Utterly unapologetic, Eddie stands fuming outside in the bitter cold while his son, wife, and in-laws sit silently at the dinner table, surrounding a cold turkey. How did such woeful events occur on Thanksgiving Day? Click the player below, Podbean, or Amazon Music to find out! Or, if you prefer to read, check it out in Happy, Sad, Funny, Mad.
Once settled in the Omni Royal Orleans, we wanted to immediately explore the French Quarter. In this piece, I’d like to address some notable sites, restaurants, shopping, and tours. Before we get started, through, I found the French Quarter fascinating. In many ways, it was like traveling to another world. It is truly a culture unto itself, the architecture is amazing, and the streets feel as though you’ve gone backwards in time. However, I won’t lie–it is not a clean place. There are homeless everywhere. The sidewalks are uneven with holes, litter, and occasionally human waste. A smell permeates the area. Even so, the French Quarter oozes charisma. In my experience, there’s nowhere else like it. That being said, I don’t think we’ll be back anytime soon. All right, let’s get started with the final 2022 Summer Vacation article!
St. Louis Cathedral/Jackson Square – the two go hand-in-hand, so I’m going to lump them together. We thoroughly enjoyed the exterior of the St. Louis Cathedral. Frankly, even through we could, it never dawned on me to go inside. Upon retrospect, I wish we had. In truth, I found myself a little surprised by the amount of homeless and tarot card readers in front of it. I think that’s why we walked by, took it in, and then kept moving. Jackson Square is a historic park in front of the church and we found it exquisite. We were comfortable taking our time to explore the square. The mighty Mississippi exists just a few steps beyond Jackson Square, so we made our way up the steps to a viewing area.
Ignatius Reilly Statue – Located at 819 Canal St. between Bourbon and Dauphine, Ignatius can be found in front of the closed (abandoned?) Hyatt French Quarter Hotel. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, this is the main character from a novel called A Confederacy Of Dunces. I read the book years ago and loved it, which meant I obviously had to seek out this statue and get my picture with it. Unfortunately–and perhaps ironically–the homeless surrounded the statue. If my two young daughters were not with me, I would have gotten my picture with it, but it didn’t feel like a terribly safe spot to linger with children in tow.
Bourbon Street – After our visit to the Ignatius statue, we walked Bourbon Street back to our hotel’s area. Keep in mind that it was only around three in the afternoon. I wanted my daughters to be able to say they saw Bourbon Street, but I also wanted the most sanitary version possible. Luckily, they got to experience the incredible music, general elation, and fun-loving crowds without the unsuitable debauchery more likely at night. (Pay no attention to the Flamingo water bottle in the above picture. It’s a work thing involving my wife.)
I won’t lie to you–we had a very difficult time finding places to eat in the French Quarter. This is not because there weren’t plenty of options, but rather because we had trouble finding someplace with both the atmosphere, menu, and prices we preferred. Here are a few notable places we enjoyed.
Royal House – We chose this spot virtually right outside our hotel’s door primarily because we didn’t have to wait for a table and the menu appealed to us. As most of the restaurants in the French Quarter, it had an open air format, meaning that you entered through the front door but there were many other doors open as well that led to the sidewalks. We generally liked our food here and our waitress proved very friendly. My oldest daughter and I happened to see a mouse skirt out of the kitchen, look around, and then race back in. Of course, open doors, food, extremely old buildings–this kind of thing is going to happen. I kept eating. My daughter did not.
Ruby Slipper Café – There are a several Ruby Slippers throughout New Orleans. I have to admit that this was probably my favorite meal in the French Quarter. I highly recommend visiting their website and getting on their waitlist. We visited one morning for brunch and had to wait about an hour–extremely popular spot. Our waitress, though a little forgetful, was quite likeable. Best of all? The kids liked their food here.
While we popped into several shops, there were three that really made a good impression on us.
Nola Kids and Nola, Jr – These were two children’s giftshops right next to each other. The first was primarily aimed at older kids, the second appealed to younger children’s tastes. We found the store clerks and the merchandise charming. Though eclectic, all of it certainly captured my youngest daughter’s interests.
Little Toy Shop – Again, another children’s store. I have to be honest, this was a quaint little toy store off Jackson Square. They had a very cool assortment of collector items, toys specific to New Orleans, and general mainstream toys. Both of my kids found little souvenirs here.
