Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson

Episode 2: A Covid Christmas Carol

December 16, 2020 Kelly Swanson Season 1 Episode 2
Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson
Episode 2: A Covid Christmas Carol
Chapters
Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson
Episode 2: A Covid Christmas Carol
Dec 16, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Kelly Swanson

In this special holiday episode, we travel to the house of James O'Connor who is celebrating a very special Christmas - his last one.  Find out what happens when he tries to make everything go just right - and it doesn't even come close.  Award-winning storyteller, Kelly Swanson, weaves her magic once again and touches your heart, with a little laughter sprinkled in. 

To watch these episodes, go to PridesHollow.com youtube channel and hit subscribe.

To become a patron, go to Patreon.com/kellyswanson

For more about Kelly, go to MotivationalSpeakerKellySwanson.com


Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/dashboard)

Show Notes Transcript

In this special holiday episode, we travel to the house of James O'Connor who is celebrating a very special Christmas - his last one.  Find out what happens when he tries to make everything go just right - and it doesn't even come close.  Award-winning storyteller, Kelly Swanson, weaves her magic once again and touches your heart, with a little laughter sprinkled in. 

To watch these episodes, go to PridesHollow.com youtube channel and hit subscribe.

To become a patron, go to Patreon.com/kellyswanson

For more about Kelly, go to MotivationalSpeakerKellySwanson.com


Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/dashboard)

Christmas in Prides Hollow is probably one of the most magical times of year. There’s an actual melody to the holiday - as unique and recognizable as a favorite concerto. The symphony that starts with the ringing bells outside the shopping mall - the whir of mixers spinning a fine dust of sugar onto dated kitchen countertops - the whispered prayers of children wishing for snow and something in their stocking besides socks and oranges.  The clickety clack of little paws scooting under a table for a dropped spoon full of stuffing. And the rips and squeals of gifts that never are as valuable as the fact that he came home for Christmas this year. The unanimous grunts and groans of the men in charge of taking down and putting up trees that are always a foot too high, including the big one in town square whose lights blink sure and steady long past bedtime and coat the city in warm tones of blue and gold. Prides Hollow has worn this signature scent of -  spun sugar, cinnamon, pipe smoke, cedar, hot chocolate, and a hint of what could be  - for as long as most can remember. It’s a scent as familar as the comfort of your father’s cologne. Even to those who had long stopped believing, or never even started, there was always an undeniable magic in the air that simply refuses to be cancelled in favor of things more politically correct. For Prides Hollow has a way of being able to move forward while still hanging on to what matters. Which can’t be said of all of us.


This Christmas, however, had a new scent thrown into their signature that could only be defined as hand sanitizer. And no amount of pretty packaging or disguising the rubbing alcohol as pumpkin or strawberry, could trick us into a false sense of security. For this year, an uninvited guest showed up at every table - the annoying kind of guest who stays too long, offends everyone, and has no sense of personal boundaries. A pandemic we unlovingly named Covid. So Prides Hollow struggled as we all have, to find the magic in the idea of a socially distanced holiday wrapped in the blinking lights of restrictions, warnings, and muffled holiday greetings. For a sequined mask, at the end of the day, is still a mask. And if you’re listening to this story twenty years from now, and the image of an entire world walking around in masks sounds like a freaky science fiction movie - be grateful.

 

But just like the worst storm, a pandemic promises, if nothing else, the appearance of a rainbow. It’s not a false hope - a rainbow is fact -  a given - a promise.  A reminder that for all the dark, there is the promise of light.  For many of us cherish this day in history as more than a holiday but a holy day - for that exact reason - the promised gift of light piercing the dark. And I’m not talking about Rudolph’s nose. Though that’s quite fun too. And we found in Prides Hollow that for every story of loss this year, underneath its wrapping was the tiniest strand of a silver lining.   Sometimes so small and faint like the forgotten strand of tinsel that only the cat would find. But still there all the same. As promised. After all, it’s why I’m telling you this story.  

