All my life, I have been a child at Christmas. Asking a blessing is typically an honor that falls to a father, or a grandparent. I am neither.

Family is all around me. Children screaming. Adults laughing, telling the same worn-out stories they tell every year. A lit tree. Bing Crosby on a radio.

We are celebrating the holiday with extended family. We do this every year. It’s a way to commune together, eat lots of food, and to try to have a good a old-fashioned nervous breakdown.

My elderly aunt made me swear not to use real names if I wrote about these people, to protect the privacy of those implicated.

Of course, she is mainly concerned about my uncle—who we’ll call “Otis.” He worries her around the holidays.

Let’s just say that Otis loves a good party. In fact, he starts practicing for Christmas around early March.

Nobody will ever forget the Christmas he stood before an in-ground swimming pool, singing “YMCA,” then did a belly flop, only to find out the pool had been drained for winter.

This afternoon, my wife and I wandered through Aunt Bea’s door carrying casseroles. We were greeted

with hugs from white-haired women who smell like Estee Lauder and wear polyester blouses.

I brought gifts for the kids, a tradition in my family. Ever since childhood, for as far back as anyone remembers, uncles and aunts have been demonstrating affection for children by purchasing heartfelt gifts that were on clearance at TJ Maxx.

Last year, for instance, I bought my cousin’s kids some patriotic tableware, and gluten-free breadsticks from the dollar bin at Marshalls. They haven’t spoken to me since.

My aunt’s house is decorated to the hilt. In her kitchen, tables are weighted with more food than I’ve ever seen.

This brings back good memories. Memories of casseroles, backyard games of Red Rover, twinkling lights. And my uncle Bill, carrying me on his shoulders, parading me through the house, asking if I’d been a “good boy this year.”

“Yeah, I’ve…

I was going to write something else. I was going to write a story about my dog, or something about winter. But I’ve changed my mind.

That’s a writer’s prerogative. A writer changes his mind all the time.

Sometimes, for instance, he changes his mind at a restaurant, mid-salad.

But today, I wanted to tell you something important. And I’m not changing my mind about this.

I hope you have a merry Christmas.

That’s it. That’s the purpose of this column. In fact, that will probably be my final sentence when it’s all over. So, you can stop reading here if you’re pressed for time.

Still, because I have a few hundred words left, I am going stretch this out. After all, if writers didn’t expound on topics, all suspense novels would only have two pages, and go like this:

“There was a guy who turned up dead. Blah, blah, blah. It was Colonel Mustard in the parlor. The end.”

And who wants to read books like that?


let me tell you about a kid I once knew:

There was once a kid who wanted to write. Sometimes, it seemed like he was no good at it. But that’s where you came in. You told him he could do it.

You took different forms, but you’re more or less the same person. You’re kindness. Charity. Goodness. You are every nice person that kid ever met.

You are the man in Piggly Wiggly who returned the kid’s wallet. You didn’t have to do that, but you did.

And you’re the man in Montgomery, who bought the kid and his wife a tank of gas when their credit card was declined at the pump.

You were the person who befriended the kid. You didn’t try to “help” the kid. You just let him talk.

And, you were the…

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…