We made landfall in a world of snow, trimmed in mountainous masses of white.


Can you get a letter to Santa for me? Our lives really suck ever since my mom died and you don’t even want to know how screwed up my life is.

My dad is raising us all by himself with no help from my aunts or uncles or anyone and I feel like nobody cares about us, we’re basically all alone.

You probably won’t even read this cause you’re too busy, so whatever.

P.S. I’m only joking about Santa, I’m not a baby.

Not a good Christmas,


After I got your letter, I re-sealed your envelope, packed my bags, and drove to the Greyhound Bus station.

The man behind the counter wore a John Deere cap and had something tucked in his lower lip.

“Quick,” I said. “I need tickets to the North Pole.”

He spit into a foam cup, then laughed. “What fer? You’ll get reindeer poop on your shoes.”

“It’s an important delivery.”

“Well, dream on, pal,” he said. “The North Pole

isn’t even dry land, it’s in the epicenter of the Northern Hemisphere, situated in the Arctic Ocean, amid subarctic waters that are permanently covered with constantly shifting, cavernous, and treacherous sea ice.”

“How do you know all that?”

“I graduated from Auburn.”

“I’ll take one ticket, please.”

He flipped through his big book. “Closest I can get you is North Dakota.”

So, I rode for several hours, thinking about my life. When my father died, our life was pretty screwed up, just like yours.

When money was tight, Mama took a job throwing newspapers. One Christmas, I wanted a guitar; my mother worked overtime to buy it so I could learn to play Hank Williams music.

My Greyhound arrived in Saint Louis. I switched busses at the depot. My driver’s name was Moe.


Alabama—there is a chill outside this morning. It's cold. Even my bones are cold.

I’m in a hotel elevator with two big, black men. Very big. I'm talking six-nine, maybe. They must be four-feet wide, wearing size-fifteen boots. They’re carrying luggage.

It’s not every day you ride the elevator with two NFL defensive-tackle lookalikes.

I ask if they're famous.

They laugh.

They aren't famous. But, they ARE biological brothers who had never met one another until a few months ago.

“I’m from Cali,” says one man.

“I’m from Birmingham,” says the other.

Their mother gave them up for adoption thirty-eight years ago. They found each other on the internet. Then, they tracked down their birth parents.

Their biological mother lives in Atlanta. Their father is deceased. They visited his grave yesterday.

“It was emotional, man,” one brother says. “You don’t think a dude you never met will mean that much to you, but… He was my dad.”

“Yeah,” the other adds.


Today, they’re going on an old-fashioned road trip together. They’re heading to Georgia to meet their birth mother before Christmas. She has no idea they're coming.

One brother says,

“I’m ready to facilitate healing to my family.”

I ask if he'd be gracious enough to spell “facilitate” for me.

We say goodbye, they waltz through the lobby. Every eye is on them because they are giants.

In the breakfast room of the hotel: a family. The back of the mother’s T-shirt reads: “Autism is not a disease.”

They are eating. The oldest boy screams at his younger brother. He is pitching a fit, making a scene. Hands flail.

The room gets tense.

She snaps into action.

She says, “Oh my! Would you look at this? It’s past nine, and you haven’t fed your toy frog.”

The kid furrows his brow.

“I did too,” he says. “Fed him this morning.”

“Interesting,” she goes on. “Then WHY did he JUST…

My life has changed considerably since that night. So have I. And I don’t want to be melodramatic here, but it’s because of my ice-cream eating bride.

The sun was coming up. We rode toward Charleston, doing sixty-five miles per hour in a two-seat truck.

“I can’t believe we’re married,” said my new wife.

“Me neither.”

In my wallet: two hundred dollars cash. It was all I had. I earned it by selling my guitar, one week earlier.

My late father told me once, “If you ever get married, marry a woman who don’t care about money. Happiness and money are of no relation.”

Well, she must not have cared because I had none. I was a blue-collar nothing with a nothing-future ahead of me. I had no high-school education. No achievements. No pot to you-know-what in, and no plant to pour it on. And not much confidence.