Today we’re headed over to that split level brick house that sits in the bed of a cul-de-sac on the north side of town.  From the outside, nothing out of the ordinary. But on the inside, right there, sitting at the dining room table, is the origin of the story we in town call A Covid Christmas Carol. And its main character, a mister James O’Connor. Who, much like his house and lawn would suggest,  has lived quite the expected well-manicured life. Until this year.


James O’Connor is the sort of man that most typical sitcom fathers are based on.  Give him his favorite chair on game day.  Make sure his paper stays dry on rainy days - yes, he still reads the paper.  And for all you Millenials - a newspaper is like the internet, but printed out on paper. You can get a better definition in the dictionary.  Oh wait. You might not have that either. That’s just Google but printed out in a small font and with very few pictures. 


Anyway. Back to O’Connor. He is pretty much an even keeled sort of fellow.  Happy as long as you don’t take his last beer or tell him to cut down on the red meat. And for crying out loud, kids, if you drive the car last, fill the tank.  He is as predictable as he expects his own life to be. When it comes to Christmas, he’s never one to make a fuss. Just tell him where to be, and he’ll play along - up to a point. And then his wife Judith would do the real work. He’s not so much a bah hum bug, as merely a disinterested third party.  Until this year. 


It was at his doctor visit where everything changed. He normally didn’t bother with a yearly checkup. If nothing was broken, why go? But his wife Judith kept pushing him to go ask a doctor about that lump. He ignored her until the pain of hearing her bring it up every day outweighed the pain of actually getting it done. So he went. And heard the last thing he expected to hear. That stopped him in his tracks.  Some of you unfortunately know exactly what he felt like sitting across the wide desk from his doctor, and hearing our most dreaded news. The specifics aren’t as important as what they meant. That this would, in all likelihood, be his last holiday. 


You had to have been there yourself to truly understand what one feels standing inside an ordinary moment turned inside out. How everything continues to move around you in the most trivial way - yet your world just came to a crashing halt. How can someone be so upset about a mixed up coffee order, when you won’t even be here next year to order coffee? It can instantly change a person.


James O’Connor had always been a pragmatic man. But coming face to face with your own mortality has a way of making you see things through a different lens - and perhaps can make one crave something beyond sensible. Or at least in the case of O’Connor.  For what mattered only yesterday had suddenly been put into perspective as he asked himself what he would do with the time remaining? He wasn’t the sort of man to conjure up wild adventures unlived. He wouldn’t eat pray love himself to find peace. In fact, James O’Connor wouldn’t have even seen that movie, making that expression pointless. His affairs were pretty much in the order he had left them.  No words that needed to be said, or amends to be made, that he was aware of.  There was really just one thing James O’Connor was putting on his last to-do list - give them a holiday they would remember.  For suddenly it WAS important for him to be more than a disinterested third party.  He had to make sure that THIS Christmas was absolutely PERFECT. It was after all his last hurrah. And if you know anything about fate, or murphy’s law, it was already destined to fail. For it’s often the things we most need to happen a certain way - that don’t. I’m sure many of you are nodding with me. 


His wife thought he was acting odd, even though he told her the doctor said he was fine - better that she not worry and ruin the holidays. So she was surprised when he announced that he would like to be more involved this year in the holiday planning.  With three specific projects actually, that for some reason had suddenly become very important to her husband. Caroling, the Nativity, and Christmas dinner.  She didn’t press for more details. She was too happy to have him help. She didn’t want to jinx it.  


Christmas Caroling, to those who are unfamiliar, is when you walk around as a group, knock on doors, and sing them a Christmas song.  For you millienials, that’s sort of like car karoake but with no car, nobody famous, and not really entertaining. It seems a silly tradition when you think about it, which is why it  had sort of fallen by the wayside over the years - as something only seen in old movies. But this Christmas O’Connor pulled it out of the closet and dusted it off. The perfect relic to spread cheer in their new socially distanced world where standing outside a window and waving to shut ins during Covid had actually become a thing. And in James O’Connors mind, this would be the perfect good deed necessary when you’ve got the pearly gates in sight. And he would deliver home baked fruitcakes - his grandmother’s recipe - because who doesn’t love getting an unexpected baked gift? Millenials, fruitcakes are like smallish loaves of dark bread that look like gummy bears got baked into them. Not as good as you might suspect. And word has it, a fruitcake never really goes bad, so you can regift it. We suspect some fruitcakes have been in existence for decades, as quite few people admit to actually eating them. 


