Christmas not only time to celebrate

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, December 5, 2012

There’s an air of anticipation in our house, without an announced purpose.

It just seems like something is in the air, maybe a little more laughter or an absence of animosity; I can’t be sure.

Christmas has been mentioned more than a few times, although I don’t know what that is. Plans are made for a family get-together.

I know that means lots of food and noise; all my brothers and sisters and their husbands or wives will be in our house.

A small cedar tree has been cut down in the woods and now stands in our front room, with colorful glass balls and tinsel hanging from its limbs.

When it is decorated, there is much discussion about whether the “icicles” should be placed one at a time or tossed on the tree at random. It looks like both ideas are used. There’s a tall glass spire attached to its top.

For many weeks now, my family has been saying to me that I’d better be “good.” I’m not sure what that means either; I just know if I’m not “good,” something will happen that I won’t like.

A lot of things happen that I don’t like, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. Days follow days and eventually a day comes when all my family arrives with much chatter and banter. Cars are parked on our path and in the front yard, wherever space is available.

It’s Christmas morning. There’s the smell of cooked things and cedar trees throughout our house. In the front room on a table is candy and nuts. The candy is chocolate drops and other harder candies like soft filled “peanuts” and brightly striped hard candy. It’s a sweet morning. I learn that two toys are for me. There’s a cap pistol that shoots roll caps when you pull the trigger, and a toy tank. It has two wheels and the gun turret revolves as it is pulled.

During the morning, my genuine Wyandotte Western roll cap gun breaks. Maybe it couldn’t take the small child abuse, or it couldn’t respond as rapidly as my fingers could pull the trigger. Maybe the roll caps were the wrong kind, or maybe it overheated. It stops working and I am left to the other toy. The tank is available. It’s fun.

The time comes when all are gathered in the front room for gift sharing and conversation. There is an assortment of sweaters, shirts, ties, socks, robes, blankets, knit caps, gloves and winter scarves. It’s a textile Christmas.

Somewhere in all the hubbub of gift sharing and chatter, my tank breaks (I’ve been on the floor pushing it around). The turret just breaks off; the stub of the shaft that runs the turret breaks right at the point where it leaves the body. I’m heartbroken.

Both my toys are broken and no one seems to care. No one gives it more than a cursory glance or word. No one asks to see if they can repair it. My sobs are lost in the excitement of the morning celebration. I seem to be in another world. The rest of the day is a blur; not even the joy of a coconut raisin cake takes away the sting of loss. I feel empty and alone.

I find it difficult to buy into the expectations of excitement and love and kindness associated with the Christmas season. My Christmas is a daily occurrence. Each day, as it comes, is a joy to be celebrated, each morning a time of renewal.

Part of the traditional gifts to my family is fruitcakes. Yes, I love them; I may be the brunt of jokes, but I love them, as does my family. Each Christmas season, I put one half of our cake in the freezer to be taken out the following July. I really do celebrate year round.

Just to the left of my monitor, perched atop my desktop CPU is a toy tank. It’s battery powered, can go forward and backward, and has sounds and lights. It’s a gift from my son. I shared this story with my family just a few years ago, and the tank was a gift that Christmas.

This Christmas past, my other son gave me a roll cap shooting toy pistol. I cried.

It’s a reminder to me that ancient hurts can continue to be painful, even through years of bounty, and healing can occur, when spirits are willing, even after all those years.

I celebrate the gift of each day as it comes.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at