I pushed open the door to the rural restaurant and the little bell above the door jingled. I had been on the road since six that morning. I was road weary, depleted, and in dire need of monounsaturated fat.
An older waitress glanced up from her smartphone and peered over her readers at me.
“Wherever you wanna sit, sweetie.”
I love it when they call me sweetie.
The joint was mostly empty so I chose a spot by the window because I like window seats. Plus, the doctor recently told me I needed more vitamin D in my life. Two birds; one rock.
Immediately I noticed the waitresses were using their downtime to deck the halls of this café. There were three waitresses involved in the impromptu beautification committee and they were hanging plastic Christmas decorations on each vertical surface.
I checked my internal calendar to make sure I had the date correct. It was barely the second week in November. But here in the hinterlands of Alabama it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
On my way to my window seat I passed an old guy at the counter wearing an Army ball cap, clad in a cook’s apron. He was holding a broken ceramic figurine in his hand, squinting at it, using a tube of super glue to repair it.
A henna-haired waitress hollered at him.
“You finished gluing my little drummer boy back together? My manger scene ain’t right without it.”
Army Hat held the figurine up to the light.
“Almost done,” he said before squirting more glue. “What happened to this thing anyway?”
“My three-year-old son happened to it,” said Henna Hair.
“Sounds like quite a kid.”
“You should see what he did to Baby Jesus.”
In my booth garland strung over the window and fake spray-snow covered the glass. I peered out the wintery window to see sunshine and robins singing in plush trees. It was nearly seventy degrees in South Alabama.
Soon, the henna-haired waitress was standing on a step ladder, attaching lights to a phony tree located beside my booth.
“What’ll it be, sweetie?” said Henna, who was buried face-deep in the tree, fiddling with endless chains of lights.
I wasn’t sure whether she was talking to me or the tree.
“Are you asking for my order?” I said.
“Yeah. Go ahead, hon,” came her voice from inside the pinery. “Give it to me. I got a good memory.”
So I spoke my order directly into the conifer.
Without leaving her tinsel the woman screamed my order to the kitchen, then resumed hanging more Yuletide regalia on the Walmart branches.
The song playing overhead was “Last Christmas” by Wham! The worst song in the history of the human species, second only to “Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain.”
She was singing along.
Later, when the waitress delivered my food, there was glitter stuck to her T-shirt and greenery embedded in her vividly red hair. She was also wearing fuzzy reindeer antlers on her head and a jingle-bell bracelet.
Before she jingled off, I had to ask.
“It’s none of my business, ma’am, but isn’t it kinda early for Christmas?”
She smiled. “It’s never too early for Christmas.”
Another waitress chimed in. “She listens to Christmas music year round. She ain’t right in the head.”
Army Hat said, “She wraps our birthday presents in Christmas paper, too. My birthday’s in June, but I got candy-cane paper.”
This earned a laugh from the others.
The henna-haired waitress shrugged it off with a grin and explained:
“When I was a new mom, my youngest daughter got viral meningitis. We were in the hospital for a long, long time. Doctors said my daughter was probably gonna die. My kids totally missed Christmas that December.”
She kept talking while stooping beneath her tree to put the finishing touches on her faux tannenbaum. She continued:
“When my daughter got better I promised my kids we’d have a do-over Christmas. So we did it up big, in March, and it was great.
“We made it a real Christmas, my husband even hung lights outside. And I was like, ‘Hey, this is really fun.’ So we just sorta kept Christmas going that year.
“I mean, why not? Right? Why not give presents to people you love just because you love them? Why not be happy and sing? Why’re we only allowed to do that once a year? We have so much to be happy about, so much to be grateful for.”
With that she plugged in a cord and ignited the tree. All at once, the manufactured balsam illuminated with electric colors. The waitress stood back to admire her handiwork while I admired her beautifully tinseled heart.
“Merry November,” she said.
Yeah. Merry November.
Norma Den🇿🇦 - November 10, 2021 7:32 am
I agree with that lady. Shops start touting Christmas even from September, sadly very few songs in case it offends others, I’ve asked those so called others and they are not offended, as we don’t interfere with their festivals. Call it Christmas for goodness sakes, not happy holidays ugh. Still why do we confine our happiness to one or two particular seasons in the calendar, spread happiness where you can, when you can. It might make the difference between life and death to some folk hurting at that time. JOY TO THE WORLD at all times.
