Can­dle­light and kids are fuel for the hol­i­days

Orlando Sentinel - - EXTRA FAMILY & LIFE - Chris.ersk­[email protected]­times.com Twit­ter @er­sk­ine­times

“I’m not some chump,” I as­sured her.

Though I am kind of a chump. I just hate to be one so pub­licly.

Hon­estly, you could just give me can­dle­light for Christ­mas and I’d be happy. Can­dle­light and my kids, maybe a pas­sive-ag­gres­sive pet wolf that lies at my feet while I cook, snag­ging bits of fly­ing ba­con and other schmutz.

I’m a sucker for the siz­zle of the stove. And the can­dle glow of early win­ter — in the win­dows, in the choir faces, in the skies that re­sem­ble big bowls of sil­ver soup.

I’m a sucker for ev­ery­thing, I sup­pose.

When I was a lit­tle drunk the other night — on wine and friend­ship — I or­dered my lovely and pa­tient older daugh­ter a beau­ti­ful sweater.

It looked re­ally ter­rific, but what doesn’t look good on­line? Satan looks good on­line. Even wolves look good on­line, which I think is how we ended up with this one.

Any­way, the sweater looked like a pud­dle of baby sheep. When it ar­rives — if it ar­rives — the sweater will prob­a­bly be made of ply­wood and there’ll be one sleeve miss­ing. That’s how on­line shop­ping works, es­pe­cially if you’re a lit­tle drunk on wine and friend­ship.

Look, hol­i­days are all on my shoul­ders this year. Used to be my late wife Posh took on much of the over­spend­ing, so now it’s up to me to over­spend.

At this point, I’m just buy­ing things to buy things, which was al­ways Posh’s guid­ing prin­ci­ple when it came to gifts.

Then there’s the food. In the kitchen, I keep look­ing for short­cuts. Chili in a can. Pres­liced pota­toes. A lit­tle plas­tic boat of dried-out deli chicken.

But I’m find­ing at this late stage in my life that there are no short­cuts. You get back ex­actly what you put into things.

The big test is Christ­mas. You get ex­actly what you put into it — or maybe a lit­tle less.

I must be some­thing to watch dur­ing the hol­i­days. I can pull a schnitzel just wa­ter­ing the tree. Or burn my tongue on an­other big spoon­ful of schmutzen­vo­gel, an old fam­ily recipe made of pheas­ant lips, gar­den gloves and gin.

Of course, my big­gest fear is that my son will grow up to be just like me, though he de­serves bet­ter. The other day, one of his sis­ters and I were list­ing all my teen son’s best at­tributes and came up with:

Af­ter he eats, there are al­ways lit­tle crumbs in the cor­ners of his mouth. He falls asleep so eas­ily. Good with wolves. Amaz­ing, right? Plus, he is the most af­fa­ble and re­silient teenager ever. I’m re­ally start­ing to love the skinny idiot. He is my true north. He is my Christ­mas can­dle.

Guess we are all can­dles, if we choose to be. We can brighten a hol­i­day in the sim­plest ways — a joke, a phone call, a note to an old pal.

Lis­ten, I know Christ­mas can be con­fus­ing: Figgy pud­ding? What the fig is that? And where did this Trans-Siberian Orches­tra come from? (Don’t tell me Trans-Siberia, be­cause even I know that’s not a coun­try any­more.)

What a mess some­times. Yet within the hol­i­days are these very hu­man mo­ments — these siz­zling lit­tle in­ter­ludes that make us smile and carry on: the sore schnitzels, the bun­gled short­cuts and es­pe­cially the kind­nesses of strangers and friends.

As you may know, we live in a wob­bly three­bed­room house built by cretins, with­out a sin­gle nail, ap­par­ently, in half an hour. To hold it to­gether, they mixed paste with cherry pie.

Our house flut­ters like a sail in the chill De­cem­ber wind and jumps a lit­tle when­ever the UPS truck rum­bles past. If you hang some­thing on the wall, the wall falls down.

But at Christ­mas­time, our house just glows — with Posh’s mem­ory and the beau­ti­ful echoes of the wry Chevy Chase ref­er­ences our late older son used to make.

It glows with the can­dle­light of their smiles, come and gone.

And with fresh laugh­ter, too, like when Ra­pun­zel gets her in­sanely thick win­ter mane caught as we dec­o­rate the tree. “Ouch-ouch-ouch!” “What?”

“I’m caught!”

I know, kid. We all are.

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