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My Christmas Wasn’t Like Yours

How was my Christmas? Have a seat and I’ll tell you all about it.

WEATHER: There I was, knee deep in the frozen tundra of North Carolina, watching the icicles grow and the vegetation die in temperatures that got all the way up into the low 20’s on balmy afternoons. Neighbors called it the coldest winter they could remember.

On the plus side of the freeze wave, I never realized polar bears could be so playful. Who knew they do somersaults and play tag with penguins? 

And who knew six-packs of beer freeze solid and their aluminum containers split wide after just a few minutes left on the front seat of the car while you watch football at a neighbor’s house? And who knew how funky your car would smell when the sun came out and everything thawed and the wife went to the store? (“Remember to pick up some beer, sweetheart!,” I shouted as she backed out of the driveway.)

PARADES: I should say “Parade” singular, because there was only one, but it’s probably still going. I’ll look out the front window and check.

In California it’s known as “The Festival of Red & Green,” but in the south it’s still Christmas, and the parade begins in mid-December and goes until the kids have to be in bed. It starts again the next morning after the cotton is shucked, the chickens are milked and other chores are complete.

Seriously, it’s a string of floats, ponies, marching bands, pickups, cheerleading squads, church assemblies, aluminum siding sales reps, military marching ensembles, 18-wheelers, political candidates, children’s singalong choirs, cops, sheriffs, the entire service staff at Bob’s Muffler Shop, high school football teams, teen queens in convertibles, and everyone else in the county who didn’t have to be at work that day. It goes for miles and/or hours, whichever take longer.

SHOPPING: Charlotte, 25 minutes north, is a shiny new big city polished to a charm-free veneer that boasts being a grand shopping empire, which it is. There are malls in Charlotte that make Coddingtown look like Dollar General; we spent four hours in the gaudiest of them and I spent not a nickel. 

I paused briefly at a rack of t-shirts and they were $170 each, excessive at best and maybe $3 better than t-shirts at Ukiah’s JC Penney.

GIFTS: We also exchanged gifts and performed other transactions on Christmas morning. Such fun. One gift:

Wife Trophy has been without a dog since spring, 2022, and the barely scabbed wound grieves her still. Lucas, aware of her loss, knows a digital program (ChatGPT) that creates automatic writing and related magic that produces artwork on command.

Being master of both these arts, Lucas “wrote” and “illustrated” a book with a press run of a single copy for an audience of one. He dreamed up some chapter titles, prodded the artificially intelligent robot typewriter with instructions, then gazed in pleasure as the words pored forth. Next he gave the automatic artwork xerox machine a few ideas for illustrations. 

Lo and Behold: His book was underway, and completed in a few minutes. 

It was unwrapped Christmas morn, and the dear wife was instantly smitten by its concept and content. She opened it, began reading, and from that moment the world ceased to exist, immersed as she was in poetic descriptions of Golden Retrievers’ beautifully described traits of loyalty, devotion and faithful protecters. 

And the illustrations! Golden Retrievers and Brontosauruses in Santa hats decorating a tree; Santa guiding eight tiny Golden Retrievers, one with a red nose, across star-flecked skies. 

Her heart sang, her spirits soared, her eyes glistened and she turned to me. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “It’s wonderful. Beautiful. And Lucas, the illustrations are perfect. Thank you.”

Translation: My lovely wife thinks I personally wrote the words and paragraphs that make up the heart and soul of this epic book, a volume she already cherishes and to which I lent precisely nothing in bringing to life.

Because every word came from a machine with no more heart than a cabbage, no more soul than a Democrat. I was and remain speechless, and have not yet been able to bring myself to spoil her dreamy reveries.

But may she find solace to fill the empty heart her dog left behind. And may she find joy and appreciation of my brilliant writing talents in her new book.

At least until she reads today’s column.

(At some point during my long cold sleepless winter nights I must confront the realization that my many columns, hewn as they’ve been from my sweat and imagination, have in the end been runners-up to a mechanical writing machine. Tom Hine and his invisible assistant, TWK, now plunge into 2023.)

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