Until her.

She unfolded a roadmap on the dashboard. My truck radio played a Willie Nelson cassette. I was married.

Married. Things were looking up.

We arrived at a cheap motor-inn. She took a shower while I watched the idiot box. Andy Griffith was on.

I’d seen the episode a hundred times. Barney makes Otis jump rope to prove he’s sober. You know the

rest. Crisis. Cliffhanger. Andy saves the day. Roll credits.

I made reservations at an upscale restaurant where the waiter pulls the chairs out for you. I wore the only necktie I owned.

We ate food I could not afford. I paid a hundred bucks—plus tip. We walked the streets, arm in arm.

“I can’t believe we’re married,” she said.

Then: the sound of horse hooves. A carriage. A man stepped out and groomed his animals on the sidewalk.

My wife remarked how pretty the horses were.

I asked how much he charged for rides.

“Hundred bucks,” he said.

I handed him my remaining wad of cash. “How much will this buy?”

He thought about it. “How’s ten minutes sound?”

We covered ourselves with a blanket. He carted us through the streets. We saw hotels where…

A nice restaurant. I’m playing Christmas music on an accordion with a band.

I play accordion because my granddaddy played it before me. This instrument is in my lineage. And it’s in our history as a civilized race.

And thusly, I believe that as long as we have young accordionists, there is still hope for humanity.

A few children approach our stage.

“WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENT IS THAT?” asks the redhead.

“It’s an accordion,” I say.


“That’s not very nice...”



“Hey kid,” I say. “Santa told me you’re getting nothing but underwear and deodorant this year.”

This kind of accordion shaming is nothing new. I’ve been ridiculed since my childhood. I have heard all the classic jokes.

Such as: What do you call a successful accordionist? A guy whose wife has two jobs.

Or: What are the first words an accordionist says after he knocks on your

door? “Pizza delivery.”

But I don’t care. When I play accordion, I play for my mother’s father—the man who fought in Europe, and won a Purple Heart for his valiance. He was a farmer, a storyteller, a wood carver, a musician who could sing in Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Cajun.

And when he played “Lady of Spain,” it was magic.

Of course this can be embarrassing to admit at, say, dinner parties. Like the party I was at a few nights ago.

The attorney sipping gin remarked: “I’m learning guitar, I got one for my birthday this year.”

“Yeah,” added the thoracic surgeon. “I played a little saxophone in high school band.”

“Well,” I said. “I play the accordion.”

They laughed softly. Then, one man handed me his glass and said, “I’ll take…

When they sang a slow rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” it sounded like my childhood coming to life. I closed my eyes and could almost see the 1965 Charlie Brown special playing in my mind.

I hope you listen to some Charlie Brown Christmas music this year. And I hope you love every second of it like I do.

Today, I watched a children’s choir in the mall. They were singing Charlie Brown Christmas music for a crowd of proud parents and onlookers.

One little boy was dressed like Snoopy. Another was dressed like Woodstock.

When they sang a slow rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” it sounded like my entire childhood coming to life. I closed my eyes and could almost see the 1965 Charlie Brown special, playing in my mind.

Afterward, I saw my friend’s son, Adam. He was in the choir. Adam has Down syndrome, and a heart the size of North Dakota.

He threw his arms around me. He said, “Hey! Thanks for coming! I love you, Sean! Do you know that?”

As a matter of fact, Adam has told me this a lot.

Next, a ten-year-old girl squeezed me. Then another

kid. Then another. Then Snoopy. Then Peppermint Patty. Soon, I was being hugged by thirty-four kids in Christmas regalia.

See what I mean? That’s the unbridled power of a Charlie Brown Christmas.

After they finished, they attacked other adult victims like a virus. The people reacted to the hugs the same way I did. Some laughed. Some blushed. But everyone was warmed.

Later, I wandered upstairs to the mall bookstore, just to kill time. I selected a book to read from the five-dollar bin.

This is where things got weird.