Judith was surprised that her husband would suggest caroling of all things. But she’d been urging him to get more exercise, so this was better than nothing.  


O’Connor spent hours choosing just the right songs and arguing with his children over their participation and levels of enthusiasm. His trio of teenagers took eye rolling to new levels when they found out that on top of having to walk around and sing to neighbors - how humiliating - they would have to help bake the stupid cakes they would be delivering. Their gagging noises while comparing the fruitcakes to roadkill did not help the situation. It was only by promising they could invite friends to come too, and threatening to ban screen time, that he finally got them as close to willing participants as he was going to get. Teenagers aren’t always the best to ring in your last holiday. He was pretty sure they would have sent him to an early grave if he wasn’t headed there already. 


O’Connor meticulously selected every destination on their route - the nursing home, the hospital, the fire station, and a final stop at the widow’s house up the street. He had chosen his favorite hymns for their sacred singing telegram.


It didn’t take but a few stops for O’Connor to regret his decision. You can thank his children for that. From the moment they found out they would all wear matching Rudolph scarves, his plan had gone down hill. His ungrateful children held the scarves up like nooses above their heads and stuck their tongues out during every chorus of We Wish You a Merry Christmas


 That’s it! He screamed. No screen time until New Year’s Day O’Connor rubbed his aching temple while his children choked back real tears and sang Silent Night as if it were a death requiem.  His wife’s tears were real too as she envisioned her children all home from school - all day and night -  without their devices. For often the removal of screen time is a punishment far worse for the parents. And some you know all too well what I’m talking about. 


The only one who sang with any enthusiasm was the kid who didn’t even belong to him. Doesn’t that just figure! Some friend of his children they all called Sweater Vest - a nickname that pretty much explains itself. Sweater Vest had even come over to help them make the fruitcakes - a task he focused on with such urgency, you would have thought he was a medical intern learning his first surgery.  He was the only one of the children to taste the cake and said it was delicious (suck up) and when he got to take one home, well, you would have thought he had just won the lottery. Sweater Vest couldn’t hold a tune if his life depended on it, and was probably the reason the stray cats followed them for much of the route.  And yet he sang the loudest.  O’Connor’s children spent the rest of the night whining about why they couldn’t just sing to the neighbors on Facetime and then they wouldn’t have had to even  leave the house. 


By the time they got to their last stop - Widow Sharp’s house, the only one singing was Sweater Vest. Which probably explains why her cat followed him all the way home. 


So caroling was not the magical family experience that O’Connor had envisioned. Not. Even. Close.  If anything, it just showed him how short he had fallen as a parent.  Good thing he had two other projects to make this right.

Judith was shocked when her husband told her they would all be participating in the nativity scene over at the church. 


If you’re not familiar with the concept of a nativity scene, let me explain.  It’s the replicated infamous manger scene depicting that moment when the savior was born in a manger. A scene that has been painted, sculpted, colored, shrink-wrapped, and sung about for as long as we can remember.  And of course there’s the front yard manger scene where someone has lovingly placed each life-sized plastic character  in the perfect position under the makeshift stick barn with a star on top -  hoping that a storm doesn’t come along in the middle of the night, like last year, when a certain plastic sheep became airborne and had a quite unfortunate and hard-to-explain-to-little-children run-in with a blow up Santa. And, by the way, why do this plastic Mary and Joseph from the first century of Bethlehem look more like the Brady Bunch of LA? I’m just saying.   


