At Christmas, all roads lead home. ~Marjorie Holmes
As the Christmas season heralds once again, the consumer in me would like to publicly applaud the Target brand for producing another wildly entertaining series of Christmas commercials that depict a crazed Christmas Champion, played by comedian Maria Bamford, in training for the big 2-day sale. The drive and desire of this woman to conquer commercialized Christmas reminded of one of my greatest Christmas memories, shopping the McRae’s Black Friday Cracker Jack sale at Pecanland Mall in Monroe, LA.
Thousands of motivated shoppers would arrive before daylight including myself, my Nannie, and my 4’11” Granny (that’s 4’11” with her 50 year old blue hair beehive). Population: Female. Any male stuck in this crowd was there for one reason and one reason alone: to carry the loot to the trunk of the female’s car. Once the doors opened, shoppers rushed inside the nearest entrance. The reward: a coveted box of private label Cracker Jacks from the nearest sales associate. It was “every woman for herself” as she ripped the box open, discarded the Cracker Jacks into a receptacle, and pulled out a prize inside that could be anything from a coupon for a certain percentage off ALL purchases throughout the day, a $1500 shopping spree, or a diamond ring.
Perhaps this advertising entrapment remains a prominent memory, not because it was really that great, but because of all the STUFF Granny and Nannie bought for me JUST BECAUSE IT WAS A CRACKER JACK SPECIAL! I remembered Black Friday at McRae’s recently when I used a twenty-one year old royal blue bed sheet from the Cracker Jack sale as a drop cloth for a painting project.
Two minutes hadn’t elapsed before my husband asked, “Do we have an old bed sheet I can use for the Cub Scout camp out?” This happens with “forsaken” household goods ALL the time. Once when I found Mr. Potato Head growing cobwebs underneath a twin bed in our Memphis home, I farmed that little plastic spud off to the resale shop to bless someone else’s life for a season. Later that evening as I tucked my three year old into bed and covered him with the blue Cracker Jack sheet, he surprisingly asked for Mr. Potato Head. He has a sixth sense when it comes to the gifts of Christmas past.
It happened again when “a friend of mine” (who MUST remain nameless here for the sake of the innocent) decided that Moosey Moose was no longer a necessary bedtime prop. So long Moosey Moose! After all, this once upon a time gift had been long abandoned for clone troopers and Captain Hook, yet the VERY night of Moosey Moose’s departure came the interrogation of this long-forgotten furball’s whereabouts from child owner to said “friend”. Again, the Cracker Jack sheet came to the rescue as Mama covered up the inquisition with kisses, “Good night, Love. We can talk about Moosey Moose tomorrow.”
Like the Cracker Jack sale, there are just some things in life you can’t escape. Case in point…the Cub Scout camping trip in 40 degree weather. I made it for several hours in the tent before fleeing during the night, hiking through the dark to find the road back to central heat and a real mattress. Alas, home alone! I cranked up the heat. Bliss. Worry set in. The cold night air was no place for my baby. The only way I found to endure the passage of time until morning, and to subdue the frightening certainty that my son would definitely be coming home with pneumonia, was by scouring the house for abandoned toys and trinkets. I must have picked up five forgotten NERF guns from years past and bagged them up for donation. Hasta la vista, NERF guns!
Regardless of the fancy advertising that reels us in, the newness of Christmas gifts like these NERF guns wears off shortly after we humans receive them. How many of us have used treadmills in the bedroom for our hanging clothes after only a few weeks of faithfully using our new toy? Guilty. The more expensive the toy, the shorter the shelf life. Moosey Mooose and Mr. Potato Head predated a tradition in the Chambless household that serves as my newly found alternative to the bidding “adieu” to the most meaningful, yet forgotten, toys. I store them in the attic with my Christmas decorations and reintroduce them every December for one month in an attempt to keep their appeal alive!
Buzz Lightyear is one of the favorites in this collection. Once, I was driving down a dark country road in my Suburban and voiced a short prayer aloud asking God to give me direction. Just as I asked the Lord ‘where I should go from here’, I suddenly heard an audible voice, “To infinity…and beyond!” Buzz, lodged underneath the back seat, startled the living daylights out of me and then I couldn’t stop laughing. I’ve never been able to let him go because he always reminds me that God has a sense of humor like no other.
Another Christmastime tradition besides dodging the advertising plum foolery is the gradual exchange of the perceived Christmas “magic” of Santa’s gifts for wonder, restoration, and the eternal gift that only the manger can provide. There’s a reason we humans love Hollywood endings like the one in Home Alone when Father and son are no longer estranged. The resolution of this subplot is the message of Christmas, as the conflict is introduced in a solemn chapel where a children’s choir rehearsing the most tender rendition of O Holy Night contains the red-haired granddaughter this man barely knows due to an ongoing bitter conflict with his son.
In spite of bitter estrangement, empty pantries, giftless trees, sickness and oppression, dist
ance from loved ones, personal danger, or even experiencing the Christmas blues amidst an abundance of worldly treasures, the hope of Christmas is upon us again as we come to grips with a Father’s unconditional love regardless of our own depravity. Our awareness of peace is heightened as we not only remember our U.S. Troops who serve as guardians underneath the desert sky, but also that historical night 2,000 years ago when there on a hillside in Bethlehem stood a sold out inn.
Bringing a vulnerable infant into these conditions was by human terms a horrible reality with a long road ahead for a teenage mother. But somehow Mary’s maidservant mentality tells me that even though this was no place for a baby, she was able to trust and believe, “All is well,” thankfully placing the child on a bed of hay where cattle were lowing. It is at this same manger, where a fallen people can dump the figurative junk of our attics and find new life. When I remember that both the manger and the cross were, after all, once mere trees I consider how much more God can bless a life. What was once forsaken, now restored. Now useful.
Like Target’s Maria Bamford, I, myself, have become a champion of Christmas. At times, I have confirmed that the shopping gene my Granny and Nannie have is apparently hereditary. Also, I confess that I secretly earmarked the Cub Scout camp out weekend as my time to clean out the junk, a freeing experience. When my son returned from the camping trip (without pneumonia), his face was beaming with delight over his adventure. I couldn’t help but chalk up another experience to God’s incredible sense of humor as he opened his backpack and said, “Look, Mom, I won the scavenger hunt and JUST LOOK AT MY PRIZE!!!….A NERF GUN!” With laughter AND TEARS I decided that sometimes no matter how hard you try to get rid of the stuff that gets in the way of the most abundant living, cleaning out the attic is sure to be a life long process. But for that day, the NERF war was on! I knew that we were all champions regardless of the outcome.