Fleurty Girl – This little gift shop on Chartres Street had a bit of everything. We found the shopkeeper extremely friendly, the merchandise humorous, and the whole place’s vibe quite lighthearted. We didn’t buy anything, but we most certainly could have. I only mention it because of all the stores we popped into, this one made a definite, positive, impression upon us.
Though we only stayed two days, the two tours we took made the whole trip worthwhile. I have nothing but good things to say about both of them.
New Orleans City and Cemetery Tour – We booked this tour through Gray Line, and we loved it. The two and a half hour bus tour covered the City Park and Café du Monde, Lake Pontchartrain, and a New Orleans cemetery. Our guide, Jim, was an absolute delight. His knowledge, humor, and general demeanor made the tour a blast. Furthermore, our driver, Dwayne, made us feel safe and in good hands the entire time. Our tour stopped by a Café du Monde in the City Park where we enjoyed delicious beignets and cafe au lait. We then moved on to a city cemetery where we walked around and learned fascinating pieces of information about the local cemeteries’ construction, as well as a few of that particular cemetery’s more notable inhabitants. We then drove by Lake Pontchartrain while gaining insights. Jim, who once taught at the University of Illinois, truly made the tour entertaining, educational, and memorable. This was by far my favorite thing we did in the French Quarter.
Ghost and Vampire Tour – Finally, my oldest daughter had only one request while in the French Quarter–a ghost and vampire tour. Though there were many, many choices available, we settled on French Quarter Phantoms Ghost Tours. Our guide, Phil, walked us through the French Quarter streets while explaining to us not only the historical atrocities that occurred, but the supernatural results. It was very cool to tour the side streets of the French Quarter with a lifelong inhabitant, and it was also incredible to learn about some of the truly bizarre occurrences that have taken place over the centuries. Do I believe the supernatural tales Phil shared? Perhaps not, but I definitely believe the horrific things on public record that he detailed for us, and that was far scarier to me than the ghost stories! By the way, just to be clear, I’d like to say that this tour was absolutely appropriate for my ten-year-old. At one point Phil was concerned a story might be too graphic, so he specifically warned us that we might want to cover our daughter’s ears. We did, and it turned out that she could have handled the story, but we appreciated his kindness. By the way, my oldest daughter loved this tour.
That concludes our 2022 Summer Vacation! Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you found these articles helpful. As always, feel free to leave any comments or questions.
Originally, my family vacation plan would have ended at Gulfport, Mississippi. As I presented the idea to my family, my wife suggested we go ahead and zip over to New Orleans because of its proximity–more specifically, the French Quarter. (Thank goodness she did, because Gulfport missed with us.)
Because my wife felt excited about the French Quarter, she took over the hotel hunt. She eventually landed on Omni Royal Orleans. We took a look at the location on the map, the pictures, and the reviews, which all led us to believe it would be a great fit.
The French Quarter is a series of one-way streets because they are obviously not very wide. This actually made getting to the hotel pretty easy. We had a fantastic start in the parking garage. The valet wore a bright smile, displayed an wonderful attitude, and could not have been more friendly. As our first point of contact with the hotel, he made an excellent initial impression.
We also had a good check in experience. We especially enjoyed the nearby bellhops. They were instantly joking around with us and made us feel very welcome. In fact, later on, one of them gave us a map and offered his advice on what we should do and where we should visit.
The Omni Royal Orleans is a fancy place, especially for being nestled into a very tight, very old, and very boisterous area. We definitely enjoyed the opulence.
Consequently, our room also pleased us. Again, we understood this was an old area and so we were expecting a nice but well-worn room. It actually exceeded our expectations! Definitely clean, bigger than we anticipated, with a fantastic balcony (or should I say “gallery”?). Check out our view!
After settling into our room, we headed up to experience the rooftop observatory and pool. You can see the pool at the top of the article. Here are some pictures from the observatory area …
Needless to say, we were very happy with our hotel … on that first day.
That night, at about 12:30 in the morning, we were awakened by quite a bit of <ahem!> moaning.
Okay, here’s the thing: we’re in the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is literally a block away from our hotel. We’re in a hotel. That kind of thing is going to happen and can literally happen at any hotel at any time. But this went on for two hours. Two hours! (Insert your own joke here.)
We have two kids. One of them is a teenager and we weren’t all that concerned about whether or not she heard it–we knew she’d laugh it off. However, our other child is ten. The ruckus didn’t wake her up, but we weren’t all that sure we wanted to tempt fate two nights in a row.
