Even before Thanksgiving Day was over, shoppers flooded stores for “pre-Black Friday” sales. The following day, shops opened their doors to deal hunters who’d spent the night in cold temperature for the honor of being first in line. Christmas shopping brings out the worst and best in most of us.

The 2013 Neiman Marcus Christmas book shows just how far some folks go to find the “perfect” gifts. The his-and-hers outdoor entertainment center is something spectacular. Who wouldn’t want a television that rises out of the ground and opens to a 211 inch screen with the most advanced sound system? It also features his and her mini-iPads as remotes. The system is a steal for only $1.5 million. Hey, no amount is too large to spend on a loved one.

Others might prefer the Forever Diamond Experience. Oh, it does start with a 2.5 carat Forever diamond, but that’s only the beginning of this little gift for that special girl. Travel takes her to London to view the uncut diamond and to name it. Then a tour of the crown jewels is followed by a trip to Africa to see the place where the diamond was mined. The owner also has the opportunity to see all the wonderful benefits that the workers, their families, and the community receive from the company. Then it’s back to New York to meet with designers and to display the stone to the envious public. It’s a gift that keeps on giving for only $1.85 million.

For those on a tighter budget, the Neiman Marcus 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, one of only 10 in the world, will fit nicely. At only $344,000, the “naturally aspirated 6.0-liter, V-12 engine produces some 565 horsepower and is tuned to deliver 457 pound-feet of torque,” and has a 6-speed automatic
transmission. With a top speed of 180 mph., this more modest Christmas present will have its owner cruising down the highway as he quickly escapes the masses driving boring sedans and SUV’s.

Neiman Marcus makes sure to share the wealth from each of its sales. From the sale of the diamond the company will give $10,000 and from the vehicle it will donate $3000 to the Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation, which brings enriching art experiences to youth in communities nationwide. Hey, maybe it’s not ten percent, but remember that it’s the thought that counts.
On the other end of Christmas is the Angel Tree program. It brings just a bit of light to children. The Angel Tree provides much needed clothing items, special needs gifts, and other wished-for toys to Knox County's neediest children. Approximately 140 names of senior citizens have been added to the trees this year to help out older folks with needs.
The tags on the trees located throughout the area list some items that these children request. Not one of them is much interested in a diamond or car or outdoor entertainment centers. More often, these little ones, instead, ask for socks or gloves or underwear. For toys, they request a doll or simple board game. When they open those presents, their eyes are filled with wonder and joy. Seniors are thrilled with some personal items or for things that offer a few minutes entertainment. All appreciate the distractions from lives otherwise filled with pain and need.
We look forward to Christmas and dream of receiving those gifts that will fulfill those special wishes we harbor. Yes, most of us spend too much on things that lose their luster before long. Those whose wealth has no end struggle to find gifts that are “special” since they can already buy anything that they want.
I leave with this thought: I wonder how many Angel Tree wishes could be answered for the price of just one Neiman Marcus gift, or for the money the company donates to its own fund “for the children.” 

NEVER...Yeah, Right!

After running my mouth hundreds of time during my life, I’m ready to accept that uttering “never means never” is just deluding myself. Over and over again, life and the situations that arise demand changes in what we do or the way we do them.
Some of the never moments involved our children. Amy and I swore that we would never tell our children to “shut up.” For the first year, keeping the vow was easy, but as soon as Lacey and Dallas began to speak, all bets were off. Sometimes their constant jabbering overwhelmed me to the point that I did tell them to stop talking. Of course, when Lacey reached her teens, I’d have given anything to hear her angelic little girl voice instead of the one that was filled with surly indifference.
I also declared that my children would never escape punishment when it was deserved. That usually meant a swat or two across the bottom. With Dallas I learned that no amount of swats would bring about the desired remorse or correction in behavior. He’d set his jaw and refuse to be contrite while I was present. Eventually, Amy and I discovered that the worst punishment for the boy was to place him in a room where he had nothing to stimulate him. Before long, Dallas was apologizing and begging for release.
Holidays also brought out the “never” part of me. Thanksgiving had never been a big deal when I was young. Daddy’s shift work might have him away or in the bed resting for the night shift. I wanted to make sure my family stayed at home and enjoyed the food and company.
At some point, we did change our plans. Amy’s extended family began meeting at her cousin’s house. We’d load up the car and travel to Cookeville for the day, and after overeating and visiting with folks, we climbed back into the car for a long drive back to Knoxville. However, it was worth the travel to spend time with her family.
This year, I’m choking on “never” again. We celebrated Thanksgiving the weekend before the official date. It was the best time for the kids to travel to Knoxville for the feast. Lacey’s family went to the other grandparents’ house on Thanksgiving, and Dallas had planned to share the day with a friend in Chattanooga. We were separated for the first time, something that surprised me, but it turned out well.
My biggest proclamations concerned Christmas. At first, I claimed that my family would always wake up Christmas morning at our house, and that’s the way it happened until grandson Madden was born. It became important to his mom that he be at home to open presents. I resisted and growled like a bear about not changing, but then Amy clarified the situation for me. She explained that she would be in Nashville at Christmas and that I was welcome to join her. If not, she said I could stay home by myself. Ouch! Since that time, we’ve spent the holiday with Lacey’s family, and Dallas makes the journey from Chattanooga. It’s a nice way to spend that special day, and being away from home isn’t bad except for the fact that I have to board our Jack Russell Snoop at Butler Animal Clinic.
I spent 30 years as a high school English teacher, and when I retired from the job, I vowed that I would “never” go back, especially as a substitute teacher. Guess what? Our situation has taken a turn to the point that I’m now looking for part time employment. No perfect job exists, and if I don’t come up with one before long, I’ll have to go back to the classroom as a sub.

