Shattered gumball machines and holiday dreams - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Shattered gumball machines and holiday dreams

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    Robert N. Hart
    Robert N. Hart

Lynne D. Schwabe was owner of Schwabe-May of Charleston, ran her own marketing consulting firm and is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Women's Wear Daily and has appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch. She currently is director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal.gmail.com.

What is it about the holidays? We sail into them with such high expectations and stumble out of them, exhausted and worn. That more people commit suicide during the holidays than any other time of the year is a dead (sorry) giveaway that turkey and Santa Claus and the spirit of giving and the most wonderful time of the year isn't working the way it should for a lot of us.

I love the holidays and am one of the blue-haired old ladies who drives around neighborhoods, looking at Christmas lights. I plan Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for months, although I don't know why: we always have exactly the same thing.  I love getting the Christmas tree (check out Dan and Bryan Trees in Shepherdstown — amazing), trimming it (only with lights — one has to draw a line someplace) and sitting by the fire, admiring it. 

Because I was in the retail business, this time of year always brings to mind holiday sweaters, which, gagging, we would order by the boatload. Cheers would always follow, however, because every single Christmas sweater always sold. At first price. Go figure. 

This year, one is being advertised that has a fireplace "pocket" knitted on the front, the idea being that you get a lit fire app for your phone, insert it in the pocket and behold! You are wearing a sweater with a "real" fire blazing on it. Ingenious.

This morning on NPR, there was an interview with a punch expert. I admit that I didn't know punch experts existed. This gentleman went on and on about glistening punch bowls and various recipes, mostly Southern, for punch, including horrifying combinations of things like brandy, bourbon and sauterne with sugar sprinkled liberally over all. Not being a punch expert, I don't get this. But even the simple-minded can figure out that with enough liquor, everything begins to seem jolly. Or as the actual punch expert put it, "Drink enough and you can forgive anything, even your relatives."

My friend Candy Galyean, who sadly died last year, hated Christmas. This had nothing to do with her being Jewish and everything to do with the blatant commercialization of the holidays. For years, she and another friend, Linda Bucci, had an ongoing battle to see who could outdo the other at Christmas. Since they both were very funny people, the rest of us lived to see what they would come up with each year. In my book, Linda won when she went out and found one of those houses that has Christmas lights covering every square inch of it and all of the landscaping. She took a picture of this stunning effort to celebrate the season and sent it out to all of Candy's friends … as Candy's Christmas card.

I don't remember many Christmases from my childhood, which all goes to show that even with all the hype, these memories can be fleeting. However, I recall with blazing clarity the Christmas when I was seven. My sister had just been born, and I had been moved to a bedroom under the eves of our house in the attic, which I thought was about the most grown up thing ever. The twisting, narrow staircase that led to it just added to the glamour. My favorite present that year was a gumball machine. Remember that this was 140 years ago, and gumball machines were not as ubiquitous as they are now. In fact, I don't remember seeing them in every grocery store, airport and restaurant, which just made this gift with its tantalizing, brightly-colored gumballs even more exotic. That I had to insert a penny to get the gum only contributed to the allure. 

Christmas night, after all the presents had been opened, roast beef eaten and dishes put away, after the entire family was sound asleep, I woke up with an overwhelming desire for a gumball. The machine was downstairs, nestled under the tree. Down I crept, tucked the gumball machine under my arm and trouped back upstairs to my lair. Just where the stairway crooked, I lost my balance. I didn't fall, but the gumball machine did, shattering loudly on the steps, releasing clattering gumballs that bounced and rolled downstairs with a shocking clatter. That was the end of the gumball machine, and my hopes of being the coolest kid on the block with an attic room all of my own AND a gumball machine. 

Now that I think of it, had the gumball machine survived, that would have been the start of my retailing career, as I shystered my friends out of their hard-earned pennies, while touting the glories of sugar-coated gum.

Some of us make too much of the holidays and exhaust ourselves (and our bank accounts) in the process. The punch expert had it right when he said that we should use the holidays to get ourselves out of the "everydayness" of our lives. He's right. We have to value the holidays and our families in all the best ways, without working ourselves into a frenzy. In other words, try not to make them "Such A Big Deal." Life will continue the day after Christmas.

And, when that execrable fruitcake from dear Aunt Mabel arrives, just use it as a door stop and move on.