O’Connor’s church had taken this one step further by re-inacting the scene with real people and real animals, placed in the church parking lot in such a way that cars could actually drive through without even getting out, roll down the window, and get their Chrismas message in a somewhat fast food would-you-like-a-pamphlet-with that fashion.  Yes, a drive-through nativity scene. 


And every year the church gets a little more zealous -which is how last year a REAL camel got a role, and they all learned that what you feed a camel on game day matters. Case in point - chili - not a good choice. They all say that year really tested their faith.


James O’Connor had always found this tradition to be silly - where you can get your salvation message in the same manner you would a Big Mac - what comes next, a buy-one-get-one salvation coupon? And every year when the pastor had asked him to play Joseph, James found a good excuse to turn him down. Until this year.  With his own clock running out, O’Connor figured his pastor had a direct line to the man in charge, and could put in a good word - not to mention he would probably be officiating his funeral and he wanted him to say good things - so this year - he volunteered to be Joseph. The pastor still considers it a miracle.


 James volunteered his wife Judith to be Mary in the nativity scene - which turned out to be a harder sell. She was now convinced he was losing his mind. But he got her to agree with the promise of taking her to that fancy restaurant she’d been wanting to go to.  And he would make the kids participate too. Let them experience the Christmas story and see that it’s not all about the iTunes gift cards.


His children had reacted to the fallout of a global pandemic with surprisingly good attitudes, but hearing that they would have to spend two hours dressed as wise men without their cell phones, sent them into fits of hysterics that lasted for days, with intermittent door slams, and threats to run away. O’Connor offered to help them pack. 


It didn’t help that it was raining on nativity scene day as his family huddled around the baby Jesus that was currently being played by a plastic baby doll that technically was a girl, and missing a pinky finger, but they figured nobody would notice. Yes, the church did advertise a REAL nativity scene - but finding a mother to donate her swaddled baby for the drive-by nativity was not an option after last year when the baby Jesus was real and was super cute lying there in the manger - for about thirty seconds and then his colic kicked in, and they all now understood why his mother was so eager to drop him off and late to pick him up. Nothing sullies the Christmas message like a screaming savior.


Every minute under that manger felt like an hour thanks to his children who were whining, fidgeting, fighting, and giving their sarcastic opinion on everything from the stupid robes, to the stupid weather, to the stupid people in the stupid cars who were driving too slow. The only time O’Connor got a moment of quiet from his stupid children was when they saw the upcoming headlights and his wife would say,  “Car’s coming! Be still! And smile!” Something you didn’t need to tell Sweater Vest, as he had been smiling since he got there. 


Two hours. That’s all they had to do. Stay there for two hours and act like a happy grateful family. It was the least they could do for him. For all the times he gave them money, shampooed their hair for lice, drove them around, and had to drive all the way back home to get their forgotten sports gear that they swore they remembered. So much for creating a memory. At this point, he wasn’t even sure he would be missed. 


He had one last chance to get this right. The Christmas dinner. But at this point, he wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. 


Christmas Dinner


There is no other meal (well, maybe Thanksgiving) that gets as much pressure as Christmas Dinner. I’m not sure if it’s a Southern thing -  a woman thing -  a big family thing - or just a Prides Hollow thing - but in our town there are many categories upon which a holiday dinner gets judged.  At least in the eyes of those who prepared it. For often they are the worst critics - and everybody would have been just as happy with take out barbeque. Which I don’t recommend you suggest to your mother. Trust me on that one. I recommended last year that we use paper plates and you would have thought I suggested we change the name of Christmas to Candy Cane Day. 


It starts with the meat you serve (turkey, ham, roast, mini ducks - or a combination of all them in some sort of tofurkeyducken type of thing) and how you cook it. Bake it, microwave it, convection, air fry, deep fry, grill, or heaven forbid BUY it already cooked.  And there are all sorts of opinions and subcategories of each of those categories - cook uncovered or covered - low heat, high heat, or quick flash of heat then leave in a closed oven all night.  And unfortunately, thanks to the internet, there are now even more who have added to this discussion. And every family becomes much more “spirited” when that one relative brings a vegetarian as their plus one, and we all have to learn what tofu is and how come it can’t at least be deep fried?


