A Very Mervin Christmas

It’s the month of October and as I wander through the mall I am asking myself: Why are there Christmas decorations already on the shelves? I was part miffed and part flabbergasted at these retail displays. This led me to think about Mervin and Melissa and I was wondering if they were still keeping the same tradition they had started over 35 years ago. Oh, it started off as a “devil may care” stunt by Merv, but it has become a legendary ritual full of joy and laughter as the tale is told and retold to family and friends.

Mervin is now in his sixties. Mervin is a mechanic. He began his career in the days when you chain smoked while you worked. Your restful, non-work hours were spent in the company of friends at the local watering hole (aka pub) after which you proceeded to drive home a little bit more inebriated than when you had entered. This was especially true in the month of December. Mervin would frequent the local shopping centre for the yearly chore of purchasing gifts for his beloved. The first two years he agonized over finding the perfect presents that would prove his undying love to his darling wife. In year three of their marriage, Mervin changed tack and thus was born a new tradition.

Circa 1982:

“Cheers Jim!” cried Merv jovially to his best friend as he raised his pint of ice cold beer. The two friends had been sitting at the pub for about two hours now and were becoming pleasantly relaxed and happy. “Time to get to the mall before it closes.”

“What are you getting Mel this year?” inquired Jim.

“I have a new game plan.” smiled Merv, conspiratorially. “You in?” he inquired of his drinking mate.

“Sure thing pal,” remarked Jim automatically, as that is what a best friend always says in return. Mervin and Jim had been best friends since they were twelve year’s old when Jim’s family had moved into the house two door’s down from Mervin’s family home.

Merv reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a set of dice. The little white cubes with the black dots were being displayed to Jim as Merv said, “Ok, so we roll the dice. First roll tells us which entrance to the mall we are going to take,” began Merv excitedly. Jim nodded.

“Then,” continued Merv, “we roll the dice again.” Merv leaned in closer to Jim. “THAT number will tell us how many stores we need to go into for gifts.”

Jim took another swig from his beer stein, wiped his mouth with the cuff of his sleeve, nodded and asked, “you rolling first or me?”

This was why Jim was his bosom buddy. Always on board with any cockamamie idea Merv had. Mervin handed him the dice.

“Cheers!” Merv hollered again. “You roll first.”

Jim folded his right hand around the dice and shook them a few times (about 12 times for good measure) then dropped them on the table. Both men leaned in. Jim had rolled a 3 on one die and and 2 on the other.

“Mmmmmhmmmm,” mumbled Merv. “We go in by the Food Court doors.” Then Merv scooped up the dice, shook them four times in his hand and dropped them on the beer stained table. Fortunately, Merv had rolled two 2s.

“Lucky us, Jim,” smirked Merv. “Only four stores to shop in.” The two men downed their last dregs of beer, paid their tab, and headed over to Mervin’s car. They drove ten minutes away to the, now-packed, shopping centre. It was December 24th after all.

After finding a parking spot, the two men headed to the Food Court entrance of the mall. As Jim was about to grab the door handle, Merv put his right hand gently on Jim’s arm and asked, “Do you have a coin on ya buddy?”

Jim checked his left front shirt pocket and then his right front shirt pocket. No coins. He dipped his right hand into his right trouser pocket, grinned a little, and pulled out a quarter. He handed it to Merv. Merv tossed the coin in the air and caught it on its way down, slapping it onto his left arm. He covered it with the palm of his right hand and said matter-of-factly: “Heads we go left. Tails we go right.” Jim nodded. Merv slowly lifted his hand for the great reveal: Tails.

Jim opened the door, bowed and gestured with his hand for Merv to go in and then merrily followed behind Merv to continue their Christmas eve adventure.

The first store on the right was a boutique full of ladies clothing. Merv picked a sweater off of the first rack he saw. He didn’t check the size. He didn’t care about the colour. He paid for it and smilingly headed out the door. One down, three to go.

Next door was a knife specialty store. Jim pointed out the very handsome Swiss Army knife in the glass cabinet. All its practical blades and tools were shiningly on display.

“Sold!” cried Mervin.