The first thing I saw was a book of Peanuts comic strips. While I thumbed through the book of funnies, Charlie Brown Christmas music started playing over the intercom AT THE SAME TIME.

So I bought the comic book, even though I already own it. The cashier asked if I wanted it gift-wrapped for an extra…

I saw him carrying an armful of packages. They were giftwrapped, stacked like a miniature pyramid.

He was trying to open the door with his foot.

“Hold on,” I said. “Let me get the door for you.”

He stepped backward and thanked me.

Then he slipped on wet tile. Thankfully, he did not fall. He caught himself by using me for balance, but dropped all his packages in the process. The gifts survived without sustaining any major injuries. And so did he.

That’s when I realized I knew this man.

We used to go to church together. We sang in the Baptist choir, once upon a time. He was a tenor. I sang bass.

Tenors and basses are vicious enemies from birth. The two groups have a longstanding feud. This dates back to the Revolutionary War, when American Colonies fought for independence against Great Britain, and also against Britain’s bloodthirsty allies, the Three Tenors.

Our choir was god-awful. During our choir practices, we basses would blame the elderly

tenor section for our less than optimal sound. Things often got ugly.

“Hey!” one of the basses would yell. “Adjust your hearing aids, old farts! You’re on the wrong page!”

“Why don’t you kiss my big, hairy treble clef!” a tenor would holler.

“You first, Grandpa Walton!”

“Aw, your mother’s Episcopalian!”

And a brawl would break out. The altos would be forced to break up the fight with fire hoses and horsewhips.

Being a Baptist can be fun.

Anyway, I helped him carry his gifts to his car, even though we are sworn enemies.

I learned a little about him, too. He is seventy-four. He’s in very good shape, he still sings in the choir. These gifts are for his granddaughter.

The girl is twelve. Her parents got divorced last year. She’s been caught in the horrible crossfire that accompanies…

The folks in white uniforms escorted the baby away from her. And, since good teenagers did what they were told, she let them.

She’s in her car. Vehicles are parking outside the chapel. People are dressed in dark colors. Greeters stand at church doors nodding to those walking inside.

She crosses the street and makes her way in.

She is nervous. Her hands tremble. She shakes hands with the grieving family. She offers condolences. She looks at his body. She cries.

They are not tears for him. Not exactly.

He was no saint. In fact, he was what some folks would’ve called “no good.”

He treated his first wife and second wife terribly. He was abusive. Unfaithful. Bad to drink. His kids were estranged. His friends were few.

He was her uncle.

As a girl, he lived with her family. She was fifteen; he forced himself upon her. It altered her life.

After the hateful thing happened, her mother sent her to stay with cousins in Tennessee. It was only days before Christmas. It the worst period of her entire life.

It got worse when she started waking to morning sickness.

It wasn’t long before she had a daughter. The baby was

magnificent, but her mother made her put the child up for adoption.

The folks in white uniforms escorted the baby away from her. And, since good teenagers did what they were told, she let them.

But she doesn’t want your sympathy. In fact, she wants people to know that she doesn’t need it.

Years later, she met a man. He was kind. Funny. Young. He was studying to become a teacher. He encouraged her to finish her GED, go to college, to be proud of herself. He told her she was smart.

And she believed him.

She studied nursing. She studied late hours, worked clinicals. And when she earned her certificate, he was there.

They were married. It was a simple ceremony.

But on their first night as man and wife, she had a panic attack. It was a bad…

When I was ten, I sat at a campfire with my Little League teammates, and I saw a shooting star. I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. I wished for endless cheese.

December 13th—there is a meteor shower tonight. That’s what they tell me. They say it will be a good one.

I am on a porch, waiting to make a Christmas wish on a falling star. But it’s raining.

If this rain ever lets up, I know what I’ll wish for first:

I am going to wish for a lifetime supply of cheese.

Laugh all you want. But when I was ten, I sat at a campfire with my Little League teammates and I saw a shooting star. I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. I wished for endless cheese.

My buddies cackled. They told me I’d wasted my wish.

