It usually starts with me thinking about how much I'd just plain like to be home for Christmas. In my line of work, there's no guarantee I will; I'm well aware of that and accepted long ago that it goes with the paycheck, but it doesn't mean I'll ever have to be happy about it. The carrier always trumpets that they're going to get everybody home for the holidays and for the most part they do. The catch is when and for how long? Thanksgiving went that mysterious way...the original (published) plan was to 'curtail operations' at 7 pm the night before. Color me doubtful. That got pushed back to 11 pm at some point but my phone rang at 11:30 to go on duty at 1:30 am Thanksgiving Day. Thirty five empty boxcars couldn't wait to roll for Canada so away we went. It turned into an all-nighter dragging another train up a hill and eventually taxiing back with a cab driver who also ended up working. I got in my driveway at about 4:30 that afternoon, staggered to dinner and fell asleep in my plate. I guess I should be happy, at least I didn't get stuck in a hotel.
Last time I checked, I'm not deployed in the military, at sea aboard a ship or even travelling very far from home so it doesn't seem like getting to my own door would be too much to ask or plan on.
Yup, I was home as (sort of) advertised but when any of the 'big' holidays come around I'd rather they just said, "Look, we're going to run trains just like every other day so don't plan on being home." I could deal with that. Maybe I'd bid my vacation to cover some of it if I could. Maybe it would have to be a 'Close Counts', near-miss celebration like so many birthdays and anniversaries have been. One way or another, we'd make it work.
Or if they'd say, "As of 0001 Christmas Eve, you'll either be home or on your way and that's final." That would be fantastic but they can't or won't commit to anything with that much conviction. The annual mystery of when or if they're actually going to shut down and send crews home is murder. That's the beginning of the slide.
The next step is the 'Spend It All' mentality that everybody develops. In days past, I've read that perhaps we expect too much from this time of year. I was under the impression that Christmas was supposed to have something to do with your family and some religious figures we're not allowed to mention lest we offend. I always get my hopes up that somehow it will. Then reality sets in and it becomes obvious that for all intents and purposes, it's a commercial. We're reminded constantly that we're supposed to be ecstatic over an ever-lengthening 'Holiday Season'. This joy is reported to begin around October first and last into the end of January. It seems to be particularly encouraged by people who'd like very much to sell me something obscenely expensive or at least outrageously beyond my means. My happiness apparently depends on a new 60" flat-screen bought with 35 or 40% plastic. Frankly, I'd be happier with new snows for the front of the Malibu so I could get to work or a real miracle of the season...a head gasket before the thing blows up entirely. I know I'm an oddball but I can't figure out how to be happy going broke buying things I want when there's so much we need and can't afford. The philosophy is we're supposed to BE HAPPY dammit; and if we're not, just keep spending until we are. The 'happiness' in such a thing escapes me and more often than not...pushes the down-button again. Maybe I'm being cynical but it just seems like there should be more to it.
I hate to feel so crummy when I know there's a boatload of things to be thankful for...my family and the friends who hang on even when I get like this...a home of my own, even if it is ready to collapse from sheer exhaustion...a job that pays well when half the country doesn't have one at all...the chance to be home late when there's so many who won't be home this year and so many who won't ever come back...how can anyone be down when he has so much? I wish I knew.
As usual, this too shall pass. When the dark gives up to lighter days, I'll think about it less and push along like always...but one of these years, I wish it wouldn't get so cold in December.