The store associate cheerily rang up the sale and the two friends were off again. Two down. Two to go.

The third store was a sporting goods store. Merv bought his beautiful wife a football in seconds flat and headed out of the store to finish off his shopping spree.

The fourth and final store was a small store full of men’s ties. Merv put his hand on Jim’s shoulder, pointed to the right hand side of the store. Jim nodded, acknowledging that he knew what his assigned task was. Merv went the left side of the store. The men met in the middle at the cash register each holding a tie. Jim’s was a sky blue with a green Christmas tree full of colourful lights and baubles on it. Merv’s was Navy with red stripes. Snazzy.

With the last of the gifts purchased, the two men were about to head back to the car when Jim noticed the sign “Gift Wrapping” above a table ahead of them. He tapped Merv on the shoulder and pointed at the sign. Merv grinned. They happily carried the gifts to the ladies at the table.

“My name is Merv and this is Jim,” said Merv, pointing his thumb at Jim. “Here is $10.00 for the wrapping. We’ll be back in an hour,” declared Merv putting a $10.00 bill on the table. With the awful gift wrapping delegated to those more qualified than he, Mervin led his best buddy to the closest pub for a celebratory drink.


Christmas day. Melissa is drinking her coffee and smiling at Mervin. There are beautifully wrapped packages under the Christmas tree. She is excited to see what gifts the love of her life has found for her.

Merv is grinning stupidly at Melissa. After finishing his coffee (with the wee dram of brandy in it) Merv points to the tree and tells her to go ahead and open her presents.

Merv almost became a single man that Christmas. After opening her festively wrapped presents, the words out of Melissa’s mouth were quite colourful. During her litany of profanity, Mervin had reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out all the receipts for those Christmas presents. When Melissa paused to take a breath Merv took her hand and pushed the papers into it saying: “Return it all and get what you want for yourself.”

Melissa, still livid, stared at the receipts then looked back, dumbfounded, at her husband. The following week she did go back and return EVERYTHING her spouse had purchased. She spent the whole day wandering around the mall and buying exactly what she HAD wanted to receive as a Christmas gift.

It didn’t matter how upset she had been with him that Christmas day, Merv continued his new tradition every year. The next Christmas Melissa was enraged at seeing that Merv had done the same thing, knowing full well how furious she had been the previous year. The third year she realized this was never going to end. By year four, she fully accepted her fate and was now beginning to get intrigued before Christmas Day wondering what her beloved (idiot) husband would have her unwrap on December 25th.

A ladder, a power drill, shoe polish, men’s trousers, tap shoes, ice skates, lawn mower, pickled kippers, curtains, a pogo stick, and a plethora of other presents have been unwrapped by Melissa over the decades.

As I wander through the store I think about Merv and Jim. What will the dynamic duo discover this year for the unflappable Melissa? Over the years there have been some changes to the modus operandi. The pre-shopping pub visit has become a coffee shop and muffin meeting. The types of stores has changed dramatically. However, there are some things that have remained consistent. The dice are still expertly shaken. The coin is still tossed. The shopping is done on December 24th. I grin, knowing that no matter what, for Melissa, it will be a very Mervin Christmas.

’tis the season for…less and less stress

Yes, it’s that time of year again when humankind goes berserk.  It’s the season of gift giving and life stressing.  What used to be simple days of praise has now become the merchandise mecca of the year.  It’s all about the gifts and the gift giving and the gift receiving.  Or is it?  Besides the present factor, there is the presentation factor.  Oh yes, the hosting of the feasts or the attending of the feasts.  Are you one of those who finds this time of year especially stressful?  Even better, don’t you enjoy all the tv shows and the radio talk shows and expert magazine articles telling you how to survive the holiday season?  Yeah, I can’t stand them either.  So I have decided that I am going to share with you MY way of surviving this wonderful time of the year.


LEAVE TOWN!  If you can, go and hop on a plane, a train, or leave in an automobile.   GO! GO FAR FAR FAR AWAY!  Why?  You don’t have to deal with any of the visiting drama or the hosting drama.  There is NO drama, except for crowds at the airport, but who cares?  You aren’t related to anyone.  Oh…leaving is not an option?  Ok, plan B



The invite:  If you are the chosen one hosting the get together, send out your invitation in July.  That way everyone has time to book their trip abroad!  Or, sadly,  they can decide to spend time with you.  I feel bad for them.  Well, if you are the hostess with the mostest (like me!), here is your holiday survival plan.

