Wednesday, December 17, 2008

'Go get your shawl' and other Christmas tales

During the Depression, my great aunt, Tura, taught at a country school in Eudora. Poverty was a way of life in rural Mississippi, and with the Depression lingering for many years, her students never experienced Christmas morning with a mountain of presents under a festive tree. In a time of bread lines to feed those who were hungry, even a traditional holiday meal was rare.

Needless to say, Santa Claus was an image never conjured in the mind of Aunt Tura’s students, and she hoped to change that during the annual Christmas pageant at the school.

With Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and three wise men, the pageant illustrated the first Christmas, complete with singing spiritual carols. Aunt Tura planned to surprise the children after the play with a special appearance from Santa Claus, and boy, did she.

As the audience applauded the young actors for their performance, Santa Claus burst into the school house and shouted, “Ho, ho, ho.”

With his red felt suit and curly white beard, Santa lumbered through the door with his bag full of goodies. The kids went berserk, and not in the I-just-won-a-date-with-Elvis kind of way.

Screaming from fear, they launched themselves out the windows – the manger overturning and a plastic baby

Jesus falling to the floor. Like pirates bailing out of a sinking ship, all of Bethlehem flew out the building and hit the ground at a sprint – running through neighboring cotton fields to safety.

Still inside the school, parents sat open-mouthed in shock at the chaos around them, and poor Santa was left in the middle of the room with no children to deliver his goods.

I can’t imagine never knowing Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, we would have dinner at my grandparents, complete with a gift exchange and scripture readings (and not in that order much to the disgust of the Sexton children). With our bellies full and a new toy, my sisters and I would return home, wash our faces, and climb into bed for the longest night of the year.

At approximately 4 a.m. we would wake and perch ourselves on the top step of the stairs – forbidden from going down until a “reasonable” hour. That was usually 6 a.m. when my parents wobbled down the hallway with bed hair and red eyes from “waiting up to greet Santa” the night before.

Again, we were forced to wait on the stairs for Momma to make coffee and Daddy to get the camera. With a simple “okay” called up the stairs, my sisters and I thundered down the stairs, swinging around the banister, and trying to gain traction on wood floors in footy pajamas.

Bulging stockings hanging from the mantel were the first to catch our eye. Inside were plastic candy canes filled with chocolate, decks of cards, silly putty, and Lifesaver Storybooks.

Then as if the heavens opened up, the gift display left from Santa shone in the early morning light. I always wondered why Santa never left toys inside the boxes, and there was never any assembly required. Every gift had the necessary batteries, and bicycles were always ready to ride. Santa was so thoughtful!

Santa was always tested at the Sexton house because most times he was required to buy three of everything – matching dresses, different colored pastel bikes, and three Barbies in different outfits.

Santa once delivered three matching macramé shawls for my sisters and me to wear to church on Sunday. I will confess Santa must have gotten our house confused with another because the last thing any of us wanted was a macramé shawl.

White yarn, these shawls had a single button at the neck and two slits at the pocket to stick your hands through. Fringe dangled from the hem. They were the most unattractive garments we had ever seen.

Every Sunday after, Daddy would insist for us to “go get your shawls,” and we would stomp back upstairs in protest. Apparently even in the warm weather, a shawl was needed. There was something about the “night air” that was harmful. (Now thirty-something, I still haven’t figured out what.)

Oh, but I was the lucky one. As the youngest, I got hand-me-downed Stephanie’s shawl and Deana’s shawl. I was still getting my shawl in junior high.

But not all of my gifts were unwanted. In fact, many of the same things Santa left for me, he will be leaving for children this year. Hello Kitty, Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie, Smurfs, and others are still being longed for today by children across the United States.

We even had video games, but we did not ask for a Nintendo or Xbox. We asked for Atari. A family gift from Santa, my sisters and I ripped open the package and found our new Atari – shiny black plastic adorned with wood-grained stickers. It came with three games, Frogger, Miss PacMan, and Donkey Kong.

There were three games, but only two joysticks. Many fights ensured over which one would be left out, and again as the youngest, it was usually me.

Momma also enjoyed the Atari – maybe a little much. She would stay up all night playing Frogger, her game of choice. She was truly addicted to it at one time and had nearly beaten the machine before the intervention.

Christmas is definitely the holiday for children. Now that I am grown and asking for bath towels from Santa, the thrill is gone. I even secretly wish I could sleep in on Christmas morning, and I am sure Momma and Daddy wished for that as well.

Bu t I miss the excitement. I miss the anticipation. I miss the frenzy. I miss a time when a Lifesaver Storybook could make everything in the world seem good again.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lessons from the gridiron

Last Friday, I watched the 2008 Egg Bowl at my significant other’s deer camp. Not only was I the only female in attendance, I was the only Rebel in the house.

My heart broke for all those men who were so devastated by the loss of their team. I hope they will recover and not need intense psychotherapy. (Note: Prior two sentences are dripping in sarcasm.)