Therefore, my wife approached the front desk the next morning in order to request a new room as well as an early check out–a day early, in fact. (More on this in the next article focusing on the French Quarter, but, in a nutshell, we decided two days were enough for us.) I knew we’d get some pushback on the day early check out; I did not expect any trouble with the new room.
Essentially, the Omni Royal Orleans manager told my wife that this is the French Quarter and such things should be expected. He then asked her why she didn’t call security. (Maybe I’m too understanding, but calling security on folks in the middle of that seems a little harsh.) In other words, instead of the customer always being right, my wife felt as though she was being interrogated and even blamed. He then said we could leave a day early, but there would be a fee equal to the amount of the night’s stay.
As you’ve gathered, I wasn’t there for this exchange–I stayed with the kids in our room. When my wife came up and explained the situation to me, I developed a plan for stating our case that I would execute that afternoon. At the moment, though, we hadn’t had breakfast, we were all hungry, and we just wanted to go eat.
While at breakfast, we actually received a text from the hotel asking us if we were happy with the new room (we were) and declaring that we could check out a day early at no cost if we still desired. I replied that we would still like to check out and thanked them for accommodating us. Why couldn’t that have been the case to begin with and avoid the bad feelings? I don’t know.
When we checked out the next morning, I asked for a receipt in order to make sure we weren’t being charged any kind of fee, and we weren’t. The Omni Royal Orleans kept their word to us (which I had in writing in the form of a text, by the way).
Our check out went very smoothly, as did retrieving our vehicle from the valet service. Leaving the French Quarter and New Orleans also proved uneventful.
While I wish the gentleman working with my wife had handled the situation differently, I still highly recommend the Omni Royal Orleans.
As you know from previous entries, my family and I elected to hit Gulfport, Mississippi, because it was within driving distance and I really wanted to visit a beach. I read online that the town is nice, the beach is nice, and the water is nice. Sounds perfect, right? I guess it’s all relative, though, isn’t it?
I’ve already written about my thoughts on our resort, the Oasis. Today’s article will cover the beach, the town, the restaurants, and the attractions.
The town: As we rolled into the outskirts of Gulfport, I got a bad feeling. I could tell right away that it wasn’t the typical kind of beach town I associate with places like Myrtle Beach. It looked a little old, rundown, and unkempt. I kept hoping things would improve the closer we got to the beach, but, in my opinion, they did not. Let me say that I’m sure it’s a fine town with fine people, but it’s just not the beautiful vacation destination the online pictures depicted.
The beach: Our first morning there, a Sunday, we woke up and left to take a stroll on the beach. We knew we had to cross a highway to get to it from our resort, and that went fine. There were crosswalks and “Walk” signals, etc. I also knew it was a manmade beach. However, as soon as we got on the sand, we knew something was up. There was NOT a soul on it with us. At nine in the morning … nobody. We quickly noticed that there weren’t any waves. This is because of the barriers further out. We also noticed that, up close, the water looked pretty brown. That made sense due to the Mississippi River’s impact. What we didn’t count on was the garbage from the night before. Water bottles, beer bottles, glass, debris–all kinds of stuff. Okay, it was a Saturday the night before–party night. I got it. Surely it would look better on a Monday morning or a Tuesday morning. But then the nail in the coffin arrived. If you look in the below picture, you’ll see an enormous pipe. These things occurred about every 100 feet. They didn’t look good, so I wouldn’t let my kids even walk in the water until I knew what they were all about. We were later told that these pipes drained the city’s storm water. Yes, you read that right. All of the storm water from the city is flushed out onto their beach, where people are swimming. Needless to say, we did all of our swimming at the Oasis. That was our only visit to the beach, which was supposed to be the entire reason we were there. My lesson? Accept no substitutes when it comes to beaches–go to the real deal.
Restaurants: I already addressed the Oasis’ two restaurants that were very good, but we also tried a few restaurants in Gulfport’s downtown area. Here’s something we knew about the area before arriving–they have a large homeless population. I only mention that because it will soon be pertinent.
Half Shell Oyster House: The Half Shell Oyster House had very good reviews so we thought we would start with it. We loved the interior, ended up sitting in a great spot on the upper level, had a fantastic waiter, and enjoyed the food. My daughters particularly loved their dessert. We definitely recommend. I do have to note, though, that on our way out we were greeted by a homeless man. He remained seated and was perfectly pleasant, but thought I would mention it because the homeless were common in this area.
Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria: The kids were ready for good old fashioned pizza, so an Internet search led us to believe Tony’s was the way to go. It was also in the downtown area, not far from Half Shell Oyster house. Tony’s is on a side street and is fairly small. It appeared as though it could seat maybe fifty people at the most. Though we were seated quickly, it took our waitress twenty minutes to bring us water. On the one hand, we felt bad for her because she seemed to be handling phone and online orders as well, but we definitely felt as though we were an afterthought. To make matters worse, a gentlemen who seemed to be either high or mentally unstable came in and out of the restaurant no less than fifteen times. He wanted to use people’s cell phones, he wanted water, he wanted a car ride–in, out, in, out, in, out. The staff finally had to stand at the door and try to keep him from coming all the way in, and at that point it got very tense. The police finally showed up after about thirty minutes of this. Within three minutes, they cuffed him and stuffed him into the squad car. I have no idea if the pizza was any good or not. I was so rattled by the whole thing that I couldn’t eat. Very weird situation.
The Rack House Steak & Spirits: Across the street from Half Shell Oyster House, The Rack House Steak & Spirits also had an excellent ambiance. Our waitress was exceedingly friendly and even answered questions we had about the 4th of July fireworks taking place that night. We were very pleased with both the food and the service.
The fireworks: Speaking of which, my idealistic fantasy before we actually arrived in Gulfport was to walk about a mile down the beach from our resort towards the downtown area where the fireworks were going to be detonated. Well, after the pizza ordeal as well as the many, many people setting off their own fireworks on the beach, we decided to stay on the grounds at the Oasis and watch what we could. We could see and hear the fireworks pretty well, but they didn’t last very long nor were they all that impressive.
Gulfport Premium Outlets: We learned an outlet mall existed not too far away from us, so we decided to check it out. My kids were not interested in the beach, we’d already been swimming at the Oasis pool that day, and walking around downtown Gulfport was not going to happen anymore. Even though it was pretty hot, we gave it a look. We loved it! The Gulfport Premium Outlets had some great stores and we found some awesome deals. My oldest daughter particularly loved a video game store that had a little bit of everything pop culture and video game related. I highly recommend this mall if you’re in the area.
While we met a lot of very nice people, we don’t plan on visiting Gulfport again. Outside of a few good restaurants and a great mall, it didn’t really appeal to us, and, let’s be honest, we don’t need to drive twelve hours to experience a mall and a few good restaurants. I do wish we had checked out their aquarium. It’s supposed to be very good, but so was everything else I’d read online about the area.
The first destination point during our summer 2022 vacation could be found in Gulfport, Mississippi, at the Oasis Resort.
How did I choose the Oasis Resort, you ask? Simple. I Google “nice family beach within driving distance.” Guess what came up?
I’ll talk more about Gulfport in a future entry, but all of the travel websites raved about Oasis Resort in the Centennial Plaza. I checked out the pictures, read the reviews, and figured it looked like a good place to try. After all, it has its own water park (as you can see in the pictures above taken from our room window), and the beach was literally just across the street. I was personally excited to get back to a beach, but I figured if the family got tired of the sand, we could hit our resort’s water park. Win/Win, right?
I’m getting a little ahead of myself. When we rolled into Centennial Plaza, we were impressed. The grounds were nicely kept with interesting architecture. As it turns out, the entire plaza was once a Naval training camp! We found the check-in building next to the water park, headed in, and got our key cards. It wasn’t the friendliest of check-ins, but I was also finishing up a long day of driving, so I figured maybe I just wasn’t in a great mood.
We found our particular building, also next to the water park, and walked by a guy smoking a cigarette by the front doors in order to get in. (This became a regular occurrence, but not with the same guy.) We then took a small elevator to the third floor and found our room.
We’re the kind of family who really enjoys the suite life. Therefore, when I saw Oasis offered a room with a kids suite, I jumped on it. The kids get their own space with a bunk bed? Very cool! Except that suite was nothing more than a VERY small area with a six foot partition separating it from our portion of the otherwise standard hotel room. The online pictures were extremely misleading–they made this room look three times bigger than it actually was.
We were also greeted with stained sheets on my daughter’s bed. We’re not sure what it was, but it almost looked like motor grease. We immediately called down to get new sheets brought up. This, too, was a bit of a fiasco, but it gone done.
Okay, not the smoothest of starts. The family was not terribly pleased with the room, and, honestly, I wasn’t either.
