Every year about this time I get a lump in my throat. I start out strong in November looking forward to the holidays only to settle into the melancholy of memories of Christmas past. 

As a kid I had a strong belief in Santa Claus, fostered by my parents and grandparents. These were the days before that dreadful “elf on a shelf,” when all mom and dad had to do was mention that Santa was watching and we’d straighten up our act. My sister and I spent our December circling toys we had our eyes on in the annual Christmas Sears catalog and spending our dollars at Sprouse-Reitz in South Tucson, buying Christmas gifts for our mom, dad and little brother. 

When Tammie and I were solo we slept in the same bed and would quietly sneak out of our room to see the tinseled tree – that I swear had a sound – only to find piles of presents and gift tags with handwriting that was Santa’s. In my mind’s eye I see my mom walking down the hall in her terry cloth nightgown followed by my dad in the gray velour robe we bought him on Father’s Day. 

After my brother was born, we would sneak into his room on Christmas morning and gently shake his crib until we woke him and then scurry off to our room to wait for my mom to come to his rescue. If we played our cards right, she’d signal to us that it was okay to get up and we would make our way to the living room to take in all the glory.

The year we got our Cabbage Patch dolls was the same year that our rock star uncle from Hollywood showed up to my grandparents’ house on Christmas morning. I remember the feeling of excitement and joy and the oversized RATT t-shirt he brought me as a souvenir. I also remember my great-uncle sneaking into the liquor cabinet to add a little Christmas cheer to his coffee while all the adults were outside welcoming my mom’s brother and his wife. He winked at us with a finger to his lips – shhhhh” – certainly not the first or last time. 

It was common knowledge among us kids that my mom’s brother hung the moon and one of my saddest moments was when I realized that he was in fact mortal. I have since made my peace with it.

At our house we made iced sugar cookies every year, and for some reason every Christmas Eve we left out cookies, eggnog and one Bud Light. We were told that both Santa and the 

Easter Bunny liked Budweiser. At grandma’s house on Christmas morning, we were treated to hamburger gravy and mounds of white toast and over easy eggs that were cooked to perfection. The latter part of the day would usually include roast beef—or “roast beast” as my mom calls it—and tons of dessert.

Christmas changes as you get older for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Things didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought they would but with every passing year I try to carry on the best I can. I still make iced sugar cookies and leave out one Bud Light for Santa. 

My heart firmly lives in the ‘80s when I think about Christmas. That’s where my dad lives too. He’s tucked in the warmth of that gray velour robe with the navy blue piping, emerging from the hallway on Christmas morning. The sound of the tinsel is the only thing I hear. 

If we make it through December

Everything’s going to be alright, I know

— Merle Haggard