I watched the game calmly in my chair – conducting myself with dignity. I did not chant one “Hotty Toddy.” I did not mock them for having more than 50 negative total yards rushing. I did not snicker at one interception for a touchdown.

I am certain my face clearly illustrated my smugness, and my air of superiority was definitely thick. But I did not gloat. I didn’t have too. Those Bulldog fans decompressed before my very eyes.

It was kind of sad, but I’m not complaining. I didn’t have to hear one, “How ‘bout them Dawgs?” Everyone already knew how the Dawgs were.

Being a lifelong Ole Miss fan, I understand disappointment. All four years I attended Ole Miss, our team was on athletic probation. No bowl games. No televised games. Tough recruiting.
However, I survived, and I learned a little bit in the process. I learned a little about winning, and I learned a lot about losing.

At a young age, we are forced to choose between the Rebels and the Bulldogs. I chose the Rebels, but I could just as easily have been ringing a cowbell right now. Personally, I’m happy if either team is victorious – with the exception of the Egg Bowl. I’ve been waiting to talk smack for an entire year!

Competitive by nature, I enjoy sparing with the Bulldog fan about this and that – neither of us have reason for puffed up egos. However, it’s all in good fun. Football is football, and all football is good.

In fact, my appreciation of football has spilled over into my everyday life. If life is the ultimate game, why not use a few lessons from the gridiron to help muddle through.

1. Who is calling the plays in your life? Just like in football, I have someone upstairs calling the plays. It is up to me to listen and have faith in the play that is called.

2. Everyone deserves a team, and I’m not referring to people in numbered jerseys. Disappointments are easier to swallow when others are there to pick you up when life tackles you to the ground. In turn, success is so much sweeter when someone is there to dance with you in the end zone.

3. Luckily, I have had many coaches and trainers directing me throughout my life. In high school, my English teacher, Denise Purvis, steered me to a career in writing. As a green reporter in my early 20s, I was taught advanced civics and all the bells and whistles of municipal government from a city administrator who took the time to make sure I knew enough to get the story right. Even now, as an editor and publisher, I depend on the wisdom of two veteran newspaper men to help me weigh the tough decisions.

4. Everyone needs cheers and applause for a job well done. What motivation! I learned long ago to surround myself with people who bring out the best in me. Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

5. During a particularly stressful time, a simple timeout allows me to gather my thoughts and refocus. Most days, I make an effort to leave my office for 30 minutes to an hour for a little nourishment – the dietary kind as well as the psychological kind. I might read a couple of chapters of a book, stop by for some time with my dogs, or relax for a few minutes with my thoughts. Returning to the office, I am ready to begin again.

In Mississippi, our lives are saturated with football – dinnertime discussions, water cooler replays, life-long affiliations. American’s sport is great to watch, but I have found it a better way to live.

Monday, December 01, 2008

So much to be thankful

With chaos brewing in the world around us, one might not think there is much to be thankful. Well, I disagree. I have much to be thankful.

I am thankful for the Ole Miss Rebels being ranked (if only by the AP) just in time for Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for TIVO, Diet Coke, my Blackberry, and my digital camera. I am thankful for book club, Momma’s homemade dressing, and hour-long telephone conversations with my best friend, Heather.

I am thankful for a comfortable home to gather with friends, relax with a good book, or leave the busy world behind if just for a moment.

I am thankful for living in a community of helpful neighbors and God-fearing individuals.

I am thankful for going to work every day, and I am thankful my profession is one I love. A good friend once told me that if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life. He was right.

I am thankful of having plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear, and the little luxuries that make life sweet.

I am thankful for happy childhood memories. I am not in therapy, and I do not blame my parents for all of my failures and short comings. My childhood might not have been perfect, but I wouldn’t change one moment.

I am thankful to all those who are gone but not forgotten. It is they who have shaped my life in every way.

I am thankful for my healthy, highly involved parents. Regardless of my age, I will always be their baby girl, and despite my independent streak, it is reassuring to have their guidance.

I am thankful for my sisters. Growing up, we bickered and sparred and fought, but no matter what, we have always been there for each other. They were my first friends, and as an adult, they are my best friends.

I am thankful for my significant other, Keith. He has always been supportive of my ambitions and my dreams. He allows me to be everything I dreamed.

I am thankful for friends. They have shared my tears, my joys, and my triumphs. They have also shared the blame.

I am thankful for the joy my four critters display when I return home each night.
In other words, I am thankful to be loved.

I am thankful for being an American and enjoying the liberties this country guarantees. And to those men and women in uniform who protect that freedom every day, my appreciation cannot be measured.

I am thankful for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, and to the vision of our forefathers that built this great country.

I am thankful for prayer and faith and hope for the future.

Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

This Thanksgiving, reflect and give thanks for what is important to you– no matter how small. Count them, and you will realize just how blessed you really are.