Wednesday, December 15, 2004

'Tis the season of fiscal folly?falalalala. . .

Commentary by Betty Bell


Betty Bell

Relax, only 10 days to go and counting. Remember, even before Halloween, how you were urged to unleash your credit cards and max them out. And remember how admirably resolute you resisted until after you'd tossed the pumpkin, tossed with nary a thought of baking a pie--surely a venial sin.

Today, unless you're of that not-too-likable minority with nothing left to do but gloat, even if you have everything under control, maybe, at odd moments, you're suddenly smitten with the awful affliction we never talk about—Christmas Sorrow. The gut-churning sorrow seemingly from-nowhere-for-no-reason that suddenly strikes.

I've weathered many bouts of CS, and for a long time I worried that I was probably the only soul in the Wood River Valley who'd be suddenly smitten with sorrow in the season of joy. Surely that can't be, I told myself, so one Christmas season I set out on a pilgrimage to seek the truth. Not every little detail in this recollection can be verified, but the gist is true.

I began by swapping my Ketchum garb for a borrowed dress-for-success suit and a pair of stiletto-heeled shoes in which I had to relearn how not to teeter, borrowed pieces of jewelry that screeched discrete good taste, and then I boarded a plane to New York and a taxi to Macy's where I so charmed the personnel guy he was easily persuaded to sponsor a Christmas Sorrow booth where smitten souls could unburden themselves to the bonafide Confessor behind a velvet curtain—me.

Every day, a long line of smitten souls entered, and in the anonymity of the booth, freely expressed bafflement at their Christmas bouts of sorrow. I never offered advice—how could I? But I listened good and made noncommittal replies, and I believe they left feeling less burdened.

Back home, I thought hard about the tales I'd heard, and it was clear that our tales shared a common thread. All of us had shouldered the yoke of unattainable expectations, that's all. We're brainwashed to believe that we can find the perfect gift to express the love we yearn to show—for mom and dad, husband or wife, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, Aunt Tillie—Gramps. Yokes of unattainable expectations aren't in short supply—if you tilt your head as far as you can and squint, you'll probably spot these yokes on peers at work, in Church, in the Pioneer—everywhere.

On Madison Avenue, where the perfect gift idea germinated, they know full well that you can't put love in a box and gift-wrap it. But heavens, our entire capitalist system could unravel if all of us figure this out. That's why Madison Avenue honchos don't suffer CS, they suffer Christmas Fear—which is worse.

If I'm not talking in tongues here, if some of it seems plausible, maybe you won't be so hard on yourself. You're doing your best—and only ten more days to go.

It's not all CS with me—I have a few treasured reels of Christmas vignettes that begin with my wet-wool-smell-of-the-cloakroom days when a whole decade seemed to creep by between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and then a whole eternity between Thanksgiving and Christmas—all the time in the world to figure out what to buy with the dollar for each of my two sisters, and twice that for mom and dad. I'd check out every aisle in the Circle Variety store ... then go around the corner to Saunder's Drug store and compare ... then back to the Circle Variety ... and probably once again to Saunder's. Finding the perfect gift for the major people in the world wasn't easy then either, but it was doable with but one gift for each family member, and the final selection made with great care.

The rest of the great vignettes were made after I switched places, after I became the mother and my children took my old part, children now grown and making vignettes of their own. With children around, it's easy to keep Christmas Sorrow at bay. Give a kid a gift—any kid, any gift—and it's like giving a dog a bone. Kids should have tails they can wag.

In the mellow era when Bing Crosby was our designated caroler, he'd have done us all a favor if he'd tweaked an old favorite and crooned "Have yourself a very little Christmas." With a nationally downsized Christmas, I bet CS would disappear entirely—and there'd be nary a dumpster in the land that overflowed with Christmas wrap.

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