There are customers at the tree lot tonight. A young family. The old man leaves his TV dinner to help them.

Trees everywhere. Big balsam firs. The old man who runs the Christmas tree lot is almost seventy-three. He keeps a small travel trailer, sixteen feet, with a television, a bed, and a microwave. When things are slow, he’s inside, eating his TV dinner.

He has a dog. The dog’s name is Brownie. He doesn’t even remember how he named this dog because Brownie is pure white.

“He pees all the time,” says the old man, poking a fork at his dinner. “Brownie loves to pee on people’s tires, I don’t know why.”

The old man is a friendly salesman. When customers look at his trees, he accompanies them and entertains. He has a little routine, complete with jokes, and hard candy for the kids. Sometimes horehounds, which is a candy I haven’t had in ages. My grandfather used to eat horehounds.

“I used to give out caramel chews,” the old man says, “But they’re expensive.”

Brownie runs all over, wandering between trees. He checks on people, and gets free rubdowns from anyone who will touch him.

“Yeah,

he’s a little Cassanova,” says the man. “Never met a stranger, and never met a car tire he don’t wanna tee-tee on.”

The old man’s son helps manage the lot. But he and his son aren’t “super close,” as the man puts it. The old man admits that he walked out on his son and his family when his son was a little boy. Years later, they reunited, but it’s been slow going.

“When you screw up like I did,” says the man, “there’s no coming back from it. All you can do is try to be in your kid’s life, be a friend.”

There are customers at the tree lot tonight. A young family. The old man leaves his TV dinner to help them. They have two kids; a boy and a girl. The man does his usual routine, a joke or…

When you were a kid, December was your favorite month. It was the best month of all. There was magic in the air in December. You knew this because there were hundreds of cheesy television advertisements telling you about “the magic of Christmas.”

Which was easy to believe because when you’re a kid everything is magic. Your entire life is about fairytales, cowboys, international spies, firing cap guns, or galloping around on a stick-horsey.

But one day you got older and realized you were mistaken about the magic of life. Real life was about a lot more than stick-horseys.

Real life was rough. Real life was having your tonsils ripped out with medieval salad tongs by a family doctor who smelled like Old Spice and Lucky Strikes.

Also, real life was about the monkey bars, a good game of tag, or kisses from girls.

In grade school, you weren’t sure how life suddenly became about kissing girls, but everyone was getting kisses, so you thought, “Hey, why not?”

Then something went wrong.

Somehow you ended up with not just one, but TWO girlfriends—Katie and Gladys.

You’d get a kiss from Katie in the morning, and one from Gladys in the afternoon. Soon, the girls got into a fight, with bloody noses and everything. This would be the only time in your life when two girls would ever fight over you. So you tried very hard to enjoy the magic of it.

Time marched forward. Eventually, you learned that life was not about kisses, but trees. Big ones, tall ones with lots of limbs. You climbed these trees, one at a time. Until one day you were picking mulberries from one and you fell.

You landed on your shoulder. You were certain it was broken, but your mother declared that it was not. Which was a rotten deal because when Fred Thompson broke his arm he lived like the king of…

We drove around looking for a parking place until my odometer turned to zeroes.

Yesterday, I learned firsthand that Black Friday is the official beginning of Armageddon. This year, experts estimated that 114.6 million zealous shoppers flooded malls and complexes across America to buy toys, clothes, gadgets, and to ask their husbands if these pants make their butt look big.

Which is the most dreaded question a woman can ask a man. There is no correct way for a man to answer the does-my-butt-look-big question without offending his wife, or at the very least, losing his front teeth.

This is true even if he says, “NO! YOUR BUTT DOESN’T LOOK BIG!”

Or “ABSOLUTELY NOT, SWEET CHEEKS!”

Or “YOUR BUTT IS SO SMALL, IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR THIGHS START UNDER YOUR CHIN.”

No matter how he responds, this man’s wife will get huffy and say something like, “Oh yeah? Then why did you pause so long before you answered?” Whereupon the man will be dragged outside and shot.

Anyway, I wasn’t supposed to be at the mall yesterday, but my wife cannot turn down Black Friday deals. She is

obsessed with them. And it doesn’t matter what they are selling, if it’s marked down, she is going to own it in three colors.

