A Final Thought: The winter of my discontent


By Mitch Allen

It’s that time again. Mid-November, when my waist expands and my mood grows as dark as the 5:00 p.m. sky, when heavy rains drive the last resistance of autumn leaves to the ground, leaving behind the silhouettes of vacant trees that wave from the hilltops in the winter wind like a thousand stiff and crooked scolding fingers.

The trees are dead, or so it seems; only hope tells us otherwise.

Then comes Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, a feast without the stress of gift-giving, the aromatic remnants of my childhood hanging in the air like the stubborn leaves of the pin oak—the cornbread dressing, cranberry jelly, the giblet gravy, the sweet potato soufflé. Not even the vegans who surround me would disparage my 25-pound turkey on this day. Afterward, old men fall asleep on sofas and wake in snaps of snoring, declaring, “I am not asleep.”

“It’s carb overload and the tryptophan in the turkey,” say the young folks, not yet aware that old men, like babies, nap because they become grumpy if they do not. I look around. There is no old man left...until I see my own concave reflection in the stainless steel gravy ladle and realize that I am he.

Then comes Christmas.

We are grandparents now, so Amazon boxes are the new symbols of the holiday season. They propagate so successfully on our front porch that it must be the work of elves. And Christmas Eve’s midnight mass is me cutting open the boxes and putting toys together with pictograph instructions so reduced in complexity as to be useless, accompanied by a “tools-you-will-need” page that represents an entire aisle at Home Depot.

My tool of choice for opening cardboard boxes is the utility knife, the same weapon used by the 9-11 hijackers, whose evil actions led to the transformation of our nation from a land of strength and love to one of weakness and hate. Yes, we should blame ourselves and the shameless propaganda we share on social media for our post-truth climate of division and tribalism, but it was Mohammed Atta who got the ball rolling. Today, it’s difficult to hold a box cutter in my hand to open a child’s present without seeing the horror of the towers falling.

My transformation into the Grinch is utterly complete.

With January comes my birthday and the cold reminder that I have made yet another trip around the sun, the trees’ dark fingers still bare and admonishing, but now covered in snow, iced like the top of leftover wedding cake grown stale in the back of the freezer.

In February, I binge-watch the movie Groundhog Day and think how nice it would be to get to do it all over again, how I would foil the hijackers’ plans, prevent my brother from dying in his sleep, and pull out of the stock market just before the 2008 housing crash. But in the movie—try as he might—not even Bill Murray can stop death when it arrives with its own stiff, cold fingers, and money is worthless when it vanishes each morning.

In spite of the first day of spring, March is still winter, breaking its promise by coming in like a lion and going out like one, too, though ubiquitous green shamrock cutouts give us a glimpse of the supple joy that is to come.

And what of April? She is not only the cruelest month, she’s a tease, revealing her purple crocus then quickly covering them with her bitter, white shawl until she can no longer compete with forsythia, daffodils, tulips, and the great God who tilted the Earth.

“You must learn to enjoy winter,” my wife scolds. “You’re fifty-seven, not seventy-five. You need to get out there, to hike in the snow, to appreciate winter’s beauty in the way you do spring’s. Here in Northeast Ohio, it’s half your life. Do you want to be miserable for half your life?”

What if I’m not miserable, I say. What if I enjoy my annual hibernation, scratching my hairy back on the rough walls of the cave of nihilism? The doorbell rings.

It is the elves again.

Another cardboard box.


Categories: Smart Living