Then there are the sides that are chosen based on your own family’s traditions, and recipes passed down from Moses’s third cousin, and you’d better make it EXACTLY like the same way you have every year. No swapping out the real sugar with Stevia or you will hear about it for the rest of your life. And if you leave off any one side - yes, sweet potatoes AND mashed potatoes are too necessary.  I still have an aunt who won’t talk to me because I left the marshmellows off the top of the sweet potatoes, and we all still question the suspicious death of my cousin’s ex-girlfriend that occurred soon after she showed up at family dinner with a box of instant mashed potato flakes. And my mother still won’t speak of that dark time in her history when her grandmother served her oyster stuffing and asparagus out of a can.  I can feel you nodding. You know you were scarred too by some sort of culinary abuse.


And it’s not just what you serve, but what you serve it IN. The serving dishes - critical. No disposable aluminum pans you bought at the Dollar Tree.  They will be quickly and subtly swapped out when you’re not looking. Trust me. 


And of course there’s the dishes you serve the food ON.  The color scheme, texture, and symmetrical choreography. And they had better match. After all, that was what your wedding registry was for. And some plates I’ve noticed even have an extra bigger plate under them. Talk about doubling your margin of error.  I once snuck in a Disney Cinderella plate into the holiday spread. It wasn’t pretty.  If you go to Bitsy’s house, she will proudly take you in to see her Elvis holiday plate collection set out on the dining room table that has been set since Thanksgiving for any guests who want to come do a walk through. 


 Then we move to the wine glasses and whether it’s okay to also use them as water glasses - and how you are one short and it’s a nightmare. And surely you have a crystal water pitcher - who doesn’t have a water pitcher?  And the napkins must be cloth - rolled up with a silver ring around them - or get your husband to run out at the last minute and see if they have any with reindeer on them, wouldn’t that be cute. And then there’s centerpiece which every year gets a little more - intense. And you’re supposed to cover up every single square inch of that table. It’s a rule. And if you can get something to hang from the overhead light you get extra points.  Judith was very proud of herself this year, for finding these precious little hanging tea lights that hang down from the chandelier. She coudn’t BELIEVE that James didn’t complain once when it took him all afternoon to hang them. And then rehang them when she decided she wanted them a couple of inches lower and let’s dangle some from the chandelier too. 


As if THAT isn’t enough self-induced stress to make one hate the holiday, you then have timing of it all.  There’s a reason that math is a required subject in every school. Because you’re going to need it when it comes to getting everything ready to serve at the same time. Doesn’t happen with takeout barbeque, I’m just saying.  I’ve spent most of my life sitting there on a stool in the kitchen, watching a team of relatives gather like mathematicians as they decipher what needs to go in the oven when, what needs time to cool, what needs to then stay warm, make sure the butter is soft but doesn’t melt.  It’s bad enough as they all talk over each other and question each others’ math - but add to the mix a few who have already had a little wine, and their slurry comments just add more confusion. 


And it never fails, that right before you are about to lay out your carefully timed spread, that required a Phd to organize, someone decides we should take our family picture - you know, before we get food on our clothes. Are you kidding me?  


And while just moments before you had everybody crowded into the kitchen, underfoot, sneaking pieces of turkey, adding to the noise, and asking what that timer that just went off is for - you now announce you’re going to take a picture, and suddenly they are nowhere to be found. Seriously. They just disappear like a cat when it hears the vacume cleaner. Where do they go? The same place as all the missing socks maybe. 


So if you thought it was hard to coordinate a meal, you try coordinating 29 people into a family picture. Trying to find the perfect spot where the light is just right, wake up Grandpa who’s in such a deep recliner sleep that you have to hold a mirror up to his nose every now and then just to be sure. Put the dog out so he doesn’t eat the turkey like last year. Shhhh. He only nibbled a piece of the leg. Nobody has to know.  