You may remember that I mentioned towels being an issue with my inaugural entry for this series. We stayed several nights at the Oasis Resort, and getting four fresh towels each morning proved a challenge even Heracles couldn’t accomplish. One morning they didn’t give us enough. Another morning they were completely out–their supply truck hadn’t arrived. It was a little crazy. How can towels be an issue at a resort every single day we stayed there?
However, there were also several bright points.
The water park was amazing. With two big water slides, a zero entry pool, and a 900 foot lazy river, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Plus, they opened at 9:00 a.m. and closed at 9:00 p.m., so we would enjoy it in the mornings before it got crowded and then in the evenings as it started thinning out. Be aware, though, that there is a bar located in the pool and so as the day goes on you tend to find cups lining the lazy river and popsicle sticks floating in the water.
They also had some very good restaurants on the premises. One of our favorite meals during the entire vacation occurred at The Blue Marlin. The food was excellent, but we happened to have a very large, very drunk group a few tables over that made it hard for us to hear ourselves think, much less hold a conversation. The Oasis Grill also proved a good spot for food on the grounds. We ate breakfast there one morning and truly enjoyed it. While our waitress was very friendly, we found the hostesses a little disengaged if not slightly hostile. If that’s the case for you, stick it out and wait for the food–it’s worth it!
Finally, Centennial Plaza has a wonderful fountain that lights up at night while spraying water in coordination with music playing. Here’s a picture we took.
In the end, Oasis Resort was a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t make it a destination spot. If you happen to be passing through or in the area for something else, it’s an entertaining attraction with good food and good fun for the whole family.
Really? You’re writing about a Drury hotel to kick off your 2022 summer vacation editorial series?
Yes, I am. Because the place was just that good.
Let me provide a little context. My family and I planned to leave Friday afternoon on July 1st in order to visit Gulfport, Mississippi before moving on to New Orleans. We knew we wouldn’t get far so late in the day, so we decided we’d stop at Cape Girardeau’s Drury Plaza Hotel Conference Center because it looked nice, had a happy hour with free food and drink, and provided a free breakfast, too. During our travels of late, those things are no longer the norm. Furthermore, it appeared to have an indoor pool, which my youngest loves.
Once we arrived, we were thrilled. The employees were fantastic from the check-in desk to the food area to the bar. As we ate, they checked on our satisfaction multiple times. We arrived with only thirty or so minutes to spare, so the bartender recommended we go ahead and get our three free drinks up front to be sure we didn’t miss out on them.
Our room was clean, comfortable, well decorated, and had towels to spare (you’ll find this won’t be the case in future entries).
In fact, we loved this location so much that we made sure to make it our stopping point on the drive home.
In our travels since the pandemic, we’ve had a hard time finding good service, clean rooms, stocked supplies, and free meals. Cape Girardeau’s Drury Plaza Hotel Conference Center checked all of those boxes! From now on, we’re definitely looking at Drury Hotels first when traveling.
James Huff stands amidst a throng of people in just another chain department store trying to make a decision. He’s surrounded not only by people, but also by Christmas wreaths and gaudily decorated trees. Holiday music plays over the store’s speakers, but coupled with the procession of marching footsteps as well as the din of hundreds of chattering voices creates a sonic abomination.
As evident, Christmas shopping is not James’ favorite activity. However, he is on an important mission, one he cannot mishandle.
A salesperson waits before him—a conservatively garbed matron probably around his mother’s age. He is thankful for such a minor miracle. He needs an experienced woman for this endeavor, a woman who’s attained both worldliness and wisdom.
“They are both lovely,” Carol, the sales representative, says matter-of-factly. Though he has never met Carol, her nametag makes all the necessary introductions.
“Yes, they are,” James agrees. He studies the two bracelets and appreciates that Carol is not attempting to sell him on the more expensive one. She must sense he’s an easy mark, a surefire sale just waiting to happen. He appreciates that she’s not the gluttonous sort.
“Any woman would be glad to receive either of them,” Carol says.
“I agree. I personally like the more expensive of the two, and I think she will, too. Unfortunately, it’s beyond my budget. I hate to cheap out when I know she’d like the other one better.”
“If I may say so, sir,” Carol begins, “I wouldn’t describe the less expensive one as ‘cheap.’ It costs a significant amount of money.”
