|Hammer ghost of Christmas lost?|
No, I wasn't going to sneak up on him and completely turn the tables, but I decided to pay John Hammer a visit instead of the other way around.
As I pulled up, I noticed the house was what you might expect, modest but well maintained. It reminded me a lot of my grandparents' house. After he retired from farming in the 1960s, my grandpa used the proceeds from the auction (two tractors, one combine, a grain truck and a little bit of land) to buy a house in town. I remember that it seemed small, and said so. I also remember being sternly told that it had a good roof, indoor plumbing, a garage out back with space to work and a modern kitchen. The look that came with the words said even more.
The front porch of the man described as The Hammer was solid wood, well maintained and not one board creaked or budged an inch as I walked across to the door. I would've expected nothing less. I looked for a doorbell to ring and had just about decided there wasn't one when-
"What are you doing here, Timmons?"
I have no earthly idea how John Hammer manages to constantly sneak up on me, but he does. Thank God my bladder isn't as weak as my heart.
"Do you enjoy scaring the crap out of me?" I snapped.
"Yeah, a little," Hammer said. There was even a hint of a smile. "So what are you doing here, Timmons?"
I held out the wrapped present. "This is for you and your wife, John. Merry Christmas."
The big man took the package and invited me in. I had never met his wife before and had to admit I was anxious to see the woman married to the Hammer.
"The Mrs. will be sorry she missed you," he said. "She's out at the grocery store."
"Thanks, John, but I've got to get going. I just wanted to give you guys this and say thanks."
He looked puzzled.
"John, a few years ago you came by around Christmas time and told me something I haven't forgotten. You said that when you were a kid you got underwear, socks, and maybe a wood toy, hand-made by your dad. You also said that your Christmas stocking would be full of oranges, apples, nuts and home-made candy. You reminded me that there was a time, not all that long ago, when Christmas wasn't about displays showing up in stores before Halloween. It wasn't about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Tuesday and a bunch of other made-up days. It wasn't even about the presents we gave each other."
Hammer looked . . . well, down at me (he is a big man, after all). It was another rare smile.
"You reminded me that first and foremost Christmas is a religious event," I explained. "But you also reminded me that it's not about anything you can find in a store. It's about the people around us, as well as those who aren't around anymore. I'm still lucky enough to have a few family dinners to attend, dinners where I used to be one of the young ones. Now that I'm on the other end, and especially now that the group older than me seems to shrink each year, I just try to take everything in. I was at one of those last week and watched the new babies and kids who seem like they should still be babies. I realized that while I'm looking at them, they're looking at me . . . and I'm one of the old folks now. Before they know it, those kids will be the ones with gray around the temples wondering where time went.
"I'm not sure what the retail aspect of Christmas will be like then, not even sure I want to know, but the thing we call life feels like it gets a little more lost each year. And when it does, I think back to what you told me about Christmas and it gives me hope that things won't get lost completely. Thanks for that, John. Thanks for everything."
Then the Hammer surprised me once more. He reached out those big paws and gave me a hug.
"Merry Christmas, Timmons."
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