I'll be fine and dandy, it's like a hard candy Christmas
I'll barely make it through tomorrow, but I won't let sorrow bring me way down
--Dolly Parton, "Hard Candy Christmas" lyrics
I couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old.
I was sitting in the middle of our living room floor, surrounded by the wrapping paper of what was left of what once was a pile of presents under a big Christmas tree in the corner.
I asked Daddy, "What was the best Christmas present you ever got?"
I'll never forget his answer. It haunts me this time every year.
"Son, a good Christmas for us was when we got an orange and a candy stick."
That was the answer. The entire answer. I never asked again.
Even at that age I felt ashamed at all the toys, books, and clothes I received, knowing that Daddy had never, ever had a Christmas like that.
We always went to Grandpa and Grandma Berry's on Christmas Day. They lived up on Wahsega Road, about six miles outside Dahlonega. The house is still there, Daddy's and Uncle Johnny's initials still etched in the chimney they helped erect in 1932. Daddy was twelve, Uncle Johnny thirteen.
Grandma and Grandpa had a Christmas tree, too. I can still see it next to the fireplace, the only source of heat for the entire house. It was one they had cut from their land, lit with old bare-wired lights, trimmed with older glass ornaments.
They didn't have electricity until after World War II. They never had indoor plumbing (i.e. a toilet). Grandma's phone number was 4-3128 (didn't need the "86" before the "4" in the prefix until they got "dial phones"). Most of the time you just picked up the phone and asked for whomever you wanted to talk to.
It's amazing what you remember.
I never, ever lacked for anything. Mama and Daddy made sure of that.
But sometimes I wonder how Grandma did it.
I bitch and moan if my cell signal's weak. Grandma cooked on a wood-burning stove.
I whine if my television's satellite signal is interrupted by the weather. Grandma milked her cows until the week before she passed away.
I drive to work every day. I still remember Mama and Daddy talking about walking everywhere they went, as did most folks who lived up here during that time.
It's Christmas again, and if we spent as much time talking about the meaningful things in life rather than what we don't have, can't do, or wish we had, we'd be much better off.
I'll be fine and dandy. Because Mama and Daddy had a lot of hard candy Christmases.