Saving the holidays

By Andy Winemiller - [email protected]

“Ho, Ho, Ho,” said the fat man, and “Aren’t you going to eat some pie?” asked granny.

Holiday cheer is in the air, and I’m just not cheerful. In fact, it’s a little annoying for me.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s not from Afghanistan. It’s from the holidays I spent as a child.

It all starts with Thanksgiving. When Plymouth settlers started the tradition in 1621 there is no doubt they knew it was a time when folks would eat too much, drink wine and watch football. After all, that’s what the holiday is all about — football.

Growing up as a wrestler, Thanksgiving was terrible. While everybody else loaded their plates, I thought about how much I’d have to work out the next day in order to cut the weight I had gained from my meager portions.

Then there was the football issue. We went to a family member’s home who was insistent on watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

Imagine being 15-years-old, forced to watch a “classic” rather than football, while starving yourself.

Then there was “Black Friday.” My mother would drag my brother and I out as she fed her addiction. To this day, I start shaking and sweating when I see a sale sign.

As I walked through the Mayberry Mall to do a story on Friday, I was reminded of my childhood. Disenfranchised children and husbands sat on benches as the sales called Momma’s name. It was almost like a refugee camp. I remember that feeling — knowing it must end soon. Then there was the letdown: “Oh, look they have 50 percent off at Kohl’s.” It was on to the next bench.

At that point, any aspirations you once had in life cease to exist. My only hope was that she would stop at Auntie Anne’s, a chain of pretzel shops, on the way. I might be able to drown my gloom in a hot pretzel and cheese, I thought.

Then there was my dad’s addiction — Christmas lights. For hours on end I would hold a ladder while Clark Griswald put up his lights.

The Winemiller house can probably be seen from space. My father loves the holidays, but I just could never share that love. To me, it all became about holding that ladder.

Believe it or not, I’m not an unpleasant person. I don’t really ever get mad and I love my life. I think that’s why the holidays annoy me so much. I really enjoy my life on a daily basis, and anything different serves only to interrupt this enjoyment.

Then something saved the holidays for me, and it came from an unlikely source. The Army did it. That institution managed to save Christmas for me. It did it through Operation Toy Drop.

While I hate being away from my wife and daughter for two weeks, I look forward to being a part of the world’s largest multi-national airborne operation. You see, a lot changed for me when I got off active duty. However, jumping out of planes stayed the same.

What we do is bring jumpmasters from other countries to Fort Bragg. Then soldiers from around the post donate toys for a shot at getting a foreign jump. With their certificate they are able to wear the foreign “bling” on their uniform. With each toy they give us, a child’s Christmas is made.

It’s a win-win for everybody.

For me, there’s nothing like jumping out of a plane. Never have I felt so close to whatever gods oversee our earth than when I’m hanging out of the door of a C-17.

Then there’s a feeling of achievement when the last paratrooper exits, and it’s my turn to leap into nothingness.

Never have I felt more at peace than as I float down to earth. It was especially amazing in Alaska, where the mountain ranges seemed to span the entire earth. The view was priceless and not one I’ll ever forget.

These next two weeks are special. Firstly, I’ll get away from The News for a little while. A momentary change of pace is good for anybody.

Secondly, I’ll be conducting airborne operations. Sometimes I can even be seen in a Santa hat as I call a manifest or inspect parachutes. I’m in my little world, and I appear almost jolly.

Most importantly, it’s about the real meaning of the holidays. It’s about giving — giving a kid a better Christmas.

The holidays never should have been about shopping, eating or even over-indulging in wine. They are about giving.

Through one of my favorite activities in life, we are able to make Christmas better for thousands of children.

That can even make me merry.

By Andy Winemiller

[email protected]

Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.

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