All I Want for Christmas are Some Socks: The Holidays and the Unemployed

Dec. 9, 2011: A few days ago I finally dragged my Christmas decorations ouf my storage closet and set about decorating my apartment. I have accumulated a fairly large number of decorations over the years, many of them gifts. I look forward each year to unwrapping each decoration and taking a trip down memory lane as I remember who gave me what, or where and when I bought a particular item myself. I went through a number of years being really into snowmen, which resulted in a barrage of snowmen purchases and gifts, including a snowman nativity set. An old boyfriend of mine used to give me a tree ornament each year – whimsical, fun ones. I have five of those – one for each year we dated. I also have some of my Grandma B.’s Christmas things, which is bittersweet, since she just passed away a few weeks ago. I have an ancient looking red and green sled that looks like it might have been homemade that I got when my Grandma moved out of her home in the teeny, tiny town of Oberon ND. I usually put the sled by the tree and drape it with some vintage Christmas lights my grandparents used to put on their tree – they must be more than 50 years old! My Grandma’s Christmas gifts were always beautifully wrapped, and she often made her own gift tags that looked like they were made out of old Christmas cards. Years ago I turned one of them into a tree ornament. It’s a small blue card with Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph walking beside her. Inside it says in her elegant handwriting “to Lisa, with love Grandma B.” Of course, now I wish I would have saved more of them.

A few years ago I bought a fake tree – something I thought I would never do. A week or so ago when the Christmas tree lots began springing up everywhere, I started longing for a real, large tree with its pungent pine scent! I began remembering past trips with friends to the Colorado mountains to cut down our own trees. It was usually a festive day-long event, driving up into the High Country in someone’s 4-wheel drive vehicle, drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas music. It was fun to stomp through the snow in the crisp mountain air, carefully circling tree prospects, reviewing the pros and cons of each, then chopping them down and dragging them back to the vehicle. During the drive home, we would recap the day’s adventures and laugh, and gloat a bit over our fabulous tree finds, and possibly wonder if the trees would reach the ceiling of our homes’ living rooms!

Then my sister sent me a text picture of their tree – a glorious big, fat, furry tree, which only further ignited my tree lust! Now if you think this is going to be a warm, fuzzy blog post ending with me traipsing off to the mountains or a tree lot, followed by a description of more syrupy memories while I lovingly decorate the tree in front of a roaring fire, you are wrong, because I can’t afford the tree, or the fire, for that matter!

Here’s the thing. I texted me sis, aka known on Facebook as Weather Woman Jules, and asked how much she paid for the tree, to which she replied – $15. Fifteen dollars, I think to myself – that’s not too bad. I could afford that! But then I think a little more, as I do with any potential purchase, and think about it and other expenses cumulative total. Say I buy the $15 tree, followed by a $2.48 cup of Earl Grey tea at Starbucks, followed by a $3.00 lunch from Wendy’s dollar bargain menu during a fit of extreme hunger that needs a quick fix, followed by $1.79 (for a 20 ounce bottle!) of Diet Coke at the gas station, followed by a couple more dollars here and there – you get the idea. Then a friend says “let’s go to a movie,” followed by “it’s $5.00 movie night” because she knows my financial situation. It all adds up and before you know it, you’ve spent $100 bucks! When finances are very restricted, whether you’re unemployed or simply on a tight budget, that $100 needs to go toward rent or the electric or phone bill!

In addition to keeping a tight eye on spending, the longer I am unemployed (or underemployed) the list of things I need, but will have to do without, also gets longer and longer. One of my black tennis shoes I wear to my underemployed job has a hole in it, and so far, thankfully, no one has noticed or decided to comment upon. Let’s hope I don’t eventually have to cover it with a piece of duct tape! I could rattle off a number of clothing items I need, but will have to make do with what I have. I am a girl of course, and would love more than just a new pair of tennies! I haven’t bought pretty shoes or a sweater or a new pair of earrings in I don’t know how long! However, of more important consequence than considering what is now considered frivolous spending, are things related to transportation and health! I drive a 1993 Barney Purple Honda Civic (only the second car I’ve ever owned!). Barney has served me well for a very long time, however, he really could use a new set of tires. And the brakes are sounding a bit squeaky, and there is a loud possible-hole-in-the-exhaust-system-noise that is a little concerning. I give Barney a gentle pat and say a little prayer each time I get in the car, in hopes that he will keep running a while longer without needing any costly repairs that I can’t afford. And then there’s my teeth, of few of which are literally starting to fall apart! Now I can blame myself a bit for that. I have always been an extreme dentaphobic – absolutely, positively terrified of the dentist, which means I did not go regularly over the years. I am guessing the amount of dental work I now need would equal that of a used car purchase!

All of that being said, I am mindful and humbly grateful, in this Holiday season that in spite of my situation, I am still vastly better off than millions of others throughout the world! I have seen first-hand some extreme poverty conditions in countries such as Brazil, where I saw people living in cardboard shack communities, dressed in ragged clothes. Some months ago, my pastor and his family traveled to Nicaragua, where they visited families who subsisted on top of a large garbage dump! In comparison, I have a roof over my head, and a nice one at that! I have furniture and clothes and multiple pairs of shoes! For now I still have money to heat and light my home and to buy food and put gas in my car. All of these things, which are considered basic necessities by most people in this country, are things that many people around the world don’t have, much less something like a cell phone or a computer, which would be considered an unimaginable extravagance! The boxes of Christmas decorations and multiple Christmas CDs, and the gifts I’ll receive from my family – they might be considered by the extreme poor, fit only for a Queen!

So Barney and I will not be cruising to the Christmas tree lot. Instead, I will decorate my skinny little fake tree while listening to some Christmas music and be thankful and appreciative for all that I DO have! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll splurge and buy some wood for a fire!

Lisa, Talented and Grateful Job Seeker

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