Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year - or not

I want to love Christmas. I want it to be like the commercials where everything is decorated beautifully, the gifts are wrapped perfectly and everyone, down to the lowliest mouse, gets along. But the reality is that's not the way the world is.

In fact, even when Jesus was born, conditions were rough. Mary was tired and, as Imogene Herdman from the book "The Great Christmas Pageant Ever" would say, pregnant. No, not great with child, but pregnant. They were dirty and had no place to sleep, and even after their child, our child, was born, things were not perfect. Apart from their smelly, dirty surroundings, there was an even worse threat facing the newborn baby -- Herod.

Today, I think we face our own threats during this time of year, and one is (no surprise here) commercialism. I spent two hours at the local big box store earlier this week and came out with $500 worth of items and disgust for the human race. I often feel guilty for not being happier this time of year, but when I witness the worst of mankind while shopping for Christmas gifts, it makes me think, "This is not what Jesus had in mind."

Christmas is filled with pressure, pressure to find the perfect gift, pressure to buy, buy, buy, and, worst of all, the pressure to be happy. In the meantime, the world doesn't change or adjust itself for the season; it keeps turning. Loved ones still die, friends still get sick, money still runs short and our jobs are just as demanding. It's enough to make one run away to Bermuda, or, at least, dream of it.

We've had many ups and downs through the years at Christmas. Ironically, it's the less-than-perfect ones that stand out. I can remember as a child my dad cutting down a tree in the middle of my grandmother's pasture, while a nearby bull pawed the ground and eyed the back of his Levis. My sister and I warned him just as the bull charged, and the tree fell. Daddy managed to sling it into the back of the truck in the nick of time. That's a good memory, though Dad may tell you differently.

This year has been a tough one. My mother-in-law passed away suddenly after a brief illness. When I recently told someone that she died, he whispered, "Did you get along with your mother-in-law?" I couldn't help but laugh. I know they have a bad reputation, but that wasn't the case with mine. She was my staunch supporter, and I can honestly say I was her favorite daughter-in-law. I'm sure my two sister-in-laws will agree.

My mother-in-law was ahead of her time in a lot of ways. One was she had a knack for predicting what would be the hot new Christmas item and buying them in June, from Beanie babies to Nano pets. We always laughed and teased her until December rolled around and then we thanked her for her foresight.

This year, she's gone. She's now in heaven with my father-in-law, my husband's great aunt and some good friends of theirs. I imagine they are enjoying themselves, and she is getting the last laugh as I run around trying to find the latest hot item for the kids. It sure would have been a lot easier if she were here. She was always a fan of solar lights, and I heard today there is such a thing as solar-lighted Christmas wreaths. I think I will buy one in her honor and, instead of getting sucked into the rush, sit back and remember the reason for the season.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Surviving the drive-thru

What do two very active kids plus two very busy working parents equal? The answer: Drive-thrus.

Despite the $200 worth of meat that I purchased recently at the wholesale food store, I inevitably find myself waiting in the drive-thru line. Why I think that's easier than cooking a pot roast, I do not know. The truth is, drive-thrus are a pain and have been since the beginning.

Yes, I remember some of our area's first drive-thru restaurants. One was a Wendy's, which later transformed into an Italian restaurant and is now a Mexican restaurant. But, back in the "Where's the Beef?" hey day, we spent a lot of time in that drive-thru. My mother never had any trouble placing our order into the loud speaker, but, for some reason, doing so made my dad break out into a cold sweat.

"I can't do it. You'll have to do it," he'd say to my mom if he were in the driver's seat. She'd lean over and yell our order, which the clerk would repeat back to her -- incorrectly. Times haven't really changed much. I can remember the one and only time my dad placed his own order. Perhaps mom was sick. I don't know. I just recall her giving him a list, and my sister and I riding to the restaurant with him.

He leaned out the window, pulled out his list and cleared his throat.

"Dog food," he said loudly. My sister and I began to giggle. "Milk, bread ..."

"Daddy, I think that's Mama's grocery list. Turn it over," my sister offered.

The other problem with drive-thrus is you feel so rushed, especially when my husband is ordering. He prefers it if we all order a number, so I try to comply.

"We'll take two number threes with Cokes to drink," he said hurriedly.

"Do you want honey mustard or barbeque sauce with that?" asked the voice through the loud speaker.

"What kind of sauce? What kind of sauce?" my husband said frantically, snapping his fingers.

"I don't want any sauce," I said.

"Just pick a sauce!" he yelled.

"What kind of sauce did you say, sir?" said the voice.

"But I don't want sauce!"

"Pick a sauce; don't confuse her!"

By this time I could have made that pot roast.

Of course, I don't blame him. Even though I know there's a real person back there, the voice seems so impersonal -- and inflexible when it comes to special orders. I pulled through a drive-thru over the weekend. It was the type in which there are two lanes to expedite ordering. The problem was the two lanes had to merge. Anyone who's ever driven on a highway knows that even on the best day, the human race stinks at merging. So, expecting hungry tired people with screaming children in the back seat to politely merge is a ridiculous idea.

At this particular restaurant, I ordered a medium milkshake and was told that they only had small or large.

"OK, we'll take the large."

"The large comes in a medium cup. Do you still want a large?"

"Why not?" I said, and then my children and I had a good laugh.

Though they say families who eat at the dinner table together, stay together, I say the families who survive drive-thrus together stay together. As long as you order the sauce.