I had to work in Marietta, Georgia two days before Christmas. It was god-awful. The money was good,—real good—but that was the only thing good. It was Christmas Eve. I was far from home, cold, tired.
They gave us complimentary motel rooms. It was a dump. It’s the first and last time I’ve ever stayed in a motel that smells like eggs. The place was a sheep pen off the highway.
I went to my room and called my wife. There was something sticky on the phone handle. She didn’t answer.
Thus, I laid in bed and watched Andy Griffith. One of my favorites was on. Aunt Bee makes pickles. They’re so bad Andy switches them with store-bought. You know the rest. Andy learns a valiant life-lesson about truth, justice, and the Mayberry way. Everyone hugs. Roll the credits.
I was hungry. Nowhere was open on Christmas Eve. Even the Waffle House had its lights off. I drove to the gas station for supper. Pork and beans, salt peanuts, Budweiser.
“Merry Christmas,” said the cashier.
Sure it is, lady.
Back at the motel: my coworker was smoking in the breezeway, talking to his kids on the phone. When he saw me, he wiped his face.
I shut my door and cried on the bed.
When did people start working on Christmas? Why in the hell would I leave my wife on a holiday? All for few extra bucks?
My uncle once said, “Only an idiot wastes his health making money so he can waste his money on health insurance.”
But nobody put stock in what he said. He worked in a fertilizer plant. Folks in the family called him a loser. Maybe he was, but at least he was home on Christmas.
I dialed my wife again. No answer.
I tried the newspaper to cure my loneliness. Bad choice. Nothing good happens in Atlanta news. Stabbings, rapes, murders, economic downfalls. That’s on a good day.
By nine o’clock, I’d flipped off the lights and tried to remember my childhood Christmases.
Strings of popcorn. We used to wrap them around evergreen branches. It’s been lifetimes since I’ve done that. Cotton pajamas—the kind with button-up back doors. They were my Christmas trademark.
And my wife. I missed her. I thought about the first Christmas we spent together. Our honeymoon. Charleston, South Carolina. I paid for a carriage ride—with hot cocoa and blankets. Just thinking about it made my heart sore.
I was interrupted by knocking.
I got out of bed and put on my jeans.
“Hurry up, dammit!” came the voice. “I didn’t drive six hours to freeze on my husband’s doorstep.”