“You’re right, of course. And she’s not the materialistic type, so it’s really not about the money.” James holds the finer bracelet up to his face and studies it. “It’s just, I know her tastes, and this is it. She’ll kill me if she ever finds out how much it costs, but long ago I learned a valuable lesson in choosing the right gifts. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
During a past Christmas, everyone had a good idea what lay under the Huff Christmas tree. James’ life consisted of He-Man, Ghostbusters, and comic books. His older brother, Ted, lived for the Chicago Bears and the Super Bowl game he knew they were fated to win. Their dad, Anthony, had a passionate interest in building model muscle cars in his downstairs shop when he wasn’t busy with work, which wasn’t very often.
So for the men of the family, the various packages of all shapes and sizes could only hide a limited number of delightful possibilities.
As for their mom, Debbie, well, the boys didn’t really know what interested her—besides them, of course—but the boys trusted their father to take care of her gifts.
James had an unflinching confidence in the infallibility of Santa Claus, but he also understood that Santa only brought gifts for children. Adults simply had to rely upon each other to make sure their Christmas wishes came true.
And judging from the multitude of geometrically diverse objects labeled “Mom” or “Debbie” beneath the tree, his dad did well that year.
Oh, if only Debbie, Ted, and James knew what the immediate future held for them.
Ted decreed himself all-time gift sorter, and once he yet again accomplished the task with an efficiency that increased every year, Debbie settled in on the couch while eyeing an assortment of effects whose innards were unfathomable. Anthony kicked out the footrest of his favorite recliner. Ted, beaming at yet another job well done, sat upon the ledge before the fireplace, warming his backside with a preternatural tolerance to the flames. James sat smack-dab next to the Christmas tree so that he could use it as an adventurous gateway to the heavens for the new toys with which he would soon be playing.
Per tradition, James, being the youngest and most impatient, got to open a gift first. Imagine his elation when he unwrapped the He-Man toy known as Buzz-Off, a strange hybrid of man and bee. Hopefully Buzz-Off had not grown too comfortable in his plastic and cardboard home, for it took all of two seconds to emancipate him.
Ted went next, and he pumped his fist in the air when he opened a pair of official Jim McMahon sunglasses. He would wear those sunglasses every Bears game until McMahon went to San Diego.
Though Debbie was technically the next in line in terms of youth, she insisted Anthony go ahead. He opened a year’s supply of top-of-the-line model glue. Ted and James failed to see the allure of such a gift, but the smile on their father’s face told them he felt ecstatic.
While the men were captivated with their newly acquired baubles, Debbie, her curiosity piqued most intensely by the largest of the packages, suppressed her urgings in order to enjoy the suspense and instead opened the smallest of the gifts.
It wasn’t unusual in the Huff household to open the biggest gifts last. History proved those were usually the most excellent. None wanted to start with the best only to end on a low note.
Imagine her surprise when she found Anthony bought her, on behalf of the boys, a new scrub brush. She glanced up to see Anthony studying the ingredients of his model glue, Ted wearing sunglasses and throwing imaginary touchdowns, and James flying Buzz-Off as high as his short arms would allow.
Ever the master of etiquette, she thanked them for the gift, listened as they mumbled a reply, and then she laid it aside and contemplated.
If only Anthony’s present to her turned out to be an aberration, a one-time error in judgment that could be dismissed as soon as she opened the next package, but such good fortune would not occur that Christmas.
James next opened a t-shirt with the famous Ghostbusters logo upon it. It went on over his Batman pajama top without hesitation. Ted opened a pair of official Chicago Bears sweatbands and put them on with a grin from ear to ear. Anthony opened a collection of one hundred miniature bottles of model paint, and he began to feel a stone growing ever denser in the pit of his stomach as he watched Debbie pick up a box that anyone would naturally assume housed a piece of clothing.
And Debbie did make such an assumption. She presumed the slightly oversized box might contain a house robe, or perhaps the little black dress she had wanted for so long in order to wear to work parties. Because the boys finally took notice and gave her their full attention as she pulled out a welcome mat, she fought back the tears and refused to acknowledge her husband.
Palpable tension filled the room, and even David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s duet playing on the radio in the background did nothing to bring about peace in the Huff home.
With trepidation, James opened a box of brand-new comic books, but the expression upon his mother’s face soured his mood. Ted seemed equally afflicted, for his Bears sweatshirt did little to lift his spirits. Even Anthony, finally realizing he committed a grievous mistake, barely noticed his new set of paintbrushes … he knew what lay ahead as Debbie reached for her third gift.