You have to pry the kids off their devices, which you know you should be reprimanding them for, but you’re just too happy to have them quiet. Even if their older cousins are showing them all the games that blow up stuff and you’re gonna pay for that one at bedtime.  


You have to get every family together, get them to stop wiggling, and for gosh sakes whose idea was it to put Granny Jean on the back row, she’s only four feet tall. And for heaven’s sakes, Uncle Buford, zip up your fly.  And then at the last minute, they roll in Uncle Bob who has been parked in his wheelchair by the TV since he got here.  Uncle Bob is about two hundred years old, and the white knuckled grip on his wheelchair is the only real indication that he is technically still alive.  His granddaughter rolls him in singing, “Here’s Uncle Bob!” and we all sing back “Hey Uncle Bob!” and they lock him in place front and center and stick a Santa hat on him, which should be counted as elder abuse in my book. 


And then your uncle sets the camera on automatic and races against the clock to find a spot, which is why the left side of his face is cut off in the picture every year.  And we all stand there frozen, sucking in our stomachs, trying to look like the happy family our Facebook friends want to see. 


And we wait. And we wait.  And we wait. 


And finally, when it’s obvious something is wrong with the camera - and we all turn to each other with confused faces and quick subtle scratches to say “What’s up?”  Click. Family photo. Nothing close to perfect. Thank God for photoshop. We still have a chance to be a happy family.


But I digress…


Back to James O’Connor where the inside of his house was playing out in different shades of the same scene.  James was never a big fan of having so many people descend on his house. And usually he coudn’t WAIT to have the day end. But the little things that bothered him before, didn’t bother him this year, as he saw the day and the people he loved (most of the time) through the lens of someone who is suddenly seeing what really matters - taking an extra beat with each person and thinking how much we take for granted that we’ll see somebody again. 


O’Connor’s plan for this memory, was simple really.  He just wanted one moment. That’s all. That moment after dinner. When he insisted that for once they don’t jump up from the table five minutes after they sat down. He announced, that this year they were going to do something different. He wanted them to all go around the table and say something they were thankful for.  


Yes, I can feel you rolling your eyes right now. I think every family has THAT person who insists on controlling our level of gratitude.  Some to such degree that you do become more grateful - to see them go. I’m just saying. Last year when our family had to go around the table, I said I’m grateful that I have gone this long without killing my husband for his nose whistling every time he eats a sandwich. My mother did not think that was funny. 


O’Connor’s kids, along with the others, groaned in harmony, while his sister-in-law (who made a full time job out of posting gratitude memes) squealed and clapped her hands in delight. But people went along. Saying pretty much the expected things. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for having such a supportive husband. I’m thankful that I’m healthy. Blah blah blah. Now the pressure was on to say something like that - when you were really just thankful you didn’t drink as much this year as last year when you threw up in the back yard. 


It was coming up on O’Connors turn, where he was already getting teary eyed at the thought of dispensing his last pieces of sage advice - so that they would later say, “And I’ll never forget one of the last things James O’Connor said to us.”  When it happened. What happened? Murphy’s Flipping Law. The harder you hang on to what you WANT to happen…..


Blame Cousin Shirley for ruining his last holiday moment, though quite unintentional.  She certainly couldn’t have expected what would happen when she chose that particular wig to wear to holiday dinner. You know the one. She’s worn it before. The grayish silver one that looks like a heavily teased construction cone - it’s about two feet high, and took the women of Myrlene, Vyrlene, and Shyrlene’s House of Beauty four hours and twice as many conversations to put together.  It even had tiny little silver Christmas bells sewn into it, which of course was shared 102 times on her Facebook page and was now trending on Pinterest. #Blessed. She had been raking in the fake compliments all day.  


I guess it wasn’t so much the hair to blame, as her small bladder that made her have to get up to excuse herself at that moment. And not the bladder so much as the hanging tea lights that were drawn to her intoxicating Aqua Netted scent, like a match to gasoline.  If you ever wondered how flammable a wig is, you don’t need to Google it. I can tell you. Not long.


