Before you all start calling me a scrooge, let me just say up front that I love my family. No, seriously, I really do. I just love them in small doses. Perhaps very small doses. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is not a small enough dose. No. The day is a gluttony of “family cheer”. Everyone gorges themselves in fake smiles and well wishes at the table. Of course, there is a steady undercurrent of sniping going on that grows ever more spiteful.
“Mary, is it true that you really are pregnant, again? You just must love having children.”
“Oh, don’t worry, April. Some day you’ll find a man who wants to stick with you. I have full confidence.”
A grumble from Mary’s husband that almost no one else hears, “I don’t.”
“What’s that, Mark?”
“Oh nothing, grandma, I just coughed.”
“You need to quit smoking. Or you’ll end up dying from lung cancer like your cousin Jayson.”
“It was Jared who died. Jayson is right there. And it wasn’t lung cancer. That was uncle David. Jared had kidney failure, and he isn’t dead; he’s just not able to join us until he’s recovered.”
Mark grumbles again, “Lucky guy.”
Grandma turns her eye toward him. “And quit your drinking too. If one doesn’t get you, the other one will.”
My wife wrote four letters on her napkin and showed it to me with a smirk. TSTB. It took me a minute to figure it out. The sooner, the better. I don’t really wish my brother-in-law dead. I was more thinking along the lines of the drinking. We all probably had a nip or two before coming together for this meal. How else can we survive it?
Before the meal is finished, the kids start disappearing so that they don’t get roped into helping with the cleanup. We men bow out because the first game is about to begin. I know it’s the 21st century, and gender roles are supposed to be a thing of the past, but the holidays are supposed to be about tradition, right? So I feel no guilt at leaving the women to it. At least, I don’t feel too much guilt.
The Bills vs. Cowboys game might be on, but the conversation quickly turns to politics. Steve is a Trump supporter. While most of the rest are not, none is so passionately against him as Gerry is. They’re both older than my parents. Steve went to Vietnam. Gerry went to Woodstock. So this argument… like I said… tradition.
Fortunately, Sherry and I got to bow out a little early this year. It was a three-hour drive back home, and the report said a snowstorm was coming in, so we took off around seven. Eleven to seven. I have no problem keeping up with everybody on Facebook and Instagram with an occasional phone call thrown in here or there. That is a small enough dose. But eight hours with more than two dozen of them all at once? I had a headache long before the snow started falling during that drive back home.
Once we got to the point we were doing under forty on the highway, and the roads started getting real slick, I suggested we actually did go all the way home. Sherry would have none of it.
“Are you kidding me? This is the one chance a year for an opportunity like this.”
Sherry wanted a new big screen. Well, I did too. But I was willing to pay a reasonable price to get it. Sherry insisted that the 65 inch for 349.99 was an opportunity that just could not wait. I can’t really argue. It is an excellent deal. But I just want to get home alive in one piece. Plus, I need to take a few Tylenol to kill this headache. This road is just… wonderful.
It was about ten-thirty when we pulled into the parking lot of WalMart. The place was packed. Apparently, a blizzard is no deterrent from people getting their Black Friday deals. While I was looking for a parking spot, I wondered how many of them also came straight from their Thanksgiving dinners to get here. After going up and down a few different rows, I just gave up and parked in the next door Barnes and Noble lot. Even that was more than half full, and you could see people walking from their cars through the snow. They were all making the trek to the WalMart entrance a half-mile away. OK. Maybe not a half-mile, but in this weather, it sure seemed that far away.
“You go stake out our TV. I’ll walk around and see what other deals are out there. If I find something and can’t make it back to you by midnight, I’ll text.”
Off Sherry went like a lioness on the hunt. There were already a good twenty people crowded around the area I needed to be. I did a quick count and breathed an internal sigh of relief. Even if everyone here was after the same thing, there were four more TVs than people. One of the blue shirt salespeople saw me doing the math. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty more in the back.”
I checked my watch. Forty-eight minutes to go. The guy next to me seemed to want to talk.
“I got a forty-eight inch here last year. I had no idea I would be back one year later for an upgrade a year later.”
I responded, “The way technology changes, it makes sense. Mine at home is a 50 inch. It’s a little more than a year and a half old. That one will now end up in our bedroom, and the 36 inch we have there will make its way to the basement.”
“For the kids?”
“No kids yet. We have a workout room down there. It’s got my weights, a treadmill, and some aerobics stuff for the lady.”
“Nice. I’ve got two kids now. A three-year-old girl and a boy just starting to walk.”
“They’re so cute at that age.”
I didn’t really believe that, but it is just one of those things you’re supposed to say. I’m sure when we get around to having our own, my opinions will change. Perhaps. I’m not too eager to rush that yet.
“I’m just glad they’re still young enough that I can shop for me instead of standing in line for some stupid toy that’s trending.”
“Tell me about it.” Another guy jumped into our conversation, “My girl is asking for a Blume doll. The missus is over there now, checking it out.”
“It’s some barbie that lives in a flower pot whose hair looks like a flower. You add water, and it grows and comes out of the pot.”
“Heh. The things they come up with.”
“At least it’s no tickle-me-elmo,” he said. “I don’t think I would survive something that loud and annoying for long.”
The other guy in our trio looked back towards the TVs. “I wonder if anyone in this line is buying one of these as a present.”
At least a half dozen heads shook in the negative. Apparently, everyone was listening in on our conversation. A kid in his early twenties said, “I remember a time when Black Friday really was all about getting a jump on the Christmas list.”
I just smiled and said, “Nah. You’re just too young to remember it like it is. We live in a me-first world. I can remember when Black Friday actually started on Friday mornings, but it always has been about getting stuff for us first. Then we can get for others once we’ve taken care of number one.”
There were a few frowns at that. We all knew it was true, but I kind of shocked myself and threw a wet blanket on the mood by actually vocalizing it. We always like to think of ourselves as better than we were.
The kid replied, “I wonder if it really has to be that way. Is this really what mankind has become?”
“You must be a philosophy major at UC, aren’t you.”
He blushed. “Minor”
We all laughed, and the conversation moved on until the time was almost up and the frenzy could begin. But it really did get me wondering. Is this all there is? Do I really need another TV? Do any of us really need all this stuff? I don’t mean to get religious, but I wonder, if God were real, how would He appreciate what we have done to His day? The day after Thanksgiving has always been the semi-official kicking off of the Christmas season. I remember as a kid, me and my sisters would spend the day in our jammies. We would help set up the Christmas Tree and then string popcorn to hang around the tree. Channel nine would always have a day full of Christmas specials (the classic cartoon kind, not the modern Hallmark ones) that would culminate with It’s A Wonderful Life. So much nostalgia. How did that turn into… this?
Oh well. It’s one minute to midnight. It’s go time.
Did you like this short story? I have great news! You can read a collection of short stories similar to this one by heading on over to Amazon and picking up your very own copy of 25 Songs of Christmas.