It was just the two of us, seated at dinner. Alone on Christmas night. Dressed in our Sunday best. Candles on the dining table. Choral music playing.

“This is weird,” said my wife, slicing her turkey. “Not having Mother with us.”

“I know.”

“I keep waiting for her to call me on the phone. I keep waiting to wake up one morning and figure out it was all a bad dream, and that she never really died.”


Long silence.

“Is this turkey too dry?” she said.

“Are you kidding? This turkey is so good it’s got an R rating.”

“How about the gravy?”

“I could water ski on this gravy.”

“You like the dressing?”

“I want to use this dressing in the shower.”

She smiled. “Do you recognize the plates that we’re eating off of?”

My wife lifted a dish. It had a simple green Christmas tree painted on it.

“These are your mama’s plates?” I said.

She nodded. “We ate on them every Christmas.” Then she inspected the plate and her eyes began to turn pink.

“And,” she said, “do you notice anything about this blouse I’m wearing?”

“Your mom’s blouse.”

Another nod. “Do you

like it?”

“I do.”

“This strand of pearls is hers, too.”


“The perfume I’m wearing, can you smell it?”

“I can. Was that your mother’s, too?”

“Yes. Do you like this perfume? Is it weird that I’m wearing an old woman’s perfume at Christmas?”

“I adore that smell. And there’s no such thing as an old woman’s perfume.”

She covered her mouth. Her head dropped. Her hair fell into her plate. She dropped her fork and her knife, and there was the light sound of sobbing. I stood and went to my wife. I wrapped my arms around her.

“She’s gone,” moaned my wife. “Why can’t I seem to feel that? Why do I keep thinking she’s still here?”

“I don’t know.”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and the fifth floor of the hospital was quiet. Not a creature was stirring, not even a registered nurse.

The pediatric oncology wing is not always as quiet as it is right now. After all, this is where the miniature party animals of the medical world reside. This department is typically a noisy, active, bustling place.

Usually, there are loud cartoons blaring from laptops, or the occasional video game blasting from an open door at a volume loud enough to shatter industrial porcelain.

This holiday season, however, there hasn’t been much noise on the fifth floor.

Recently, the hospital tightened its visitor policies in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus. Family members, except for Mom and Dad, are asked not to visit. Thus, kids are isolated. And this place has been painfully tranquil without visitors.

But tonight as you read these words, there are actually visitors on the fifth floor.

Special visitors. These visitors have traveled thousands of miles from the uppermost parts of the northern hemisphere. The visitors wear

long stocking caps, candy-striped leggings, and pointy plastic ears purchased directly from Party City.

“We’re not nurses,” says one elf named Sharon. “We’re legit elves.”

“She’s right,” says another elf who bears a striking resemblance to a sixty-year-old LPN named Wanda. “I’m from the North Pole.”

The elves push a large laundry cart through the hallway. The cart is loaded with an Everest of packages wrapped in bright paper and ribbons.

These elves have been gathering presents all month from patients’ families who were unable to visit. Sometimes elves drove across town on their off-days to collect gifts from patients’ loved ones.

“We had to get creative,” remarked one elf. “It took a lot of work, but we don’t mind, we’re Santa’s frontlines.”

The first room the elves enter tonight belongs to a nine-year-old girl. The girl is gently snoring. The girl’s mother…

Christmas Eve night. The mountains of North Carolina were giant silhouettes in the darkness. Sheriff Andy Taylor sat on the bench outside the courthouse, watching the stars.

It had been a hard year. Maybe the hardest of his career. The sheriff was downhearted, which didn’t happen often. But then, sheriffs have feelings too.

When it started to snow, Taylor shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets and slipped into a trance. Christmas morning was only a few hours away, and he wanted to feel cheerful, but he couldn’t seem to make it happen.

His deputy joined him on the bench. The scrawny, high-strung lawman had just finished doing his nightly rounds, shining a flashlight into storefront windows; checking doorknobs. All quiet in Mayberry.

“Whatcha doing, Ange?” said his deputy. “Why the long face?”

Taylor flashed a fake smile. “I’m just looking at stars.”

The deputy was obviously concerned, but Taylor hardly noticed. He was too busy thinking about all he’d seen during his years serving this sleepy hamlet. He’d seen it all. Or just about.


once seen the town drunk ride a cow down mainstreet. He’d seen a local goat eat dynamite. He’d jailed bank robbers, swindlers, chicken thieves, speeders, escaped convicts, moonshiners, and Danny Thomas.

Life was moving too fast. The world had gone from AM radios to color TVs. He’d watched the tailfins on Chevys and Fords get taller each year. He’d seen skirts get shorter, hairstyles get shaggier, music get louder, and people get meaner. Airplanes gave way to rocketships. A man hit a golf ball on the moon. Divorce was becoming more fashionable than blue jeans.

But this year…

This year was a humdinger. It was worse than the rest. This was the year the world fell apart. People in town were more frightened and skittish than ever before. And sometimes it seemed like nothing in Mayberry was going right.

Taylor looked at the…

The old man on the street corner was asking for money from people who were holiday shopping. Except he wasn’t begging. He was singing songs and dancing.

There is a big difference between panhandling and entertaining.

He was dressed in a red velvet coat and Santa cap. He had skin the color of rich mahogany, and he was as lean as a Q-tip.

In his aged eyes you could tell he’d been around. But in his voice he was Ron Isley.

A few of us holiday shoppers gathered around to watch his one-man show. There we were, carrying large shopping bags from upscale stores, dressed in our nice suburban clothes, drinking designer coffees in eco-friendly paper cups.

And this man had holes in his shoes.

