As I walk into my favorite coffee shop, I hear that familiar musical refrain “…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!” blasting from the sound system. Sigh…Johnny Mathis… again. So soon? Yes I am one of those. My name is Pierre and I am not a Christmas person. There. I said it.
I was raised in a family that celebrated Christmas. Being one of six, it was a big deal for sure. I have memories of going through the toy section of the Sears Big Wish Book until the spine of the catalog disintegrated and the pages lost their high gloss color from wear. I saw and received more than my share of bikes, board games, action figures, art supplies, and the near infinite variety of toys and gifts which only growing up with three brothers and two sisters can uniquely provide, not to mention the inevitable show and tell comparisons with the other children of the neighborhood.
My siblings and I experienced many a sleepless Christmas Eve executing futile attempts to sneak downstairs without my parents hearing us. We were allowed in the family room for the grand early morning gifting only when my parents said it was time. I have a vivid memory of actually seeing Santa standing by our Christmas tree which I can’t explain to this day. It wasn’t my Daddy because this Santa was white. We didn’t have stockings, but each of us had shoe boxes filled with fruits, candy canes, and nuts to accompany our family gift exchange. And let us not forget the holiday meals. As we opened our gifts, we were reminded to not fill up on our shoe box goodies because there was a grand breakfast coming starring either cat head biscuits or pancakes and all the fixings, to be followed that evening by a grand dinner served on my mamma’s best china and silverware in a dining room, both used only twice a year.
Christmas always concluded in an evening visit with extended family at the home of my paternal grandmother. In addition to her yearly gift of a pair of dress socks, which continued well into my 20’, there were the myriad of deserts, singing, and lots of laughs. I even had my first taste of an “adult beverage” at this annual gathering via a serving of the “Recipe,” my aunt’s fermented fruit wine that was only served at Christmas. It was her attempt at the southern classic desert, divinity that went terribly wrong but somehow went very right. It is only through divine intervention we all escaped poisoning by this wonderful accident. These are all wonderful memories, but the most lasting and consistent of them all was of my parents each and every holiday. I remember their sheer exhaustion and probable relief at the end of Christmas Day. In retrospect, the most amazing childhood memory of my parents was how incredibly hard they worked. Not just at Christmas, but all year long.
They were both trained as teachers: Mama English and French, Daddy history. As our family grew, daddy left teaching to take a civil service position with the Air Force to better provide for us. There was also a time for several years he worked an additional job in the evenings and on Saturdays, six days a week. Even with all those responsibilities, they never missed a recital, church program, or ball game of any of us. Ever. They worked so hard to make sure we had the opportunity for a better life and the holidays of our dreams. Short of a monkey and a motor bike, I can honestly say I received every one of the gifts I requested for as they accepted an Old Spice or Charlie Fragrance gift set from us, often several years in a row. As we grew older and began to earn our own money, the gifts got nicer and their apparent appreciation grew; I am sure the growth was proportionate to their pride in us and not the value of the gift. Even though they gave my siblings and me every essential and nearly every practical material possession they thought we needed, their greatest gift was themselves and their sacrifice to insure we grew up thinking we were never less than and what we could become was only limited by our own desires and hard work.
Their sacrifices color my memories and feelings about Christmas. Along with the holiday becoming a festival of near insatiable consumerism more so than about the birth of a savior, my feelings are reinforced. I just don’t like it. But in saying that, it does not give me the right to deny or diminish the participation or enjoyment of others for the season. Rather than wallow in seasonal depression, I find comfort in action and setting an example, just as my parents did.
For most of the last 20 years, I have spent at least some, if not all of Christmas Eve or Day in a veterinary clinic. This year will be no exception. Though it is a holiday, the medical needs of patients and clients still have to be addressed. In doing so, I am transforming my parents’ legacy of hard work, especially during the holidays, into a positive tribute, enabling others to have and develop memories of their own. It also makes me feel I am giving something to others in the true spirt of the season, like my Mama and Daddy did.
Their example is my beacon each and every day.
Dr. Pierre B. Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients. His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.