Lucretia Jones - November 10, 2021 7:59 am
Thank you, Sean, for a merrier November🎄
Lucretia Jones - November 10, 2021 8:17 am
Thank you,, Sean, for a merrier November🎄
Cynthia - November 10, 2021 9:49 am
My daughter starts decorating on November 1st. Not my thing but it makes her happy. Her baby daughter loves it too!
Sonya Tuttle - November 10, 2021 11:37 am
Made me smile! Why not?
Leigh Amiot - November 10, 2021 11:46 am
A living Norfolk pine which occupies my dining room year ‘round now has tiny gold glittery orbs on it, and the mistletoe is already hung. This isn’t at all ordinary for me, but I see no reason to squelch the Christmas spirit. I’ve watched a couple of Hallmark movies… I think that’s it! 😄
Lovely story; her joy is contagious!
Ken M - November 10, 2021 12:02 pm
I switched over to Christmas music on my playlist the day after Halloween, and I catch myself singing/humming Christmas songs all year… but NEVER “Last Christmas” (I agree… worst song ever!!). Never stop being kind to each other, being thankful and sharing God’s Grace. Celebrate Christmas all year in your heart.
Steve McCaleb - November 10, 2021 12:09 pm
May God richly bless those who keep the true meaning of Christmas in their hearts year round. Lord knows we could use more of their spirit and good will. And parents……somewhere In amongst all the presents, food, relatives, empty boxes and mounds of ripped up wrapping paper….please take time to explain to your children what Christmas is REALLY all about. Teach them to be thankful for the the greatest gift of all.
Karen - November 10, 2021 1:15 pm
We all need to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year. Sean, your words are beautiful art.
Janet - November 10, 2021 12:10 pm
“….Her beautifully tinseled heart.” You have a magical way with words, Sean, that cause me to ponder more deeply. Thank you!
connie Cagle - November 10, 2021 1:00 pm
Sean, you always amaze me. Your down home style warms my heart.
And you are probably the only person, other than myself, that recalls “Someone left the cale out in the rain”.
Lisa K Riley - November 10, 2021 1:03 pm
I don’t have a darn thing to be happy about this year, but I can celebrate the birth of Christ all year long! So Merry November it is!
Larry Wall - November 11, 2021 8:35 pm
Lisa – I wish it were that you didn’t feel that way, but we all admit that our lives aren’t always a bed of roses. It will be better if you make it so. Sean’s story just told us that. And, you also just stated why you have something to be happy about and that is that Christ was born as a gift to us of eternal life and the peace that thought should bring to you.
Karen Peters - November 10, 2021 2:22 pm
You’re mistaken, Sean, the worst song ever is Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.
Tammy S. - November 10, 2021 2:30 pm
Another great one!! You meet the coolest people and glean the best stories!! I’m with this Mom, “Merry November” and “Jesus is the reason for it all, all year round.”
William L. Walker - November 10, 2021 2:35 pm
So happy to hear the wonderful comments left about Christmas. Sean, as a fellow writer, I salute you for your wonderful comments each day.
Suellen - November 10, 2021 2:44 pm
I’m married to a Lutheran Pastor. When we were first married he didn’t want to do anything until Christmas Eve and I mean anything because Christmas Eve is the first day of Christmas. That might have worked for a single man but for this working woman with 3 kids and extended friends and family there’s no way. I understand the concept. The excitement of the German tradition of coming home from church Christmas Eve and Christmas has suddenly sprung. I don’t know. Maybe we’re just making Christmas too complicated these days.
Southern Girl - November 10, 2021 2:49 pm
Thank you, Sean! As the song says, we always “need a little Christmas, right this very minute!” Now, I think I go watch a Hallmark Christmas movie!🎄
Lulu - November 10, 2021 2:58 pm
I began Christmas music yesterday amd it’ll play from then to late January…love it…Happy November Christmas…God is so good, He sent us Jesus!
Evangeline Vandenberg - November 10, 2021 3:01 pm
One of the best gifts to myself this year was subscribing to your posts Sean! You are a breath of fresh air.
