On Christmas Day, 2016, the sunlight slowly melted the delicate tracery of the morning frost hugging the rooftops on dear ole Wilson Drive. Little did I know that would be my last Christmas with my “mom.” Why the quotations? Although Mom was not called Home until 2019, Christmas 2016 was the last time she was fully aware that it was Christmas, fully aware of who she was, fully aware of who I was.

                The following year, my precious mother began her long, slow journey down a dark road, trying but failing to dodge the demons of dementia along the way. However, Christmas Day, 2016, found Mom and me traveling along another road, one that helped complete a family tradition—the Christmas Day ride.

               For as far back as I can remember on Christmas Day, Mom, Dad, and I piled into the family auto, and off we went, coasting along at various slow speeds, enjoying the countryside. We always went west on that day. Sometimes we ended up in Slidell after traversing the Rigolets and giggling at the fishing camps–their names and the quirky folks who owned them. When Dad passed away in 1997, Mom and I continued that tradition–December 25, 2016, was no different.

               Mom got dressed, looking ever so cute in her green pants and Christmas sweater, as did I in my snappy-red sweater and socks adorned with mischievous elves. “Where are we going today,” Mom asked? “Let’s head up Hwy 49 and then west, out the Saucier-Lizana Road,” I answered. “Oh! What fun,” she said with a sweet smile. And off we went, anticipating a delightful day of new sights, sounds, and the people we might see. In our delight, how could we have imagined what we would soon discover?

               Herrin’s Quick Stop was one of the first places we passed. Although closed for Christmas, that did not stop me from savoring its tasty lunches of fried catfish and shrimp, all of which could be washed down with a classic milkshake. Herrin’s famous Christmas House was another holiday treat. Dancing Elvis dolls, a vast collection of potbellied Santa’s, tinkling music boxes, and a myriad of Christmas trees adorned with glimmering lights and glistening Shiny-Brite ornaments delighted children and adults alike.

               Continuing westward, Herrin’s slowly faded in my rearview mirror as the afternoon sunlight danced through dangling branches, sprinkling the black asphalt with pools of light; the air marinated with the earthly-sweet smell of pine needles. Winding through the countryside, we passed vintage houses and sparkling-new house trailers. One yard had a small pond and another some cows and chickens. It was then we topped a hill, a vast hollow yawning below. Seeing a muddy Tahoe stopped in the middle of the road, I hit my breaks, thinking to myself, what was the driver doing? Mom wondered the same thing.

               As my car slowed to a stop, I saw the Tahoe’s driver talking frantically on her cell phone. She started backing up, and so did I, not knowing what was happening. She managed to maneuver around me in her haste to leave. She motioned for me to do the same. Suddenly, a carload of teenagers screeched to a halt. The driver yelled, “Roll down your window.” I did. “Mister, you’d gotta turn around! Don’t go down there. They got pipes, knives, maybe a gun! It ain’t safe!” He hit the gas and roared away. I eased forward and then I saw it.

               In the hollow below, a vicious fight was in full swing. Young shirtless men, muscles glossy with blood, were in a fierce battle over who knows what. Knuckles pounded faces. Fists hammered into clinched stomachs. Profanity-filled threats filled the air. As Mom and I watched in horror, I heard police sirens in the distance. Then in a frail, sweet voice, Mom said, “How sad…fighting on Christmas Day. What has our dear country come to?”  

               I quickly drove away. I was silent. Mom was silent. The silence softened by the strains of a violin playing Strauss waltzes on the car radio. The music lulled her to sleep. Shadows lengthened as I drove home, the sun a fiery orange ball about to collapse below the horizon. Mom’s words burrowed into my psyche. And as they did, I thought, “I want a magical shredder for Christmas.”

               If I had one, I could shred broken families, broken hearts, and broken lives. I could shred people’s misery and sadness conjured by their past failures, current disappointments, and future fears. I could shred the Klan and Neo-Nazis and their racist theology. Shred the Marxist hypocrisy of Black Lives Matter. Slowly shove the caustic virus of wokeism into the shredder’s razor-shape teeth.

               The hypocrisy of Christians who claim to love Jesus, but don’t via their actions, would be shredded too, as would other religions that claim to be peaceful but aren’t, plotting to destroy all that stand in their path. Congress, and its individual sandboxes, would be shredded as well. Although those in the sandboxes most likely wouldn’t stop throwing sand until they were ground into dust.

                “Kalberg, you old fool,” I thought to myself, “there’s no such shredder and you know it!” Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew that was true. But then I remembered a hackneyed old story that I’d once heard in Sunday School: a young man was once walking along the beach, so runs the tale. It was swarming with starfish that were desperately trying to crawl back into the sea. He noticed a man, white-haired and stooped with age. He was throwing starfish back into the water, thus saving their lives. The young man sneered. “Shore’s littered with hundreds of starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The old man smiled and threw another starfish into the sea. With a touching grin, he said, “It made a difference to that one.”

               Today is Christmas Day. Perhaps we can’t shred all the world’s ills, but we can make a difference in lives of those with whom we come in contact. Will you help shred a sliver of that which they fear? Will you tell them there’s hope? Will you tell them about a baby born in Bethlehem who brings eternal joy because of his death on a cross? Will you tell someone you love them? Will you? Here’s wishing my family and friends a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year! With kindest remembrances and best wishes for your future health and happiness, I am, as always, your Andy.