But it was hard not to smile while watching him spin around, dancing like the Godfather of Soul, singing Christmas carols at the top of his voice to people on the street.

He also had a knack for inventing lyrics to songs for which he didn’t know the words.

The following are actual substitute lyrics he

composed, on the spot, to “Joy to the World.”

“Joy to the world,
“Joy, joy, joy,
“Joy… Joy… Joy…!”

It wasn’t exactly Gershwin, but it worked.

I stood in the back of the crowd with others and gladly tossed money into his bucket between each burst of our applause.

“This guy’s good,” said one lady.

“He really is,” said a man.

“I wish I could dance like that.”

“How is his groin still intact?”

Then the man began taking song requests. He smiled at us, and I could see that he was missing several teeth. His face was covered in white stubble, and he was out of breath from exertion. But that smile was one-hundred watt.

A young woman in the crowd said, “Do you know ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’?”

“You better know I do,”…

Hi Bradley (age 9), your mom told me you were recently asking about the real meaning of Christmas. Allow me to tell you a story:

It all started at midnight. There was a blizzard. The wind howled so hard that it whistled. The motor inn’s neon sign was glowing like a Technicolor lighthouse in the storm. NO VACANCY, the sign read.

In the parking lot were snow-encrusted Packards, Plymouths, Fords, Chryslers, and chrome-bumpered DeSotos, crammed together like hogs at a trough.

Folks had been saying this was the worst snowstorm to hit rural Oklahoma. Maybe ever. And it was definitely the worst year of all time.

There was a global war starting, an economic depression, and dust storms the size of major continents were swallowing entire cities.

Now blizzards.

The Ford pickup pulled into the motel parking lot and eased to a stop. The young man behind the wheel was unshaven and tired. His name was Joe.

Joe glanced at his pregnant wife and forced a weary smile.

“Wait here, Mary,” he said. “Maybe they’ll have a room for us.”

“I think we should keep driving,” said Mary.

“The sign says they’re full.”

“Can’t,” said Joe. “We’re on E.”

The young couple was on their way to California, looking for work. Mary and Joe had tried nine different motor inns that night; all booked.

The motel clerk was an unfriendly little snit. “Can’t you read English, kid?” the man said. “The sign says no vacancy.”

“Yes, sir. But it’s my wife, she’s pregnant.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Please, sir.”

“I said we’re booked.”

“We’ll pay double.”



“I may have some room.”

In a few moments the clerk led them to a garage behind the inn. The barn had a shingled roof and a Beech-Nut advertisement painted on the broad side.

The clerk threw open the doors to reveal a shed full of chickens. Also, a goat.


Last night we stood in a long line for the symphony, waiting to get into the theater. My wife and I were dressed in our finest Christmas clothes purchased from T.J. Maxx.

There was light frost on the sidewalk. I was rubbing my hands together, trying not to freeze off my Blessed Assurance.

So I did some people-watching to keep my mind off the cold.

The first person who caught my eye was a construction worker across the street, wearing a watch cap. He was talking on a phone, smoking a cigarette. It sounded like he was speaking to a child.

“Don’t cry, sweetheart,” the man said. “Daddy loves you. Don’t ever forget that. No matter how bad it gets, remember your daddy loves you.”

He spoke so sincerely it hurt.

Also in line was an old couple. They were conversing in a foreign language. Their skin was olive; their hair was cotton. They were dressed in fancy clothes, the kind they don’t sell at T.J. Maxx.

The old lady kissed the man, and I saw the man

hold her tightly, as though he’d won her at the fair.

I don’t know what their strange words meant, but if I had to guess, they were probably saying, “It’s cold enough to freeze the nuts off a pecan tree.”

I saw a teenage boy accompanying a young woman who was in a wheelchair. I think they were out on a date.

The girl wore a satin blue dress and a shawl. The boy wore a tux. He was staring longingly at his date. Occasionally they would kiss and you could see sparks fly off their bodies.

Everyone was watching them and smiling.

Meantime, in the parking area across the street I saw a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother arrive in a Lincoln, dressed in heels and silk, carrying sequined pocketbooks.

The younger woman was helping the elderly lady out of…

We bought a live Christmas tree today. After nearly two decades of being married, my wife and I have never bought a live tree together.

We went with a balsam fir. We were going to get a Fraser fir or a Douglas fir, but we didn’t want to reverse mortgage our house.

The first thing I realized when buying a live tree is that Christmas trees have gone up in price considerably since my childhood. For a balsam fir that’s roughly the size of a mature traffic cone you’re looking at a price tag of $79.99.

“Think of this as an entry level tree,” said the tree salesman. “Kinda like the Toyota Corolla of the Christmas tree world.”

So after we paid for our tree, we strapped it to the top of our van and took the interstate home, traveling upwards of 75 mph. By the time we pulled into our driveway, most of the pine needles had blown away so that it looked like we had a piece of

driftwood attached to our vehicle roof.

Once the tree was inside the house, we prepared to have a night of Christmas reverie and joy. I fetched the box of decorations while my wife cued up Christmas music on our streaming service ($10.99 per month).

And by “cued up Christmas music” I mean, of course, that my wife struggled with an endless technological nightmare of Wi-Fi settings, forgotten internet passwords, faulty modem connections, and customer service phone representatives headquartered in Bangladesh. Finally my wife said, “screw it,” and turned on the radio.

And the memories got so thick you had to swat them away like gnats.

When I was a kid we always had the best Christmas trees. I don’t know what happened over the years, but somewhere along the way my family quit using live trees.

Which is probably why the only Christmas tree paraphernalia I could find in our…