Menu plan:  it’s all about the list … ahem … lists.  Your menu is one list.  This will include the items you are planning on making.  Sub-divide your list into the following categories:  Appetizers / Main / Dessert.  Further sub-divide that list into when to prep each item and what you have to buy at the grocery store.  Example:  vegetable tray: grape tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, carrots, cauliflower.  This list will become your cheat sheet for the next list – GROCERY LIST.  Oh, then there is the list of what platters / bowls utensils will be needed for each dish.  See!  Super easy!  Oh, as the days progress you might find that you cross things off your list because they are either going to take too long or you’re too tired to attempt making them.  Your 5 page list will suddenly wither away to one sheet.  There…NOW it’s easy and manageable.  So, if you started off with apple pie, pumpkin pie, cherry pie, chocolate cake, you might find that by December 24th your pie kingdom has morphed into “I’ve got ice cream in the freezer.”  Yup, who doesn’t like ice cream?  Someone will bring you chocolates or cookies and voila!  Your dessert is taken care of.

Seating:  Don’t worry about getting too fancy with your seating arrangement.  As long as everyone can sit and eat it doesn’t matter what they have to sit on.  Plastic stools, lawn chairs…who cares?  It’s about family and being together right?

Gifts:  Buying gifts has become a true tragedy.  If you watch every commercial and try to buy the kids what they want, you will find (especially if there are divorced and/or remarried parents involved) that there will be quadruplicate same gifts!  Avoid this catastrophe.  Go for the stuff they aren’t expecting.  Nothing trademarked.  Nothing Disney.  Nothing Star Wars.  Nothing that anyone else can buy.  Surprises are way more fun and they MIGHT even like it.  Huzzah!

Decorating:  No need to go over the top with decorations.  Yes, it’s nice to make your home feel Christmasy, and a visit to the dollar store or your Goodwill store will have enough to make it ho ho hopefully good enough.  A green garland, some red bows.  Ta-da!

Drinks:  Sure it would be nice to have every variety of booze available to your guests, but even restaurants draw the line.  “Can I get a Pepsi?” you might ask only to hear, “Sorry, we have Coke is the ok?”  Well, it’s not really ok but you take what you can get.  Keep in mind that you are actually paying for getting what you didn’t really want.  So, when guests come over (and they are not paying for anything), they can sip on whatever you have on hand.  Newfie Screech?  By golly why not?!  It’s Christmas!

Clean up:  Wow…look at those mounds of dishes that piled up because it was more important to be with your guests than hanging out washing dishes in the kitchen.  In the old days the women would congregate there and gossip while washing and drying dishes.  Gone are those days.  There are now dishwashers.  Sure it might take you 4 days to cycle all those dishes through the magic washing machine, but who cares?  No one else is coming over so you’ve got lots of time.

Now, if you are…



Driving:  Give yourself time to get to your destination.  Parking is what it is.  Don’t wear your nicest shoes as you might have to park in knee deep snow.  Just saying.

Host(ess) Gift:  I find two gifts work out best.  Booze or sweets.  Wine or hard liquor is a win!  If you aren’t sure then chocolates or baked goods work (as they double for dessert at your destination).  Note:  Buy what you like to eat/drink since the hosts usually share whatever they have received.

Don’t overstay:  You may be having a good time, but keep in mind that your host(s) have probably been losing lots of sleep planning the perfect soiree.  If they keep mentioning how late it’s getting, that is a definite subtle clue that it’s time for you to pack up your sorry drunk ass and get on home.

There!  That’s all there is to it!  Sure, you may think this a bunch a hogwash and some are saying, “Well, you don’t know MY family.”  Maybe not, but think about it, the less effort you put in the less people expect of you.  Keep the bar low so no one can limbo under it. Low expectations will keep you off the high expectations list.  Each year will bring less and less stress as you continue to regress.