Monday, December 21, 2009

Here is the column I wrote in this week's 'paper. I usually have a real conflict about the holidays and family as well as the gap between what you would like to experience and what is the reality of your situation. As I've grown older this gap is more and more apparent. I'm not a Grinch, but the holidays simply to amplify problems.

Part of this feeling came from the 14 years when certain family members elected not to speak with us. I'm very glad that we actually have a friendship with some of these people. Our lives are richer because of it.

Back in the 1980s, I worked as the afternoon talk show host on the late and lamented WREB in Holyoke. One of my colleagues was a veteran newsman named Richard Lavigne.

Lavigne was one of those local legends in the Valley and inevitably listeners who met me would ask, “What is Richard Lavigne really like?”

My response was usually along the lines of “Do you watch ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’? Do you know the ‘Les Nessman’ character?’’

Lavigne was know for his daily half-hour “newscast,” which was really an often rambling combination of items he had gathered from his own sources and the clattering AP teletype as well as his opinions.

An aside: I miss the sound of the teletype in the background of a newsroom as well as the feel of pounding the American-made metal keys of a manual typewriter.

Sometimes Lavigne’s broadcast ran long, something bound to irritate Jonathan Evans, whose afternoon show started at 1 p.m. There was a switch installed in the main broadcast studio that allowed us to turn him off if need be. I think we used it once or twice.

To say that Lavigne wasn’t much an upbeat fellow would be an understatement. He was single, at the top end of middle age and had poor health. He always could be counted to see the dark side of a shiny cloud and I’ll never forget his annual Christmas salutation.

Lavigne would tell people to “have the best Christmas your circumstances will allow.”

I was usually fairly appalled that he just couldn’t say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or some other socially acceptable greeting.

I, of course, was a bit green – I turned 30 in 1984 – and now that I’m a beat-up, rumpled vet I can see a little of his reason. We put so much emphasis on having a “perfect” holiday. The situations of our lives are supposed to magically be in suspension as we have a day or two of celebration.

At least that’s what we would like to see.

But a two-day Christmas holiday has a hard time fixing the sibling who won’t talk to you, curing the chronic health condition, returning the loved one who is overseas fighting a war, completing a successful job search, asking co-workers who won’t even say “good morning” to you to show a little humanity or satisfying a landlord who wants his back rent.

We place so much hope on having that ideal holiday that anything short of perfection seems to be a disaster, an event that adds to our misery rather than alleviates it.

Although I do see the best of humanity at this time of year – the people who donate to others and perform acts of kindness – that gap between how things are and how things should be can be brutal.

Perhaps Lavigne was asking people to assess their situation and make the best of it rather than set the stage for unfulfilled expectations. I’m sure he was speaking from his own situation.

At this point in history with so many people in the midst of dire events I can only pray they are able to hold back the grim reality of their lives for a moment and relax in the sense of hope the season can bring. I do believe we have the capacity making our lives better.

So to our readers, Merry Christmas and have the best one you possibly can.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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