It was the fifth or sixth or seventh such season in my life. I lived in the south, so there was no snow. There was rarely snow and if it came, it came on stealthy ferret feet in the middle of an almost-spring night. Spring training was postponed, if for a single day, by snow shoveling, with the requisite back sprains and heart attacks in the bloated, beer-bellied uninitiated who marched out with smallish Sears and Roebuck shovels to clean inches, I said inches of the dreaded white stuff.
But this was not then. This was now. A wonderful, almost cold-enough early December. Cold enough to work on the Christmas cards, but not cold enough for the fake apple cider we had access to in my tiny mill village. (Yes, of course, it was apple juice, but it was December, and in December anything can happen and magic is everywhere.)
Cold enough to play army out on the big oval common between my little brick house and the huge cotton mill that paid my father and thus fed me. Not quite cold enough to put up the Santa Claus in the chimney that lived out the holidays every year directly in front of my bedroom window.
I spent what now seems like many hours with my chin propped on my hands propped on the window sill, watching that Jolly old elf bobbing up and down, up and down, up and down in that heavy fiberboard chimney crafted to look like the finest brick.
Unlike anything else, Santa Claus was the embodiment of anticipation for the child-me. He bobbed and smiled and bobbed and smiled hundreds and then thousands of times, and he always meant one thing to me.
Christmas was coming.
Something magical was going to happen. Things would soon be perfect, if only for one day, for one moment of one day, for one shining moment when decorated trees glimmered in the pre-dawn light and silvered presents were piled high and the aroma of coffee and pumpkin bread and spices and sweets permeated the air.
There was magic in Christmas.
No, that’s not quite right.
For the child-me there was the magic of not-quite-Christmas. Christmas Yet To Be. Christmas Future. Christmas Day.
The anticipation of the joy that I would feel on Christmas Day almost made my little boy’s heart burst.
I will be taking a trip next month. One of the things that has been on my bucket list for many years. A multi-week, seven thousand mile, twenty one state, rain or shine, interstate, back roads, bridges, gorges, mountains, Seattle coffee shops, Kansas City barbecue, New Orleans beignets, Denver hiking, Oklahoma City bombing monument driving trip.
You might say I’m on a quest. A mission. You might say this is a journey to find The Ring, my Precious, my Grail. You might say that.
I am a restless soul at heart. I need stimulation and I need novelty. I need variety. I can only get so much of that from family, from work, and from home. Oh, no, please don’t misunderstand me. This says nothing about my family, my job, my coworkers.
This says everything about me.
The anticipation is so intense that I can almost feel my foot on the accelerator in my sleep. I can almost taste the eggs in the diner on the Midwest back road. I can almost see the first rainbow that I will encounter on the Great Plains.
There are a lot of things in life that cause great anticipation.
Graduations, marriages, the birth of children, cherished holiday celebrations, experiencing new things through travel, the promise of real love.
Does the real experience, the amalgamation of the thought and the dream and the prosecution, ever live up to the wonder, the excitement and the absolute ecstasy of the cognitive and visceral preview?
Yes, yes it does.
Christmas was always and will always be my favorite holiday.
My trip will be a once in a lifetime one, even if I repeat it in future years. The perfect combination of October weather, seeing our country on a grand scale, visiting with friends old and new all across the land in this particular order in this particular time will make this an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Anticipation helps us to see things before they are in front of us. It helps us to feel emotions before we know they are coming. It helps us to get a glimpse, no matter how small and how fleeting, of how very, very good something that we never expected can really be.
Is the real thing ever as good as the delirious anticipation?
Yes, I believe it is.
And I believe it will be.