When I was in pre-College school I never really had to worry about things like buying presents or actually doing anything for Christmas. However, while I enjoyed Christmas, I never really could enjoy it until school was let out. This worsened in High School when there was such a thing as a midterm exam (which in hindsight seem pretty silly). When I got in College this got even worse, since there was actually such a thing as failing a class (this never seemed possible in HS - C's were a worst case scenario). I've basically been on the mindset that I simply cannot "enjoy the season" until or unless my duties are fulfilled.
Flash forward to today. I have a job at the same University I attended. Ergo, it wasn't entirely like "moving off" to a new job/life - it was kinda like going back to school for another semester. Again. Also, being a government job it has pretty good holidays. December 21st was the last day until today - seven business days off, eleven total. Therefore it wasn't like what my Wife had to do - finagle the hell out of getting a day or two bookending Christmas and preceding New Year's - I just had my long holday handed to me. Once again - it wasn't like I was getting off for a day or two, it was like "Christmas Break".
As a result of all of this my mindset was "don't worry about Christmas until you're done with _____" - the blank filled by "work" this time. It makes sense - I was in school of one form or another for 18 years. What didn't quite occur to me was the fact that this left me four days to be concerned with Christmas.
On the morning of December 21, my last day at work, I got a call from my sister telling me my Grandmother on my Dad's side passed away. She was 85 and her health had been headed downhill for a few weeks. Suffice it to say this threw me for a loop.
Four years ago her husband, my Grandfather, passed away. He was a good man but somewhat tough to live with and love, a result of a depression/war generation. After he passed she had about four years of peace - I know that sounds bad, but his decline into bad health was less than gentle. She finally got cable (he didn't believe in it) and had lots of changes made to the house. One weekend when I went home from school I found myself roped into helping lay a concrete sidewalk for her with my Dad and two uncles on his side (I realized halfway through that the sidewalk would have been unneccessary if we would just move her mailbox from one door to the other, but oh well). She was diabetic but she didn't need Insulin until this last year. A couple of years ago when a sudden bout of pneumonia put her in the hospital the nurses got a chuckle when they found her purse full of Fun Size Snickers. In April of this year she decided to sell her house and move into a retirement home (side note - my Grandfather built two more garages in his backyard to house stuff - my packratting stems from this, I'm convinced). I visited her there once or twice - to call this place the Ritz would have been an understatement. It was nice, and since Texarkana can be a "never leave" city, she would up living on the same floor as people she went to High School with and lived on the same block as. Six months ago she gave up driving (which since I'd witnessed her driving I can say I was relieved). She moved into the "assisted living" section - the nursing home part, basically. Within the last month she had to go to the hospital a few times for things like falling and heart palpitations. She wasn't really bad until a few weeks before she passed - still she didn't mope or complain, and she didn't even really want to bother anyone.
It's sad that she passed - it's sad when anyone passes, obviously. Still, she didn't suffer for a decade, nor did she have to have a lengthy hospital stay. Since death is inevitable I'd say she probably went out in one of the easiest manners. You could do much worse than live 85 years and be on top of your game for more than 84.5 of them.
One of the things you never have to worry about prior to being married is the part about balancing Christmases with the families. 1997 my Wife and I hadn't been together for too long. 1998 we went to her family's gathering in Denton, 1999 we went to my side's in Texarkana. In 2000 (first Christmas when we were married) we lured both of our immediate families to College Station (which was lucky, since Texarkana went through a debilitating freeze, killing power and water and downing trees for days). This year we decided to have her family here for Christmas and then head to Texarkana for New Year's. However when we learned about this we switched plans - we headed out that day for Texarkana after a hectic trip to Best Buy to get gifts fot the family - something we figured could wait until after Christmas.
It was actually kind of fun - my parents' place was the central location for meeting and it was loaded down with food people had donated. Both Saturday and Sunday nights we had tons of family over for food and Wendy got to meet some relatives she hadn't met yet. The funeral was on the morning of Christmas Eve. The timing was unfortunate but unavoidable. Truth be told it wasn't that bad - if it had been the morning before it would have been in the freezing rain. Still, I don't guess you should gripe about when a funeral is.