One minute she’s standing up to excuse herself and taking an extra moment just in case someone’s about to compliment her hair - and the next minute, one of the flames sticks its tongue out and licks her wig like an ice cream cone. And that’s all it took.  The side of her hair leaps up into a giant flame. Someone screamed, which set off a chain reaction as people jumped to attention. 


They started grabbing frantically for something to put her out.  The first cup of water did the trick, but you know how delayed reactions could go. Her husband probably shouldn’t have thrown the turkey at her head - giving them something to unpack and discuss later at home that night.  And even more devastating than a wig that now looked like road kill ( #PinterestFail )was the fact that nobody was getting leftover turkey unless you were willing to - well -  pluck it first. 


It goes without saying, that this killed O’Connor’s moment. What do you say after that? There was no way you could find magic in this moment. And now everybody was cleaning up and clearing the table. And his chance was over. His kids weren’t even in the room anymore. And he sat there all by himself in that empty dining room.


Later, as they were gathered in the kitchen, after all the guests had left but one, and the last dish was being wiped dry. In a quiet moment where the children were actually helping, and there were still a couple of leftover giggles at the wig escapade -  Sweater Vest stopped wiping down the counters and said, “I’d like my turn now.”  


“A turn for what?” said one of the kids. 


 “To say what I’m thankful for,” he said with an eager grin while the other kids rolled their eyes behind his back.


“I’m thankful,” he said, “that you gave me the best Christmas I ever had.”  


They all just stared at him for moment. Trying to figure out if maybe he had been drinking. Best Christmas he ever had? The kids stopped looking at their phones to get a closer look at this alien creature. Dude, on what planet would this be your best Christmas? You had to stand outside in a flipping wool robe for two hours. You had to sing Christmas Carols like a geek. And you didn’t even make a seat at the kids table and had to eat in the kitchen with Uncle Bob. AND Dad made you take home one of his FRUITCAKES. And this was your best one? That’s lame.


“I’m SERIOUS!” he said. “It’s just me and my Uncle. And he doesn’t really want me around much - when he’s home. And he’s not that great when it comes to holidays. Or anything really. But who cares? I got to do all this cool stuff  AND I got a free fruitcake! And we had turkey and stuffing and those sweet potatoes were the best things ever. This day was awesome.”


O’Connor’s family stood there quietly. Not sure what to say in one of those moments where you realize the world out there is not as warm as it is at your house. O’Connor watched his children and for once saw something more than eye rolls - he saw a flicker of - could it be? Compassion. 


And in that quiet moment, O’Connor got his memory. Not the one he wanted - but the one he needed. And it was pretty darn perfect.


O’Connor got a second gift later that night as his children were splayed across the furniture - for once not on their devices and willing (not eager, but willing- so he’ll take it) to watch a family movie at their mother’s request. Sweater Vest had never seen A Christmas Vacation before - can you believe it? And he realized he had a voice mail message on his phone. The doctor’s office. Please call them back, no matter what time. It seems there was a mix up in the test results.


 O’Connor’s second gift was finding out that he wasn’t dying after all.  And he had a moment of silence for the other one who would be getting a phone call about a mixed up test result.  Someone who didn’t realize they just had their last holiday and didn’t know it. And he made a decision. That he would try and treat every one as if it were his last. No matter how much his children rolled their eyes. 


  This Christmas O’Connor learned that the more you expect something to go a certain way, the less likely it is to happen. And that’s okay. Because even when you don’t get exactly what you want - right around the corner - you often get exactly what you need.  Just ask Widow Sharp who will forever tell the story of a young man who stole the heart of her cat and her, as he stood outside her window and sang Christmas carols on a day when she had pretty much decided to give up. A young man that would become her best friend - and would end up moving in to her guest bedroom. And don’t tell him, but she’s a knitting him a sweater vest for Christmas. 


And so it goes in Prides Hollow. Another peek into the window of an ordinary family finding yet another silver lining. A reminder this holiday season that no matter how dark it may get - we have the promise of a rainbow.