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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Nightmare

I've been waxing nostalgic this week over Thanksgiving. Now I'm going to wax some more, reaching, I'm afraid, a sad conclusion.

Like Thanksgiving, Christmas has always been a big deal in my family. The Friday after Thanksgiving used to be the day my dad would crook his finger and off he and I would go to fetch the Christmas tree. We'd hop in his truck and drive into the hills while my mother and sister stayed behind and got the house ready, rearranging furniture and pulling boxes out of the attic. In the rural 1960s trees were pretty cheap: a dollar if you chopped one yourself, two dollars if you picked one already cut. Without exception we cut our own, both because doing so was financially prudent and because a fresh tree lasted longer. As though yesterday, I can see my short, skinny self in hat and coat stomping through snowy woods in search of the perfect tree, patient pop close behind with his hatchet. When the deed was done, dad would haul the tree back, pay the dollar, and home we would go, my father singing The Bear Came Over The Mountain and I rubbing my child hands together, picturing nature's artwork over by the staircase a-glitter with our handiwork, with twinkle bulbs and ornaments and tinsel and star. 

My childhood memories of the day after Thanksgiving have nothing to do with shopping, and most certainly do not harken back to WalMart riots where thousands of people charge into a store at 5 a.m. to save a few bucks on a Chinese-made television. 

What is happening to us?

I'm not suggesting that my life growing up was a Norman Rockwell painting. We had our struggles like everybody else: we weren't wealthy by any standard, sometimes my parents were out of work, and sometimes my mother and father were angry or sad or cross. Sometimes my sister and I got spanked (yes...gasp...spanked). We got yelled at and punished and most of the time the punishment was inflicted because we had it coming: we were being selfish, or we were mouthing off to adults, or we weren't doing our jobs, like chores and schoolwork. My non-Norman Rockwell parents taught us to be honest and to work hard; they taught us to be generous with people who had less than we did; they taught us the importance of being educated, to save money, and that to try with conviction was to succeed. They taught us ethics and values. When times were good we got nice Christmas presents, and when times weren't we didn't. We had one television, one telephone, and one record player, all of which had been paid for in cash. My parents did not have credit cards, and they did not clamor for bargains. If there was no money to pay for something, that something didn't get bought. My mother sewed many of her own clothes, and mine. I was not a fashion plate. But I was warm and fed and loved and raised by good, hard-working people. In the 1960s, that was enough. With that rearing, the likelihood of my shoving people out of the way at the crack of dawn to get a deal on a WalMart toaster is on par with the likelihood of Martians landing on my front porch tonight and carrying me off. So I say again: what is happening to us?

News about the Black Friday mobs fills me with profound sadness. I'm also angry, less so with the mindless human cattle who stampede to buy a two-dollar waffle iron and more with the corporations so desperate to fill their cash registers that they have created this shopping "event." What I feel about the shoppers is fear. A writer at the Hawaii News Daily posed this question: "If Americans will literally fight each other over saving 20 bucks, what is going to happen someday when millions of them don't know where their next meal is coming from?" All of us...consumers, stores, and the corporate suits who lit this stick of dynamite in the first place...should be ashamed, although I'm not sure shame is even a part of our vernacular anymore. "Entitled" has replaced any concept of behavior that is simply wrong. We've all listened to Madison Avenue and now believe we're entitled to whatever we can get our hands on, and have the right to the object at any cost, even if it means killing another person to put the thing in our shopping cart.

Speaking of which, in Buffalo a man was trampled at a Target when throngs of people rushed through the doors at 4 a.m. He said later "I thought I was going to die." In another incident in San Leandro California, a man was wounded after being shot following Black Friday shopping. And then there's the lady with the pepper spray (also in California), who injured 20 people while waiting in line for a new Xbox 360. The woman reportedly started spraying people to "get an advantage" in the shopping frenzy, and was in the company of two children. What a lovely holiday keepsake. Merry Christmas, kids.

As for me, I'm clinging to the memory of that one-dollar pine tree and hoping we can right this vessel before it goes down, before those of us who were raised to be humans are all dead and leave in our wake a nightmare ship of snarling animals tearing each other to pieces...over plastic toys.

How about this? In 2012, on the day after Thanksgiving, all the stores close, and instead of shopping every American who is a "have" finds somebody who's a "have not" and takes them a big basket of turkey and stuffing and potatoes and pie. Wouldn't it be great if we could turn Black Friday into a day that actually is about giving?


Garland Garrote said...

It's been a few years now since a 6'5" 400 lb Walmart employee was trampled to death by a Black Friday crowd. This year, Target shoppers were stepping around and, yes, stepping OVER a heart attack victim dying on the floor. One of these years a young child will be crushed into a stain on the floor and our beneficent lawmakers will be elbowing one another aside to author "Lamar's Law", which will make it illegal to offer "highly desired" merchandise in "dangerously limited" quantities. And by the way, Walmart and Target don't care if thousands of dollars of YOUR money are being spent on extra "security" in the form of "police protection", which in many cases this year looked like armed thugs being paid overtime to taze and brutalize the least offenders. Where do you think the "pepper spray lady" got THAT idea?

Rose 10e said...

I agree totally with this, Kathy. There's so much wrong with what Christmas has become - a frightening creation of Madison Avenue and commercialism. I am grateful to have the simpler memories like yours to treasure and wonder what memories today's children will actually have that are worth treasuring.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Somewhere along the way simple became not enough. I remember the way my mother decorated the house, the twinkle lights, the flurry of anticipation, the moment of waking Christmas morning and being unable to sleep the night before, the pine smell in the house, and being stretched out on the floor looking at gift-wrapped presents, the contents of which I now can't recall. Christmas was never about what we got. It was about everything else.

Anita said...

I love Christmas, and the thing I like the most is the Christmas Tree. I love to curl up on the couch in front of it, maybe read a good book and stop to stare at it. I am mesmerized! I agree Christmas was always about all the little details that memories are built on, and some of us will carry them on.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum