Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is a reporter and page designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.


Holiday memories and more

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

In his collection of Lake Woebegone stories, Leaving Home, Garrison Keillor shared an impression about the holiday season, one that has stuck with me through the years.†

ďA lovely thing about Christmas is that itís compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.Ē†

That line used to strike me as funny and a little strange, but as Iíve gotten older, I feel I understand it a bit more. †

Thunderstorms can be destructive and chaotic, with high winds tearing shingles off roofs, sending branches ó and sometimes entire trees ó crashing to the ground. Heavy rains can flood roads, submerge bridges and even start mudslides. Lightning can start fires. Once in a while, they can even spawn tornadoes.†

At the same time, thunderstorms can be beautiful and awe-inspiring, bringing a sense of excitement and wonder to those able to watch from a dry place. †

When I was growing up in rural southeast Missouri, we saw plenty of thunderstorms. And with the flat terrain in the Mississippi River delta, we got to see them coming from a distance. Like many Midwesterners, people in my little town of Charleston viewed the tornado sirens as an excuse to go outside and look at the sky rather than a signal to take shelter.†

Often, weíd be more irritated about the frequent weather updates that kept interrupting our favorite TV shows than we would be concerned about the weather.†

Christmas can be kind of the same. The carols and bells and commercials, while welcomed by some, can also be a signal to take shelter, at least for those lacking the holiday spirit. And what can be more destructive ó on a personal level, at least ó than gathering a large group of people who all know each otherís business and who may or may not get along depending on how many adult beverages are being served.†

As a kid, Christmas was one of the best parts of the year, and it wasnít because of the presents. †

Sure, the presents made it better, but for me, the main draw was always the gathering of family and friends. And then thereís the food!†

Preceded by a practice run on Thanksgiving, Christmas was yet another chance to join my friends in our annual migration from one house to another, sampling each dish, each familyís peculiar traditions ó and more importantly, each and every pie, cookie and other baked good we could lay hands on.†

Actually, that could explain a lot about me. I was a skinny kid until I was about 10 or 12. Now that Iím 49, that skinny kid is long gone. Probably in search of more pie.†

At any rate, my friends and I would plan out our annual circuit based on predicted meal times and menus at each of our houses, then proceed to follow that plan, wreaking as much havoc as possible on each and every Christmas dinner we could find. The sheer destruction we left behind was fairly impressive.†

Once we all grew up, moved away and, in most cases, started families of our own, those holiday excursions became a thing of the past.†

Instead, we found ourselves bundling kids and wives into cars, traveling hours to get to a parent or grandparentís house to share a meal with people we hadnít seen in months. We were too tired and stressed to go anywhere else, and where once turkey and ham and all the fixings gave us energy, now they just put us in a food coma as we sprawled on the couch, our snores only sporadically interrupted by a refereeís whistle, the roar of a crowd or loud voices of kids that arenít ours. Or, at least, not ours for a little while.†

These past few years, Christmas hasnít been that great a time for me. My wife, Sarah, died unexpectedly four years ago, and my stepdaughters went to live with their father in another state. Iíve seen them once since the funeral.†

Earlier this year, my mother contracted COVID-19 just days after her 73rd birthday. As her condition worsened, she had to be placed on a ventilator. Just before, she called me. She told me, ďWeíre going to be all right.Ē Those where her last words to me. A month later, I sat by her side as she took her last breath. She never woke up.†

Iím alone now, at least in regard to close relatives. Thankfully, Iíve managed to surround myself with good friends, ones who have helped me to deal with my losses and kept me on an even keel despite the storm.†

Iíve even managed to find a way to recreate those holiday adventures from when I was a kid. This time, I just drop in at several different houses, jumping from one brand of holiday chaos to another. †

Funny part is, I donít think I do nearly as much damage at the dinner table. Whatever. Pass the pie.