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This Week's Issue: Believe it or not, your pet probably has a pretty good grasp on your moods and demeanor. He probably doesn't understand some of what you tell him, but many times he totally understands what you don't tell him. Homer has been with Isabel during several of her most stressful years, and this year, despite her apparent revival, he and Micah begin to wonder where her "inner child" has gone.

Christmas and The Child Within Us

Comet and Cupid, Donder and Blitzen . . . The sound of reindeer on the roof, sleigh bells in the dark of night, a fat and lively Saint Nick; many of the wonderful illusions that we once cherished in our childish imaginations have slowly faded away and are all but gone. Growing older definitely takes its toll on our belief systems and play coefficients, and Isabel would appear to be another casualty of that insidious aging process. Isabel said just the other day that "I'm past all those silly myths -- Christmas is just becoming a big business." That's certainly not the Isabel I remember!

At Faded Glory, I've seen eleven Christmases come and go. Funny thing when you define your age by the number of Christmases you've witnessed. As a pup, I loved to abscond with, and devour, the shiny tinsel icicles and stale gingerbread ornaments from our Christmas tree. They didn't taste very good, but they did get me lots of negative attention during a season when any facet of Isabel's attention was hard to get.

I was there many years ago to watch Isabel's tears of joy on the Christmas that Ray gave her his mother's simple gold wedding ring. I was also there nearly three years ago when Isabel spent her first dismal Christmas without Ray after 42 years of marriage. For some, as their illusions die and reality sets in, Christmas tends to lose it's lustre, it becomes a chore, and it assumes the spectre of melancholy memories. For others, Christmas is a 'seasonal mindset;' although belief has gone, it represents a pleasant escape from current realities and a chance to take a flight of fancy and revisit the kinder and gentler days of our youthful innocence.

No matter what your viewpoint is on the subject, Christmas probably hasn't changed, but you, indeed, may have. Charles Dickens certainly recognized those changes and wrote eloquently about them.

Micah mentioned recently that he actually reads Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" every couple of years so that he can regain his child-like perspective on the joyous and selfless meaning of Christmas. Because Isabel has no children or grand-children, the memories of Christmas as seen through the eyes of a child are now very far behind her. Strangely enough, Christmas means many different things to different people.

Isabel, in her own way, must have sensed her own spiritual backslide because this year she did something she has never done before. Two weeks ago, Isabel visited Ed Hightower at The Citizens' Bank and had his Head Teller cut a cashier's check in the amount of $10,000. Isabel didn't designate a payee on the check, but carefully placed it in her pocketbook, and took it home with her.

Ignoring her own churches' annual appeal for charitable gifts, she forged ahead and began calling local not-for-profit organizations like "Secret Santa," "Coats for Kids," and "Toys For Tots" to ask about their policies regarding gifts to the disadvantaged. At one point during the process, she even talked Micah and Louella into making some of these calls. It would have been fun to hear Louella 'grilling' some hapless charity executive as to their policies and mode of operation, but, unfortunately, I was not present when she made her calls. Pity.

Isabel's reason for 'vetting' these charities was to ensure that they weren't skimming off a large percentage of their incoming contributions for 'overhead,' employee salaries, and perks. Micah attempted to point out to Isabel that her finite analysis of policy and procedure might be draining joy from the process and reducing her donation to a hard, cold business transaction and a thoroughly analytical exercise.

Once Isabel had convinced herself that her path to giving was unobstructed, she filled out the blank "payee" line on her check to read Coats For Kids and personally delivered it in a plain white envelope -- to the Coats For Kids offices. Coats for Kids is a local volunteer organization which buys and donates new, warm, winter coats for hundreds of needy children in our county. Isabel is a kind and generous - if not pragmatic - lady, and I am sure that her generous gift made a huge difference to her chosen charity. Knowing Isabel, I'm sure that it made her feel warm and fuzzy, as well.

I personally believe that much of our Christmas 'spirit' gushes from a wellhead that was excavated in your psyches by the time most of you were ten years old. It probably evolved as a potpourri of mystical stories, songs, Disney Cartoons, ancient bible parables, tales told by your parents and relatives, and, of course, the ever-present media. Christian, or non-Christian, it's hard to evade the long reach of this beloved and highly-celebrated holiday. The joy of Christmastime seems to transcend the effect of wars, famines, depressions and other human tragedies brought to bear by mankind and Mother Nature.

As she has done in previous years, Isabel will close the Inn two weeks before Christmas and reopen on the day after New Year's. Micah and Hank will take their usual temporary positions for two weeks with the U.S. Post Office in Morganton, Rita Gonzalez will visit her children in Mexico, and Pauline Patrick will stay on and earn some precious overtime doing an annual 'deep cleaning' of the Inn's six suites. Since Isabel will have no family members visiting over the holidays, she has invited Pauline and Louella Hess to join her and Ed Hightower for Christmas dinner at Faded Glory this year. With the recent addition of Ed Hightower to her life, Isabel would seem to have reestablished her grip on happiness, and none of us at the Inn will be surprised to witness a return of 'the old Isabel.'

This year, when Micah and Hank offered to bring in the Christmas decorations from the loft of the shed, Isabel's answer was "Yes, why not?" Soon, box after box of Christmas lights, ornaments, wreaths, and Christmas garland filled Isabel's small sitting room on the first floor. Spook's huge gilded cage was almost buried in a sea of dusty boxes, and old Spook was definitely getting nervous. Hank Beavers was assigned to assemble and test the endless strings of brightly-colored Christmas lights that would soon outline the windows, doorways, and gables of Faded Glory, to the delight of those driving by on Route 60. Later in the week when old Bobby Merritt arrived with his ancient pickup truck loaded with seasoned red oak, he was quick to observe the frenzied activity around the Inn, and commented, "now, that's the spirit!" Isabel overheard his comment, smiled broadly, and seemed quick to agree. Yes, preparations for Christmas are truly getting underway here at Faded Glory.

While Micah and Louella seemed pleased to see Isabel's outward manifestations of Christmas spirit, they both wonder quietly, among themselves, if Isabel is truly back to "the old Isabel." As Micah says, "there is a child living in each and every one of us," but I don't think that Micah has yet witnessed the revival of that 'inner child' in Isabel.

But, regardless of her motivation, Isabel seems to be part way to her spiritual destination and still moving in the right direction. Only time will tell.

© 2010-2011 David Johnson, All Rights Reserved