Once, she bought a truckload of Campbell’s condensed cream of celery soup simply because it was on clearance. This struck me as an odd thing to do.

Never in the history of our marriage can I recall either of us saying, “Gee, I’d like a bowl of cream of celery soup.” And here’s why: (a) celery soup is meant for baking weird casseroles normal people never eat, and (b) it sucks.

But the bottom shelves of our pantry are loaded with expired clearance celery soup cans that are so old they say “I Like Ike” on the backs of the labels.

Black Friday was a mess. We arrived at the mall at eight in the morning. And when I say “arrived at…

DEAR SANTA:

I feel a little silly writing you. Recently, I wrote a column about how when I was a boy I always wanted you to bring me a cowboy hat. A silver-belly colored Stetson. A few days later, one showed up on my porch from an anonymous person. I almost couldn’t believe it.

I know it was you, Santa.

If only I would have had the foresight to write a column about a summerhouse on the beach with a four-car garage instead.

No. I’m only kidding. Please realize that I am only making a joke, Santa. A three-car garage would be more than plenty.

Anyway, the words “thank you” don’t even begin to cover how I feel. The hat fits perfectly, and I have been wearing it for the last three days. I even wore the hat—this is true—to the grocery store. I almost never wear hats indoors, but I did yesterday.

The cashier referred to me as “Tex.” I asked her to kindly call me “Roy” instead.

She said, “Who’s Roy?”

“Roy Rogers.”

“Wait, does he sing that

song about the Gambler?”

You have to worry about our nation’s youth.

But the truth is I feel so silly, Santa. I didn’t NEED a hat. There are so many other important things happening in the world. Things that are WAY more pressing than my headwear. I feel so ridiculously selfish wearing this beautiful thing.

When I was a boy, I asked you for a hat like this every single year and I never got one. And I was okay with that. Because I knew you had bigger fish to fry. I understood this.

Once, my friend Billy explained it all to me when I was nine. He said that you only had a certain amount of space in your sleigh and you had to pack small gifts. A hat just wasn’t practical. And you’re practical guy.

Looking back, this…

When I was a boy, I used to have immoral thoughts about turkey gravy.

Cars line our street. Everyone’s family is in town. The smells of the Thanksgiving are what get me the most, they are all over the neighborhood. My wife is in the kitchen contributing a few merry aromas of her own.

There is a parade of scents coming from our place. Holiday candles, cinnamon apples, corn casserole. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but my dogs have escaped from the backyard and are running around playing with what can only be described as a rotting raccoon carcass.

My dog, Thelma Lou (bloodhound), enjoys carcasses of all kinds. She is a carcass connoisseur you could say. She will roll in anything that vaguely smells like decomposing flesh. She will also roll in anything that smells like goat excrement until there are bits of what appear to be squashed brownies embedded within her fur. Which brings up a very good point:

Why?

Not in all my life have I ever smelled anything I loved enough to roll in. With the exception of,

perhaps, my mother’s turkey gravy. Which I always think about during Thanksgiving. I love turkey gravy.

When I was a boy, I used to have immoral thoughts about turkey gravy. I would lie in bed and stare at tri-fold photographs of gravy from glossy cooking magazines like “Bon Appétit” or “The Betty Crocker Cookbook.” I don’t know why, but turkey gravy speaks to me.

Turkey gravy isn’t complicated. Once, my mother showed me how she made it. It was painfully simple—basically it was just turkey juices and a few herbs.

Then again, the women in my family were Thanksgiving Day magicians who knew their way around more than just gravy. I can remember when my aunt would take over the kitchen during the holidays. She would make mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie, and my mother would be cooking a turkey that was big enough to saddle up…

It’s a few minutes until Thanksgiving. I thought I’d stay up and watch the clock change. I’m sipping tea, listening to gentle music playing in the background.

I think it’s Bing Crosby, or maybe Nat King Cole. The volume is too low to tell. Either way, it sounds like 1948 in this living room.

Yesterday, my wife made a batch of cornbread and biscuits. She left them on top the refrigerator so they’d get good and dry before she crumbled them them into cornbread dressing.

There is a big debate between calling it “dressing” or “stuffing.” And while I am no authority on the matter, I can tell you this:

Once, I spent Thanksgiving at a buddy’s house, his mother was from West Virginia, and she served “stuffing.”

She cooked the entire feast without ever dropping the Winston cigarette that dangled from the corner of her mouth. And she must have had a few too many cups of holiday cheer because she accidentally shoved all her cornbread into a well-known orifice of the turkey’s body. I had never seen

this done.

“What have you done to the dressing?” I asked her.

“Dressing?” she said, laughing, elbow-deep in a turkey’s butt. “This ain’t dressing, kid. It’s stuffing.”

You can imagine my surprise when just before serving the turkey, she rammed an extra-long spoon up the bird’s backend and announced, “This stuffing looks a little undercooked, but oh well.”

It was apple-pecan stuffing. Everybody ate some and a few hours later we all got deathly ill. And I don’t mean to get graphic here, but we were having projectile-like symptoms.

And that was the last time I ever ate salmonella-flavored West Virginia stuffing.

Anyway, I’m sorry I brought that up. Especially on Thanksgiving. What I meant to say was that I hope you have a great day. And I really mean that, I’m not just blowing smoke.

I love this holiday. The…

Also, since we’re talking about trees, my wife needs more lights.

10:03 A.M.—My wife is putting up our Christmas tree. It’s a pencil thin artificial tree we bought when we first got married sixteen years ago. It is filled with memories of yuletide warmth, love, joy, and possibly the devil.

I say this because I am trying to fix the thing so it will at least stand upright. But it won’t. This tree is an outdated antique that can’t stand upright without its medication. Every time I get it in place, the red-and-green Christmas-tree stand—the worst invention of the twentieth century—malfunctions and the tree falls over.

Also, since we’re talking about trees, my wife needs more lights. If there are any young married men reading this, wondering what marriage is like, I can help.

Do you remember that famous scene from “Jaws?” Right after the shark has shown its awesome and frightening head, Roy Scheider takes a step backward and tells the captain, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

It’s sort of like that. Only in this particular case, you are Roy Scheider, and your wife

is the man-eating shark. Or at least, she will be if her Christmas tree sucks this year.

“We’re gonna need more lights,” you say, taking a step backward toward the door.

This is basically what it means to be in a committed relationship with a woman.

The main issue with these strands of lights is that they are junk and have a lifespan of forty minutes before burning out.

Even worse, news reports are constantly telling us how these lights are unsafe, and how every year they cause electrical house fires. Many families have experienced great losses because of these crummy lights and are left devastated, out in the cold, with no possessions, having no choice but to send Dad back to the store to buy more white lights.

Which is what my wife is asking me to do right now. And believe me, I…

DEAR SEAN:

I’m 70, living in Mesquite, Texas (a suburb of Dallas). About 6 months ago, my wife (we’ve been married for 46 years) emailed me one of the articles you write. Liked it. Next day, she emailed another, then another...

One story in particular I appreciated was the one about Kiera Larsen.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I can’t get enough biscuits either.

Thanks,
YOUR-BUDDY-IN-MESQUITE

DEAR BUDDY:

I had to dig around for this one, and I almost couldn’t find it. But I finally found the story you mentioned. I remember writing it back in 2016 and that already seems like a lifetime ago. Thank you for reminding me about it, even though much of the content is ancient history now, I believe there is good in this world. Though sometimes I forget to see it.

Here it is:

Have you watched the news recently? I don’t mean to complain, but it’s a never-ending circus of sadness and horror. If they’re not reporting on mass shootings, they’re talking about the possibility of mass shootings. And when they’re done, they

discuss mass shootings.

Well, I speak for millions of Americans when I say that I’m disturbed. What about the good stuff this holiday season? In our giant of briar-patch world, there are millions of strawberries that pop up every day. And if you’ll permit me, I’d like to tell you about a few.

Ahem.

I’ll begin with schoolchildren who visited a Missouri Humane Society last Wednesday. The kids are part of a program in which students practice reading storybooks to rescue dogs. The purpose: To calm traumatized animals — and because everyone hates math.

