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“Recession? What recession?”
Those were surprising words shared in a telephone call some days back with a former colleague and dear friend.
Said fellow was overtaken by some mysterious malady recently and left the newspaper business that both of us grew up in. Nowadays, he runs a furniture store in South Georgia. Checking in on him that Monday, I discovered he was enjoying something that is few and far between in my world - his former world - a rare day off. Come to find out, he’d hit a home run, a triple, double and single all wrapped up in one over the previous weekend. Hence, his jolly outlook on life. Hitting for the cycle and thanks to an expected fat paycheck, my good buddy was racing around his new hometown doing some serious Christmas shopping for his wife and daughter. I could relate. Not to the big revenue weekend, but to the holiday frenzy. While my wife and I put a major dent in our Christmas list on Black Friday, I still needed to take care of her gifts … and my son’s extra special Santa items. Over the past couple of days, I’ve gotten serious. My darling spouse says I am the closest thing to Ebenezer Scrooge she’s ever run across (I still declare I am merely frugal and not a skin flint). Appearances might confirm her assessment. And we ALL know, she is always right! So, in order to preserve my matrimonial state and lend a helping hand to our area retailers, yours truly spread a little Christmas cheer (spelled C-A-S-H) over the past several days. Thankfully, I am a trained listener. Across the months I’d picked up on a few items she wouldn’t mind finding under the tree. Our son is easy. Gadgets and gizmos crank his tractor. Fortunately, because we scaled back personal giving this year in favor of helping those less fortunate, most of the not-so-big-ticket items were handily available right here in Roane County. Unfortunately, some of the smaller items they really liked could only be had in Knoxville. Thus and therefore, I found myself in that massive melée Sunday afternoon. What caught my eye as I ticked off item after item were the blank, sad and sometimes even angry looks on peoples’ faces. There certainly was some kind of spirit of the season, it just wasn’t the one I’d expected. The experience reminded me of a message a pastor recently passed along from the pulpit. He said Americans are more and more crowding Christ out of Christmas. That dovetailed with a recent letter to the editor I read in a Northeast Tennessee daily newspaper. The reader was lamenting the fact that Christmas has gone from a time of honoring the birth of our Savior to a time of preserving “big box” profits. Hmmmm. I certainly don’t have an argument on that for sure. As a matter of fact, my parents – and my wife’s folks – always seemed to keep us level headed when it comes to the holidays. Daddy recounted stories of growing up dirt poor in a coal mining community. He said his finest gifts were when his Dad would find time to spend with him and his brothers and sisters. My father in law shared similar heart-touching tales of his youth. The one that always comes to mind is when he was a teenager in New York City during World War II. Following an unexpected surgery, he found himself separated from his shipmates. That particular Christmas Eve night, James Clark spent a glorious evening at the Salvation Army near the pier where he found good food, good friends, a soft bed and a warm blanket. My goodness, how we are so, ever so spoiled. Leaving the office Sunday evening I made the left turn at 3rd and Race Streets. That’s when I noticed the United Way sign in the Courthouse lawn. It told a sad tale. This year’s United Way campaign has only reached 70 percent of goal. Surely, we can muster support from our coin and cookie jars to get that closer to 100. In the less than five minute drive to the house I thought of other ways we can help. You already know the fine folks I work with here at the newspaper are a happy band of ding-a-lings. Recently, we clocked about 30 man hours ringing in the season for the Salvation Army. We’ve also given time and money to United Way, Operation REACH, Roane Imagination Library, Hands of Mercy and the Rockwood Ministerial Association food banks. Many of those gifts have been of the anonymous variety – the way we like it. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is this. If you find yourself worn down by trying to chase the “perfect” gift for those on your lists, consider giving them time and love. The best way is to make a donation to the organization or church outreach mission of their choice. Believe it or not, they will cherish gifts such as these more than a flamboyant neck tie or jelly of the month. Spend if you must, just remember that during this most blessed time of year, magic and memories can happen at any moment.