Rick's List -- Fond Holiday Mem'ries Edition

More and more, friends and family members in my age group have commented that the Holiday Season, bookended by the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, is an increasingly depressing period.

"Everybody's dying," commented one friend.

"We used to have 20, 25 people over for Thanksgiving dinner or at Christmas," said another. "Now we're lucky if we get five."

Well, I choose to accentuate the positive and focus on some excellent holiday memories to inspire the spirit of the current season — rather than dampen it.

1. One indelible image is of my Uncle John, who showed up at our house late one Christmas morning when we were still kids. He was recently widowed — Aunt Idell had died in a nightmarish boating accident — and Uncle John brought my sister and me beautifully wrapped bottles of cheap gin.

2. It was Thanksgiving of 1982. I was on the road with a band called Broxton, and we were doing a residency at a Holiday Inn lounge in an chemical-smelling paper mill town in the piney woods of East Texas. Absolutely nothing was open on Thanksgiving, so we ate microwaved burritos from 7-Eleven and celebrated with turkey-themed scratch-off lotto tickets. I had a sinister cold and sore throat, too — I remember that — and all four of us kept laughing at my tongue, which was whitish-orange with infection.

3. One brutally cold December day, with flecks of snow falling like dandruff, I saw a guy ringing a bell outside a grocery store. Instead of a Santa hat and a Salvation Army logo, though, he was dressed in black and his face was caked in pale makeup. In hoarse exhalations to passersby, he'd mumble, "Christmas contributions to the Dark Lord Satan Charities?" I didn't have any money to give, but I donated some tins of smoked hawk.

4. Just a week ago, my wife Eileen and I enjoyed a simple, "just the two of us" Thanksgiving. We had pre-sliced American cheese, Triscuits and a festive jar of dry-roasted peanuts. Complicated IRS threats, insurance forms and red-stamped foreclosure documents were spread out across the dining room table, so we settled instead on the upholstered pile of mashed potatoes we call a couch. There, we munched our delicacies in metronomic bovinity, ignoring the big-screen airing the Hallmark network's 17th premiere from their newest line of Christmas movies and instead sat silently, staring dully out the window as the weak, urine-colored sun drooled over the horizon like a wounded turtle sinking in quicksand.

5. My Dad didn't like the whole "family opens presents" deal, so he'd leave early on Christmas morning to serve as a voluntary pallbearer at funerals for people who'd outlived relatives and had no one left to carry their bodies to the graveyard.

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