FLORIDA—Ninety-year-old lottery winner, Ruby Sorah, won forty-three million dollars. Let that sink in for a second. This week, Ruby told reporters she’s giving all her money away. Every last cent. Not even a trip to Vegas to see Celine Dion.

And my granny never even gave Christmas…

I’m sitting on the sofa. I turn the television channel to a popular family-friendly cable network. I know I can count on a happily-ever-after story when I watch this channel during the holidays. Which is why I cannot stop watching these sappy movies.

(SCENE 1: A BIG-CITY NEWSPAPER OFFICE. THE EDITOR IS TALKING TO TIFFANY, A BLONDE REPORTER WHO DRINKS COFFEE FROM A COFFEE-SHOP-STYLE PAPER CUP.)

EDITOR: Tiffany, it’s almost Christmas, and I need you to travel to Quaintville to cover an important story!

TIFFANY: Quaintville? Is that a real town?

EDITOR: Who cares? This is a cable movie, and I’m supposed to be your grumpy but lovable editor, sorta like What’s-His-Name from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

TIFFANY: Ed Asner?

EDITOR: Whatever. All I know is that the script says you’re an independent single woman, but you’re filled with indescribably painful angst and romantic longing.

TIFFANY: I’m on it, Chief.

(SCENE 2: TIFFANY ARRIVES IN QUAINTVILLE, SHE GOES ICE SKATING. SHE MEETS A HANDSOME MAN SKATING WITH HIS DAUGHTER.)

LEADING MAN: Hi. You must be the leading lady.

TIFFANY: How did you know?

HIM: You’re

holding a paper coffee cup.

TIFFANY: My contract stipulates that I have to drink coffee from a paper cup in every scene. But sometimes I drink Orange Fanta.

HIM: My contract requires me to wear heavy plaid flannel shirts even though we’re obviously filming this in July and I’m sweating my buttcheeks off.

TIFFANY: Is that your daughter?

HIM: Yes, I’m a widower, filled with indescribably painful angst and romantic longing.

TIFFANY: How did your wife die?

HIM: The script never says.

(SCENE 3: ANNUAL QUAINTVILLE CHRISTMAS PARADE. LEADING MAN AND DAUGHTER ARE WATCHING PARADE WHEN TIFFANY BUMPS INTO THEM.)

DAUGHTER: Look, Daddy! That lady is drinking coffee in a paper cup again! Just like they always do in the TV show “Gilmore Girls.”

LEADING MAN: Totally different network, sweetie.

TIFFANY: Fancy meeting you…

We have about a month until Christmas, and I’m asking people a simple question on Santa’s behalf. He actually asked me to do this.

Well actually, it was Santa’s secretary who called me ultra-long-distance to ask.

Or, if we’re getting super technical, it was his secretary’s assistant’s intern, Stacy, who called me. Santa has a lot of people on his payroll. But hey, he’s tax exempt so who cares? Stacy tells me the elves get great insurance, with full dental.

But anyway, the question Santa wants to know is: What do you want for Christmas?

There are no limits to how you answer. And nobody will judge you for what you want. Granted, if you ask for something like a 2020 Range Rover Evoque, forest green, with a sunroof, people might snicker at you and call you a shallow, narcissistic, self-important, gas-guzzling pig who is partly responsible for the perpetuation of American greed. But Santa won’t think that.

As it happens, a little boy (Brayden, age 8, Missouri) actually sent me his Christmas list. Which

is what inspired the idea for this column. Along with Santa’s phone call, of course.

Brayden asked for:

—A swingset.
—Bluetooth earbuds.
—A real bunny.
—Red duck tap.
—Checkered Vans.
—6,000 dollars.

So now it’s your turn. Maybe you want something odd, such as a gift certificate to Golden Corral, or a coin-operated pony ride. Maybe you want a ski-resort vacation. A reverse mortgage. A pet alligator.

Maybe you are a kid who is being raised as a Primitive Freewill Fundamentalist against your will and your parents don’t believe in celebrating Christmas because it was originally a Pagan holiday and in your household your parents believe that Santa represents Satan.

If you live in a house like this, listen to me carefully: Your Christmas is probably going to suck. Send me a letter, pronto. I’ll get it to the Big…