Gift Rapt (Dec. 1997)

I’m trying to put these up in the order that they were written, but this one is useful because it has the whole gamut of characters referenced in one place. I had story arcs for everyone except Hollis (whose life was never in danger of changing, really).
Tritown makes time for the present
‘Twas the week before Christmas and Tritown was shopping for family and friends and the dog’s Christmas stocking; the smart ones have finished and wrapped all their stuff but most of ’em feel that too much ain’t enough . . .

Hollis the Mountain Man’s Seasonal Affective Disorder always takes a break around the Yule season, coming back with a vengeance on New Year’s Eve. He is always pleasantly surprised by this “cessation from hostilities,” as Delia Ellis Bell the Partial Yankee (there was a questionable great-great-grandmother) put it.
Of course, he still regards Christmas celebrations as mostly humbug and grudgingly buys presents for his small circle, but during the holidays he enjoys touring the old mill neighborhoods of Tritown. The cottages are fantastically decorated, and he relishes estimating what the monthly electricity bill might be (schadenfreude being an animating instinct for Hollis).
Still, a well-timed application of fantasy could nudge him out of his Scroogey attitude. Delia always enjoyed finding out what Hollis would really like for Christmas. After all, she thought, he’s like a Zen-master most of the year anyway — what do you get a man who wants nothing?

HOLLIS MAKES A POINT of saying he doesn’t need anything, but his list is actually quite long: new points for the truck; another pair of workboots, because the current pair is beyond Shoe-Goo; a new frying pan; dimmer switch for the bedroom alcove. Chances are, he’ll get a turtleneck sweater knitted out of some kind of oiled wool that itches for the first several months. When he finally begins to break it in, he usually takes pity on Lorencz the Hermit, who looks seedier than ever, so he passes on last year’s Christmas sweater to the madman in the woods. And then mildly envies his comfortable, broken-in old sweater.
Lorencz the Hermit can never concentrate on anything for very long, but when he’s asked by Hollis what he wants for Christmas, all he can think of is that he wants the damn government to put the Unibomber’s 13-by-13-foot cabin back-where-the-hell-it-was! Whodotheythinktheyare? . . . He also wants a cease fire from some of his more dark and menacing dreams but since he refuses Hollis’s offer to take him to the VA to have his medication readjusted, this will not happen. He will receive, of course, Hollis’s Christmas sweater.
Delia Ellis Bell wants a solitary hejira on a bike in some warm, flat country. But as she’s done nothing to enable these dreams to come true, she’ll have a treat when she drives north to Outlet Town to pick out new flatware.
Andre the Lumberjack (and occasional mountain bicyclist) wants and will receive a replacement chain for his saw. He also wants the deer to go nibble someplace other than where his landscaping clients live, but this isn’t likely — the perils of having a green thumb and hands are great.
Felix the Urban Naturalist wants and receives birdseed, thistleseed (for the spring finches), and a crate of seedbells for the chickadees. He wants but does not receive a visit from the California Condor.
Ozzie the Wiz, Tritown’s resident sage and expert, is hoping for a home subscription to Britannica Online but is willing to settle for a copy of the 1998 World Almanac. He wants these things because he’s a “busman’s holiday” kind of librarian; he uses them all day at work and wants to have ’em around when he’s at home, too.
Ward the Winger, Tritown’s pond-hockey pro, wants peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, smooth ice, and a chance to hip-check his old nemeses, Whitey and Bob LeBlanc, into another galaxy when the Tritown Senior Men’s Tourney happens next month. He will get his wish.
Hollis’s Aunt Winnie, locally famous fly fisher and cottage crafter, wishes she’d catch that big old trout lurking in the bottom of Picture Pond. She saw it last summer, and she promises the Almighty that aside from a little less creakiness in her joints, that’d be fine. Unlike most old gals who receive housecoats, slippers, and lavender-scented soap, her family knows her well-enough to give her badly needed new hip waders.
At Happy’s Coffee & Qwik-Stop (Coffee, Doughnuts, and lottery tickets, not in that order), proprietor Happy wishes that once — just once — someone would win a sum larger than $20 from a scratch ticket bought at his place. He also wants that someone to be him but, as things turn out in 1998, it isn’t. His daughter, $erena the Waitress, wants a number of things: a leopard-pattern catsuit, a gift certificate for a year’s worth of tanning-booth visits, a new transmission, some kind of significant piece of jewelry from her longtime on-and-off boyfriend, Hasky Tarbox, that isn’t made of cubic zirconia — or heads will get ripped. But, in the cold light of reality, if her aunt gets her the Estée Lauder 40-piece cosmetic gift box and tote bag she’d be wicked psyched.
At the Tarbox Automotive (“Collisions? A Specialty”), Old Man Tarbox wishes the doctor would stop telling him to stop smoking, eating red meat, and drinking scotch, but since the Missus is willing to supervise he’ll get what she wants, which is another Christmas without an Emergency Room visit. The Tarbox seniors want and will receive a long weekend gambling Hasky Jr.’s inheritance at Mohegan Sun, and they will enjoy every last minute.
Hasky Tarbox, Jr. wants a plane ticket so he can go to Las Vegas for the Elvis Presley Impersonator Convention. He also wants to get beyond third base with $erena the Waitress. He’ll get one of his wishes.

And if you run out of wrapping paper, do what Hollis the Mountain Man usually does. “Aluminum foil is damn festive,” he asserts. “And you can make a very nice bow out of it, too!”
Sally Cragin would like some nicely timed snow days for the holidays.


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