The ghosts of Christmases past

No longer leaving on a jet plane

My muscles ache this morning, partly because of the weather and more from helping dig people out of snow for the past few days. I was late getting to my mother’s house on Christmas Eve because I stopped on U.S. 221 to help two young men get their pickup out of a snowbank after they hit a deer and slid off the road. They weren’t hurt and I was able to use the winch on my Wrangler to pull them out of the deep snow.

Helped two other friends this weekend. Slogging around in deep snow has pulled some muscles I don’t use much and I’m feeling it right now.

The morning sun is casting shadows on the remaining snow in the back yard (and there is still a lot remaining) while Brendan Fraiser fights another mummy on HBO. The cats suspect I’ve offed Amy because she has been staying with my mother and helping her. They stare out the window and wonder where she’s buried.

Heard from some old friends via email over the holidays. Some from our days in Washington, others from Illinois and St. Louis and some from New Mexico. Got me thinking about the past 45 years.

At age 62, I’m officially semi-retired. Social Security kicks in in February and Uncle Sam puts a cap of just under 15 grand on any additional earnings next year. That’s laughable. In this economy, 15 grand would be an increase in income, as is the monthly stipend from Social Security.

The rapidly approaching New Year will being with it the 45th anniversary of leaving Floyd after high school graduation in 1965. Those 45 years brought lots of travel, more than a few adventures, much happiness, some heartbreak and an assortments of aches and pains for a body that lived hard.

In an email, one of my friends in Washington asked: “Do you miss all the fun and games up here in DC?”

Yes, sometimes I do. A packed suitcase no longer sits by the door, awaiting a new assignment to any part of the world. On Dec. 27, 1986, I was in London, working during the holidays. Amy would join me a few days later and we would celebrate the New Year there. She would also join me on trips to Rome and Israel but would not be able to join me on places far more exotic and dangerous.

One Christmas found me in the Arctic Circle, another in the Philippines.  The snow outside today is a flurry compared to a December snowstorm that stranded me in Columbia Falls, Montana, in 1999.

In 2003, when I turned down an assignment to go to Iraq we knew it would be the end of the lifestyle that had dominated our lives for so many years. I took two more assignments in 2004 and put the suitcase away. Haven’t been on a plane since.

Still, when trouble breaks out in some part of the world, the twinge returns. It’s not a strong now as a few years ago but I’m an adrenaline junkie and that addiction is hard to kick.

I hobble around on bad knees, a bum hip and ankles cobbled together with pins and screws but the scars were well-earned in a life that was — in retrospect — well spent. There are some regrets, sure, but not enough to make me want to change my past life as a whole. For the most part, I was lucky enough to spend most of it doing something I love and I will spend the final parts of it with someone I love very much.

As Jerry Garcia would sing, “what a long, strange trip its been.”

Yep, and worth every minute of it.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

4 thoughts on “The ghosts of Christmases past”

  1. I was surfing the Internet on this Sunday and came across this web site and this piece. I wondered: “Is this the Doug Thompson who once lived in Alton, Illinois and wrote for the Alton Evening Telegraph?” When I checked the “about” page I found that indeed is was.

    What a pleasant surprise. I was a high school student in Alton during the 70s and remember Doug’s writings well. He spoke to one of my classes at Alton High School. Doug also organized volunteers to pile sandbags during the floods that hit the area in the spring and I piled those bags along side him more than once. When he left Alton for Washington the Telegraph was never the same. I’ve also left Alton and now live in Colorado but some of my fondness memories of Alton include Doug Thompson and his impact on the community. Glad to see he’s still at it. Merry Christmas Doug. From my husband and children, our best to your wife and family.

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