandal and prison.
That brutal scene was the one in which I learned what the word “malfeasance” meant.
Well, it all turned out fine in the end, which is the genius of Capra’s masterwork. Despite the fact that “It’s a Wonderful Life” did all it could to disprove its title, wads of money came flowing in the front door of the Bailey house and everything was, well, wonderful.
Everyone wants to give George Bailey - the man who lost their savings - bundles of cash.
It’s like giving Barry Bonds a place in the baseball Hall of Fame and a lifetime supply of steroids.
I guess taking money out of Christmas is like not believing in Santa Claus.
Can’t be done.
At least not in proper company.
I used to think that the Grinch - who believed he’d stopped Christmas from coming to Whoville, deciding that “Christmas doesn’t come from a store” - had it right.
And then, what does he do?
He returns all the stuff he stole - stuff that came from a store - and is forgiven his trespasses, getting to carve the roast beast at the feast.
Same thing with “A Charley Brown Christmas.” They all mock his selection of a sad, broken-down tree and, in the end, he’s forgiven and the tree is made beautiful.
Money offered in a decoration contest that Snoopy won.
And don’t even get me started on “A Christmas Carol.”
Even when Scrooge’s soul is saved, how does he reflect his massive change of heart?
By throwing money he can afford to lose around like confetti.
I don’t know... reminds me of that old Cyndi Lauper song, “Money Changes Everything.”
And what did the Magi bring to the stable?
Gold, along with frankincense and myrrh.
But, first among them?
Check out Bogart, the Christmas baby, in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” Watch the madness set in, the gold fever.
The paranoid sensation that his brothers in arms were after his “goods,” his gold.
Which leads back to Christmas.
“Daddy,” says one of Jimmy Stewart’s kids in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and his father’s headed for a date with depths of a river spanned by a bridge from which he’ll willingly jump. “How do you spell ‘frankincense?’”
George Bailey isn’t in the best mood, facing jail.
“What do I look like?” he asks, exasperated by his son’s question. “A dictionary!”
Of course, now there’s spell check, so no one ever asks his father how to spell a word.
Computers solve every problem, right?
And money matters now more than it ever did.
I’m the product of an unbroken home and it’s hard to admit, but Christmas was never just another day in our family.
I’m afraid that, this year, it just might be.
Hang on to what matters, OK?
That’s what you have to do, no matter what.
Forget about me.
I don’t count.
You ... you!
You’re the ones who ought to hold Christmas precious.
You’re the ones who matter.
Mike Dewey can be reached at CarolinamikeD@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560.
Published: December 17, 2011