Though it appeared taller than the objects surrounding her, it did not take up much space. She hoped against hope that it could perhaps be that new television or stereo she wanted for her sewing room. A glimmer of positive thinking convinced her this would all end well. Anthony must have come close to overshooting the budget on the television or stereo, and so he bought those little, undesirable things to simply give her something to open. That way she wouldn’t feel left out. They would all be laughing about it soon enough.
The tall item she started to unwrap could only be a plastic garbage can.
And so it was.
She didn’t bother unwrapping it all the way.
Ted slid down the ledge of the fireplace, suffering chilliness as he put distance between he and the heat he so loved, and leaned into James’ ear.
“This is not good,” he said. Ah, so important the years were that separated James and Ted. The older brother was not yet completely versed in the complicated diplomacy necessary for men and women to coexist, but he knew enough to understand his father risked all-out war.
Because of James’ age, he couldn’t formulate any complicated thoughts to interpret his instincts, but those instincts also warned him that his father had blundered far into the danger zone.
His mother broke the silence—discounting the cheery background music—and said, “Open your gift, James.” She tried so hard to sound warm and loving, but, as she discovered in high school, Debbie was a terrible actor. She could not hide the melancholy in her voice.
The Huffs went through several more rounds of unwrapping, but as each circuit completed, the ambiance darkened. Such change in atmosphere could not be avoided as Debbie found herself worthy of receiving a laundry basket, a low-grade cutlery set, a dictionary, and a collapsible shovel.
At last, the final chapter arrived. James and Ted didn’t remove their eyes from Debbie’s biggest gift as it awaited her shaking hands. Debbie glanced at it as well, wondering, like Caesar, if it would be the last knife in her back. A sheen of moisture escaped the pores upon Anthony’s forehead, and rightly so.
Anxious for the crescendo, James tore through the paper that exposed the mammoth Castle Grayskull, and then motioned for his brother to hurry up. Ted shred apart a box divulging a Walter Payton jersey, then jutted his jaw out and stared at his father. Anthony took his time, as though he attempted to stay an execution, and finally could stall no longer once an incredible model replicating a 1970 Ford Mustang Mach I engine shined at him.
Heart fluttering as no one said a word, Debbie slowly ripped apart snowmen and reindeer, yearning to see the brand names RCA or Zenith. Instead, she saw a wet/dry vacuum cleaner.
The last thing Debbie wanted was to make a scene in front of her boys. However, she also thought they needed to see a woman assert herself when necessary. She fought to keep her voice calm and steady when she asked, “Anthony, I appreciate the fact you went Christmas shopping for me. I do. But what—exactly—are you trying to tell me with these gifts?”
Ted leaned over again and whispered to James, “Mom and Dad are getting divorced. You just wait.”
“What’s that mean?” James asked with eyes moistening. His instincts again worked overtime.
“What?” Anthony asked his wife. “I thought you’d be happy I noticed all the things you needed around the house!”
“No, Anthony. You got me things we needed around the house.”
“What’s the difference?” Anthony asked. “I spent a lot of money on that stuff!”
“It’s not the money, Anthony,” Debbie mumbled. “It’s just … Oh, I sound like such a brat. I’m thankful you got me gifts, really. But who in his right mind buys his wife a wet/dry vac?”
“I’ll have you know that wet/dry vac cost a bundle!”
Before anyone knew what happened, Ted gathered up all his presents in his arms and hauled them to his mother. He dropped them into his mother’s lap and said, “Here, Mom. You can have my stuff.”
James lifted the gigantic Castle Grayskull box as best he could, and he stumbled with it to his mother as well. “If you don’t mind, I’ll keep the little stuff, Mom. But you can have the best one. You deserve it.”
Anthony looked stunned.
Touched by her boys’ selflessness, Debbie dropped her head into her hands and fought back tears. Then, realizing her sons still watched, she lifted her chin and smiled at them. She set aside the gifts they bestowed upon her. After that, she stood up and said, “Thank you, boys. I truly appreciate the gesture.” She then took refuge in the only bathroom.
Once she left the room, Anthony asked, “What’s the big idea, boys? You’re making me look bad!”
“Mom’s gifts stink, Dad!” Ted cried out.
“Yeah, Dad,” James agreed. “I sure am glad Santa brings my presents! If you’d been in charge, I probably would have gotten a toilet plunger or something!”