Chasity Davis Ritter - November 10, 2021 3:02 pm
These dang old leaky eyes…. always so much to be thankful for so much to be happy about why can’t we celebrate CHRISTmas all year? After all isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Why can’t we be happy and sing and give for no reason and remember to be thankful all year long too?? You never know what’s going on in someone’s heart or why they need Christmas in November or March or October or whenever. The year my husband went over seas to Kuwait he had a 3 day leave before he shipped out. We had Halloween, thanksgiving, his birthday and Christmas all in those three days. The tree was up festooned in red white and blue and a few yellow ribbons too. His Dad was there too. Turns out it was the last Christmas we got with my father in law as he passed away the day after my husband returned home from his tour of duty that following year. I’m glad to have the memories. I put up a small memorial tree three years ago when I lost my Dad and it’s stayed up all this time because the first year I couldn’t bear to take it down and then I began to add to it as we’ve lost so many loved ones the past 3 years since my Dad went to Heaven. I actually need a bigger tree now as a matter of fact. I say let people do what makes them happy. Sometimes they need that happiness more than we Will ever know!
Dawnie B - November 10, 2021 3:33 pm
You are so right about both songs! Every time either comes on, I complain, or if I am allowed, I turn it off! McArthur Park song makes no sense at all! The writer said when he was working on the song, there actually was a cake sitting on a table out in the rain & it fit his story. I still don’t like it!
Nancy Carnahan - November 10, 2021 4:32 pm
Lisa K Riley, now you have something to be happy about! You have a whole bunch of new people who care about you! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
My husband had surgery somewhere around Christmas one year and I had an inn to run. By the time I had time to take down the tree, it didn’t seem worthwhile. We never did take it down. Thank goodness it was artificial!
Y’all have a great holiday season however you celebrate it.
AlaRedClayGirl - November 10, 2021 5:12 pm
What a wonderful world it would be if everyone had a beautifully tinseled heart! For me, Christmas is official when I hear Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano.
MAM - November 10, 2021 7:23 pm
Christmas and Jesus Christ, whose birth it honors, should be in our hearts year round. The tree and decorations should be your choice when to put them up and also you should decide when to tune into the music of the holiday.
Linda Moon - November 10, 2021 9:50 pm
Peering over readers to read a “smart” oxymoronish phone sounds distressing for me. But I digress here while on my box of soap. The songs you mentioned are distressing, too, but the “Merry November” celebration made me feel good like James Brown’s song does. So let’s just celebrate Merry Everything all year long, Sweetie!
Karen Snyder - November 11, 2021 4:14 am
I miss the Christmases of my childhood. It seems there was more emphasis on Christ back then; more of the truly beautiful Christmas hymns interspersed among the reindeer, the chestnuts, and Bing’s White Christmas; more Wise Men, shepherds, and mangers on our greeting cards; and fewer Disney characters on the gift wrap. Somewhere along the way the commercialism, the secular, and a lot of irreverence seem to have gotten the upper hand. So, it’s helpful to be reassured that many people still keep the real Christmas in their hearts. ❤️
Nancy M - November 11, 2021 5:01 am
Merry November! Personally I prefer to wait until December, but I don’t mind if the stores and shopping centers decorate early. In fact, I like seeing them. I would never criticize anyone for decorating early nor for leaving it up well after Christmas. It’s all good!
Kate - November 12, 2021 1:40 pm
My cousin has a child that has Autism. She has never spoken but at 14, a very special teacher realized that she could learn to read and write, so there is great joy that there is some means of communication. She is now 18 and she has ALWAYS loved Christmas and Santa Claus and Christmas Trees, and Christmas Parades. The family starts very early with their Christmas decorations and it brings great joy. And isn’t that the purpose of Christmas, and “the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people”. We can all use Hope and Joy in our lives and Christmas helps us remember that.
Kim Kennedy - November 14, 2021 3:27 am
I think Henna is right! Happy November, Sean!
Jan Werbish - November 14, 2021 5:21 am
Loved that story and the diner workers! Salt of the earth people…
Jane Harvey - November 19, 2021 6:51 pm
The year our son was in Iraq we put up extra Christmas decorations and lights. We sent him a small decorated tree for his desk. We left one tree up and lighted until he returned to his family. We do what we can when life hits us. Thank you, Sean, for writing for me!