“You poop monger!” My buddy Allen said, “You should’ve wished for MORE WISHES! That way you could have all the cheese you wanted.”

Consequently, until that day, I had never heard of a “poop monger.” I’ve never heard of one again, either.

My friend Reynold reasoned, “You should’ve wished for endless MONEY, then you could’ve BOUGHT all the

cheese in the world!”

“Yeah,” my cousin remarked. “And girls would automatically like you because you’re rich. That’s always a plus.”

Well, hooey.

I wanted cheese. Not wishes. Besides, I’ve never been very good with money or girls.

Cheese is my game. I could live on smoked Gouda. I could bathe in melted Swiss and use spray cheese for hair conditioner.

Growing up, whenever we ran out of cheese, it was like the Great Depression in my house. I would lie on my side for forty days and forty nights, praying for a miracle.

Tonight, if I see a second falling star, I will also make another Christmas wish. This one is equally important.

I will wish for you and me to have our best day ever.

You might think I’m joking, but I’m serious about this…

The little girl talked too much. That’s what teachers said about her. On the first day of class, they moved her to the front of the room because of this.

It wasn’t that she wouldn’t stop talking. It was that she couldn’t. It was involuntary. A reflex. A superpower.

Her smile is another of her gifts. It’s a quirky smile passed down from her mother. Her mother had a lazy eye and saw double. Whenever her mother smiled for cameras, she tilted her head to correct her vision.

The little girl picked up this habit. Today, she can’t smile without leaning left.

She joined the workforce at age twelve, waiting tables. By her teenage years, she worked at a nursing home.

In high school, she met this fella. He was wild, he liked to party. His major hobbies included Budweiser and ice cream. And she loved him.

They would marry. And they would make a life for themselves. The young man would work labor jobs until

he became a steelworker. She too, would put in long hours to pay bills.

In her early twenties, she was fed up with small paychecks. She wanted to go to school. It was an outlandish idea, but she enrolled anyway.

She passed her classes with flying colors. And when she finished her degree, she decided she wasn’t finished.

“I wanna go into the medical field,” she told her husband.

“Do what?” he said.

She took classes, but they were hard, and demanding, and expensive. The science courses were torture. So, she used her superpower.

She talked. She made conversation with the smart students and the teachers. They helped her through. In a few years, she was a therapist. Bona fide.

Her husband was on the front row of her graduation, clapping hard.

By thirty, she tried to get pregnant. But no luck.…

We were going through the motions, doing what regular people are supposed to do during December. Gifts, festive music, cheap decor, blah, blah, blah.


My husband died three years ago this February, and I know you grew up underneath the same shadow with your father. My son is fourteen, I’m afraid he will never have any joy whatsoever again.

More than anything, I want his Christmas to be awesome, but I am at a complete loss. Does it ever get any better?



Decades ago. The downtown was decorated with tinsel and little plastic bells hanging from streetlamps. Santa and his reindeer were strung across the rooftops of Mainstreet.

The fiberglass Santa had his right hand outstretched in a perpetual wave to passerbyers. Though, something was very wrong with Santa. Very, VERY wrong.

But more about that later.

Anyway, I was in town with my mother. We were shopping for the holidays.

My father had died a few years earlier. My mother was not the woman she used to be. She was sad. So was I.

Also, I had gained roughly fifteen pounds that year

because I was, and still am, an emotional eater. This is why football season continues to wreak havoc on my body. Also, I have had a lifelong love affair with Chili Cheese Fritos.

That holiday season felt like torture. Everyone else was happy, but not us. We couldn’t laugh, joke, or crack smiles.

We were going through the motions, doing what regular people are supposed to do during December. Gifts, festive music, cheap decor, blah, blah, blah.

That day in town, my mother turned me loose in the department store. I had fifteen dollars to spend on friends, foes, and kin.

Oh, how times have changed. Today, fifteen bucks wouldn’t even buy an iPhone charger.

I wandered through the store with no idea how to spend my money. After all, why should I care about stuffed animals, jars of pepper jelly, barrels of popcorn,…