Ted and Anthony exchanged knowing glances.
Then Ted scowled and said to his father, “What if Mom gave you the kind of presents that you gave her? How would that make you feel?”
“I’ll take that one,” James says to the salesclerk while pointing to the bracelet he prefers.
“You’re sure?” Carol questions. “If you don’t mind me saying so, Christmas isn’t supposed to be about the money. I’m sure whomever would love either of them.”
“Absolutely. But I have to make sure it’s perfect. And my gut tells me she’ll like this bracelet the best. So, I’m sure,” he says with a grin. “Very sure.”
Carol senses this gift has far more importance than she can comprehend, so she simply offers James a smile and begins wrapping the exquisite bracelet. Once finished, James thanks her for the assistance and makes his way out. He leaves the threshold of the department store and enters the tumultuous halls of the mall.
While navigating his way through the multitudes of bundled-up people, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. Using only his thumb, he dials a number.
After waiting a few moments, the other end finally picks up and offers heartfelt salutations.
“Hi,” James returns. He lifts his other hand, shopping bag and all, to his ear in an effort to dull the ruckus encircling him. He asks, “How’s the knee?”
Once the medical update comes to a close, James replies, “Good, glad to hear you’re staying off of it. Listen, I picked up the robe, the scarf, the gloves, the perfume, and the Picoult book, but I had to go a little over budget on the bracelet. I saw a different one I thought she’d like better. I hope you don’t mind.”
James weaves his way through the Christmas shoppers while listening to the recipient of his call, and then finally corroborates, “No, I agree; she is worth any amount. I thought you’d feel that way. I never would have spent so much of your money otherwise.”
While leaving the mall and trying to avoid salty puddles, James chuckles as a familiar Christmas story issues forth from his conversationalist. Finally, he says, “I think Mom forgave you for that a long time ago, Dad. You couldn’t have done any better these last twenty years if you were Santa himself.”
Copyright © 2007 by Scott William Foley
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This story first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Town and City Magazine.
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.
Before my children were born, I wrote pretty much whenever I wanted. If I needed to sit for five hours on a weeknight and crank something out, I could. If I chose to take an entire weekend, from morning to night, and do nothing else but write, nothing stopped me. I always had time to do all the things I needed to do to keep my personal, professional, and writing life going smoothly.
But then my children arrived.
That sounded bad.
First of all, let me be totally transparent – my kids are my world. Writing is a passion, but my children are my life. So while much of this may sound pessimistic, that’s not the intention. I credit my success as a human being to my wife and children. They always come first, and that’s fine by me.
Okay, back on point. If you’re like me, you may be juggling lots of different things along with your writing. You may not actually get to write that novel or short story but once a week. Oh, sure, you’ve got time carved out every day, but something always comes up. I’ve read some authors who said their time is untouchable. They will not give it up. That’s fine for them, but that’s not my way. Like I said, my wife and kids always come first.
So what does this all mean?
I’m saying that writing is a lifestyle. For some of us, it’s the main focus. For others, we do it when we can. But I guarantee you, just because I may not be writing on a certain night, I”m always thinking about it. It is always in my head. My characters, scenarios, plots – all of it. When I’m doing dishes (as my Twitter and Facebook friends can attest), I’m thinking about it. When I’m mowing the lawn, I’m thinking about it. In fact, I believe that my busy schedule actually proves beneficial. When I actually get the time to sit and write, I’m primed and ready. I understand how valuable that time is, I’ve run through whatever it is I’m writing a thousand times in my head. It’s an almost euphoric experience to sit and let it flow.
Ideally, we would all write that five pages a day we’re supposed to achieve. But that’s not a realty for many. My hope, my wish, is that you don’t feel bad if you can’t manage more than a night or two a week. Yes, consistent writing will only help and it’s the best way to hone your craft, but sometimes it’s just an impossibility.
I often have negative thoughts about my writing, usually including the phrase “enough.” I’m not writing enough. I’m not submitting enough. I’m not making enough professional contacts. I’m not networking enough. I don’t fine tune my website enough. To all that, I say, “Enough.”
In life, we do the best we can. We keep our priorities in order. My writing is my passion, my art, but it’s not my only passion. My family is my masterpiece. My teaching career is a work of art in progress. My writing improves every week, every month, every year, year after year.
I crave balance. I fight for equity.
Writing is a lifestyle. It’s who I am. But it’s not all of me. It’s an important part, among many.