As I walked through Kroger looking for an autumn dinner, I noticed something that looked Santa-like peeking out from between the pumpkins. I could feel it in my bones. Here comes the Grinch. That would be me. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas, it’s just the holidays in general. When I was a kid they were special. When we had little kids of our own they were even more special. But we are all grown-ups now. Not a child in sight. So what is a Grinch to do? Stay Grinchy I guess.
I believe that my problem with the holidays began with my success with Brewer and Shipley. We were on the road all the time. Holidays or not, we could be found looking for our hotel room or the concert venue. Rain, snow, crowds, ice, it didn’t make any difference. We were on the road. The traveling part of the road: the airport, the planes, the travel to and from the hotel, the trip back to the hotel from the venue, it was always the same. We even got to know doormen, flight attendants, desk clerks, and waitresses. We could name districts, streets, and restaurants in whatever town we were in. The country had become like one big city we knew like the back of our hands.
In a way, there was some comfort in that. Being comfortable wherever you are is a good thing. But the holidays make the good times and the good places dissolve into a hurried mess of shoppers and salespeople. Much of the time we had a roadie driving us from place to place but often we did the driving. Either way, finding a parking spot full of slush and salt was always painful during the holidays. When it came to the food we were faced with another hassle. Food. While a lot of the places we stayed had restaurants, hotel food is hotel food any way you slice it. It was particularly irritating when we knew there was a great Indian or Thai restaurant a couple of miles away. It was always a choice of hotel food or trying to find a parking spot amid the hustle and lousy weather the holidays would often bring. Am I getting Grinchy enough now?
I believe it was the first sight of the pumpkin that would start my Grinch wheels spinning. It was a harbinger of the melee to come and a reminder that we were again missing the beauty of an Ozark Autumn. When the turkey reared its head it was difficult to become too gleeful because we usually couldn’t make it home for the event. Thanksgiving comes on Thursday and Friday was a top night for shows. From time to time we would make it home but usually, we were just trying to make the best of it.
Thanksgiving always reminded me of the hard days when we were dead broke and working on our Weeds album. We were in San Francisco staying at a cheesy hotel in the tenderloin district. With no money to spare, dinner was almost always some kind of fried rice at an oriental greasy spoon in Chinatown. Chicken fried rice, pork fried rice, shrimp fried rice, young chow fried rice and, this still makes me shudder, on Thanksgiving day turkey fried rice with a specimen cup of cranberry sauce on the side. Truly sad but true.
It wasn’t until I returned from my Brewer and Shipley hiatus in the 1980s that the holidays stopped becoming something to fear. There were times that took me away from the family when the season rolled around but I was much more in control of my life by then and actually started looking forward to enjoying the times. A loving wife and a couple of good sons will do that. But somehow the terrors of the holiday tours still haunt me. And I guess that is where the Grinch hides, only to peek out between parked cars in the snow-covered lot at the big box store. Just for a moment but long enough to find a place in my heart to bother me until the new year rings in.
This year I feel it will be different. The Grinch is still hiding behind one of my aortas but he is going to have some serious competition. My son Matt and his wife Ashley will be coming down for Thanksgiving and have a day or two on either side to hang out. They live in Kansas City so they have a drive ahead of them but what a celebration it will be. Ashley is the girl I would have designed to be my daughter-in-law had I been asked, but Matthew outdrew me and found her on his own. Having “the kids” around always makes the days so much brighter.
And then comes Christmas. For that Jan and I will be driving up to Kansas City and spending that holiday with them. I love their place in the Strawberry Hill district of Kansas City, Kansas which is a mixed community with lots of people from Latin America living there. They have a large Mexican population and that is where my next batch of stories will take place.
While we are there the conversation will undoubtedly turn to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. A few weeks after we ring in the New Year it will be the Shipleys preparing for a family vacation on Isla Holbox. When I say family, I mean the whole bunch of us. While our sons Matt and Marc have come with us to Yucatan when they were young, it has been since the boys headed off to college that it has just been Jan and me. Ashley has never been out of the country. So there we will be, having too much fun on the beach where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Caribbean. And, Like the days when we would take the boys to Isla Mujeres, Matt and I will spend part of one day fishing. My old friend and guide Alejandro Vega Cruz or Mr. Sand Flea, as readers of this site might know by now, said he is ready for a trip. My imagination goes wild. My son and my friend Alejandro will be spending some time in a place in Yucatan where the water is shallow, the fish are hungry, the flocks of egrets, pelicans, and occasional flamingos cover the mangroves that surround us. I think they call it Paradise.
To top it all off we will be there for the week of Carnival. Carnival in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is an adventure all its own. It isn’t a “girls gone wild” kind of week like it is in a lot of the Caribbean. It is mostly a lot of dancing and eating with much of the proceeds going to the church. So planning the trip can often be as much fun as the trip itself. And the plans begin as this year’s holiday arrives. I’m not quite sure what to do with the Grinch but possibly enjoying a wonderful week in the surf and sand of Isla Holbox will encourage him to find another heart to bother.
For me, the year is winding down. A lot of stories have been told, music videos produced, and a new feature for our homestead has been completed…the Wild Flower Garden and The Path that leads to it. So, as the holidays roll on, I’ll probably be doing fewer posts, at least until the new year arrives. Until then I have a Grinch on my shoulder whispering “these holidays are for people that sell things.” But I will have him by the time the ball drops.
Since reading this story I have been trying to think of a way to impart just how important your music was to my father (and thereby all of us in the family). He liked the way you looked & he liked the absence of any crafted image of who you were. The music & lyrics said it all, in particular your divinely inspired harmonies, which we perfected singing along to very early on.
Dad had been a tenor in a four part group in the clubs & bars of Buffalo until marriage , family & a career as a traveling salesman prevented him from chasing his musical passion. Instead, he lived it in his heart vicariously through the music he found in the record stores along the way.
To get to the heart of the matter of what is on my mind: My father would have enjoyed so very much to read your stories here. It would have been full circle for him to recognize you both struggled out on the road, those slushy winter slogs, in hotels and parking lots, finding a bite to eat, learning the names of the service people along the way…. friendly faces of strangers after logging endless miles in a day. And Dad would smile thinking about & remembering the 8 track tapes he played in his car of Brewer & Shipley, the three of you – out on the road. He would feel a proud kinship with you; the men he never met who’s voices carried him through many a long lonely mile as he harmonized in his beautiful voice to your intricate, soft melodies. Just looking at the lovely pictures of you, your wife and your life here impart such a welcome sense of familiarity & that is because of your authenticity as a human being and a singer/songwriter. Everytime I read one of your posts, I feel the very best of what was in my Dad’s heart while he lived and for that I have the deepest sense of gratitude in my heart. Thankyou.