I’m discovering that nothing in this life is set in stone and all things are subject to change. Accepting that fact is sometimes difficult, but it’s either a matter of rolling with the punches or being left behind. One thing is for sure: I’ll “never” again say “never!”


Over the weekend Amy dispatched me to purchase a quartz heater. Its purpose is to knock off the chill in our family room. At one time in life, I might have objected because heaters smothered me and had me taking off layers of clothes. Things are different these days because I sit and shiver as my hands and feet turn to blocks of ice. It’s not a state unfamiliar to me.
When we were small children, our house was heated with a coal-burning Warm Morning Heater. It was set in the living room on an asbestos mat. The efficiency of that stove left much to be desired. On especially cold mornings, a light coating of ice covered portions of the plaster walls and all of the windows.
The bedroom Jim and I shared was just as cold as the living room. We lay under a couple of quilts and bedspreads. When the time came to get up, we ran across the wood floors and came to abrupt stops in front of the stove. For a few minutes we’d turn ourselves from front to back in vain attempts to warm up. One side would be comfortable, but when we turned, it would again be painfully cold in no time. Jim and I retreated to our room where we grabbed clothes and shoes. In front of the heater we dressed for the day.
Breakfast during the weekdays consisted of cream of wheat or oatmeal with toast. Mother’s oven was an oversized appliance that could bake up to four pies at once. She’d open its door and turn on the broiler so that the heat from it would warm the kitchen. We boys were thankful to arrive at school where the classrooms were comfortably warm.
Daddy hired some men at the mill to dig out a basement so that a coal furnace could be installed. It changed our lives for the better in some ways, but the thing wasn’t the perfect heating source. The metal monster demanded food, and our older brother trod down the steps to serve coal into the stoker. Every few days he had to carry buckets of clinkers that Daddy had fished from the furnace.
The house was warmer than it had ever been, but it came with a price. The first time the furnace fired each year, it coughed smoke from every register. For the next couple of days the haze continued. At the same time, the fuel wasn’t the cleanest. We woke up, made a bee-line to the bathroom, grabbed a handful of toilet paper, and blew the black crud from our heads. Sure, we were warmer, but the coal burner contributed to headaches, sinus infections, and upper respiratory problems.
After Daddy died, Mother abandoned the furnace because she couldn’t and knew we wouldn’t keep the thing filled with coal. She had her brother Charles find good electric heaters for the rooms in the house. They blew warm air, but no area ever warmed up enough to be comfortable. We’d squawk when someone stood in front of the heater and blocked the flow.
Not until all of us left home did Mother have a heat pump installed. It didn’t produce enough “hot” air so Mother purchased a monster wood burning stove that had us throwing open every window in the house the first time it was fired up on a cold winter’s day.

Now, I’m like so many senior citizens who struggle with being just a little “chilly.” That’s where the new heater comes to the rescue. I have another one in my office, the other room where I spend hours at a time. However, when I go to bed, I want the room to be cool. Most nights, the window at the head of our bed is opened a little to let fresh, nippy air in. I don’t so much mind that morning cold air because our house can be quickly heated so that we are comfortable. I worry about the day that comes when my feet and hands turn to permanent ice cubes.