As usual my folks floated me a good chunk of change for Christmas, as well as a Shop-Vac and a car battery charger, both related to my relatively new used 2000 Camry purchase. I don't know what's worse - the fact that they're getting me practical gifts or the fact that I thouroughly enjoyed them - I mean, I want to keep this car of mine healthy clean and happy (unlike my previous car, which mostly put up with my shit for eight years). We got my sister more Victoria's Secret pajamas and we got my folks a CD Burner. The funny thing is my Dad had been asking me the whole time we were down there if there was some way he could get us the Bluegrass MP3's (Bluegrass = Kentucky based variant on Country music - used to a large degree in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?) somehow so that we could burn them for him - all the while we're trying to play off the fact that it's unneccessary since we're about to give him a CD Burner.
As soon as I got home I was sick - my Uncle was sick during the festivites and I caught it. Along with my Mom, Sister, Aunt and Cousin. I was more or less bedridden for a few days but that was OK, I still got out of the house a little and I mostly wanted to just hang out anyway.
My three plans for any Christmas money we got were to upgrade first the memory on my PC, then upgrade the video card, then upgrade the OS to WinXP Pro. Wendy convinced me that two out of three ain't bad and that I should hold off on the WinXP Pro upgrade until later so we could get some more things. I agreed and we asked her Dad when he came down to swipe us some RAM. He works for a screwdriver shop in Dallas called Clone Computers - a name coined by the owner immediately after the notion of an "IBM PC Clone" came down the pipeline. When he showed up I swapped out the 128MB in my system with the 512MB I asked him to bring and it worked, so I asked Wendy to cut him a check as per our arrangement. He refused to take our money, instead telling me it was a Christmas present. Whattaguy. I had planned on having to spend $100 on RAM and he could get it for $70, but instead it wound up costing me nothing. Good deal.
Of course now I had $100 not being used. The OEM copy of WinXP Pro he can get at Clone costs $145, so I figured it was basically an extra $45 to get it. However in talking to him and Wendy I basically talked myself into getting WinXP Home - it was cheaper and most of the "features" of WinXP Pro I didn't need. Still, Wendy didn't want to get XP yet - there were still other things we need to get and she was a little unsure of how XP would work with her 98SE, networking wise.
As for the video card, I picked up a VisionTek Xtasy GeForce3 Ti 200. I played Quake 3 with it and it did look a little better. I played Return to Castle Wolfenstein with it and I was floored - it looked kickass. I know what game I'm getting next.
After laying down more money for a second hard drive for Wendy and a laser printer/copier combo, I went home (as my illness was getting to me by this point) while she and her folks went to the grocery store. When they got back she hounded me to do the bills to see if we still had enough money to get XP Home. After we determined we could she told me to look in the back seat of her mother's car. Her dad had purchased me a copy of the WinXP Pro Upgrade (a full $55 more than the OEM copy). Wendy had just used it to make me do the bills - her dad couldn't be reasoned into allowing us to pay or help for it. Again, whattaguy.
So I give the hard drive the old format and pop WinXP Pro on it. Wow. I mean, I knew XP was nice but this, coupled with the 512MB RAM and the GeForce 3 kicks serious ass, even on my slow PIII 500. Suddenly, I love my computer again. Games and applications I couldn't do before I suddenly can, and they all run considerably better than in Win98SE (case in point, Alien Vs. Predator 2 in 98 with the GeForce 3 was still unplayable - now it's smooth). The hard drive doesn't run 24-7, and I haven't had a BSOD yet. I now have enough juice to run the newest Everquest (requires 256MB RAM and a hella video card), which is ironic since I don't play Everquest (I'm already married). Now all I need is a processor/motherboard upgrade (which can wait) and I'm all set.
So while this Christmas had the distinct potential to be a bummer, it worked out well. I got to see my family and upgrade the heck out of my computer. Oh, and my Wife bought me the Twin Peaks Season One DVD set, but that can wait...