The holidays are the ultimate family time, and nobody got into the whole family scene more than I did.
When several years ago I found myself facing the first of several holiday seasons alone, I was absolutely stunned. I wasn't sure how I would handle it.
Nothing is harder on people living alone than the holidays. A friend of mine leaves town during Thanksgiving weekend and volunteers at an out-of-state animal shelter.
Others I know band together and pretend they're having as good a time as they would if they were with their families. Believe me, they're not.
My father, brother and son came out from Michigan, California and Tucson respectively that first Thanksgiving alone, but instead of the traditional family dinner we ate at the nearly empty Mogollon Grill. That Christmas it was just my son and I, and we struggled mightily to be a happy family of two.
But leave guys alone long enough and they adapt -- as only guys can. As the years went by, I developed a few holiday survival techniques for single guys, and I hereby share them with you:
1. Do something you didn't dare do before
Singer-songwriter John Prine tells about the year he got a very special Christmas present -- a divorce. He and a buddy went out and bought an electric train and nailed the tracks to the dining room table -- "just because we could." Roundup Bob got the same gift one Christmas, but his ex-wife took the dining room table with her. A resourceful guy, Bob used the space to park his two motorcycles in the dining room.
2. Don't cook elaborate family meals
The second Thanksgiving, it was just my son and I. We bought a fully cooked turkey dinner at the supermarket, popped it in the oven, took a hike in the forest, and came home to all the wondrous smells of Thanksgiving dinner -- for about the same price and infinitely less hassle.
3. Return to your Christmas tree roots
My mother's pride and joy was a pink artificial Christmas tree. When I was married, my wives (yes, wives) insisted on real trees. You can darn well bet the farm that I gleefully bought an artificial tree for my first Christmas alone. I miss the smell, but I don't miss the fallen needles, escalating prices, spilled water, or pine tar on my hands. It's not pink, but I like to think mom would approve. And if the pilgrims really taught the Indians to make a chicken cordon bleu sandwich that first Thanksgiving, I'm quite sure the first Christmas tree was artificial.
4. Utilize the latest technology
There's a lot of new technology out there that'll make you forget all the tradition that's missing from your life. Roundup Marge bought herself one of those dancing Christmas trees. Not only does it sing "O Christmas Tree," but it also repeats really bad one-liners (I pine for you, baby!) over and over.
5. Never hang lights outdoors again
My wives (yes, wives) also insisted that I light the outside of our house like a Las Vegas casino, a chore I grew to detest more with each passing season. Of course a dark house is depressing to come home to, so I have come up with the perfect compromise. I have two light fixtures on the front of my carport. I take out the normal bulbs and replace one with a green bulb and the other with a red bulb. Voila! -- instant holiday lighting.
6. Don't bake cookies
You can buy them already baked at your local supermarket. And if you look real needy when you're with co-workers or neighbors, they will usually give you some of the ones they baked. Even better, switch to M&Ms. They come in red and green for the holiday season and make a very nice substitute for cookies when eaten in sufficient quantity.
7. Don't put gifts in boxes
Early on, my son and I realized that gift boxes are a waste. Other than making your presents nice and smooth and squared off, they serve no earthly purpose. Just say no to gift boxes.
8. Count your blessings
Through it all be thankful for what you have, and maybe even for what you don't have. Things could be a lot worse.
Have a joyous holiday and be sure to remember me and all your other single friends when you're doling out those homemade cookies.
P.S. I'll let you know how many cookies this column nets.