An omen for the holiday?

We should have seen it as an omen. When we got out of the car at the outdoor mall in Collierville, Tenn., it started pouring rain.

Modern “lifestyle malls” are being built outdoors, I’m told, because people prefer them to indoor malls. Or at least that is what mall developers (who don’t want to have to heat or cool a large indoor space) tell us. To me, outdoor malls are good places to get sweaty, cold or wet, depending on the season. Saturday was the wet season.
Anyhow, we hopped back in the car and drove to a not-so-modern indoor mall, the Wolfchase Galleria, in Memphis. So we were warm and dry, but Christmas shopping was as stressful as ever.
It wouldn’t be so difficult if our family all lived nearby. We could do all our shopping in New Albany and Tupelo and be done. But they don’t, and we have to be careful to make purchases in chain stores that also have stores in places where they live. We learned long ago that our choices often are not their choices and the gifts get exchanged.
For Jenny’s parents, that usually means Macy’s or Dillard’s. For our grown children in Pittsburgh and northern Virginia, strike off Dillard’s. We wandered around in Macy’s for about an hour, looking for gifts for Jenny’s mother, with Jenny complaining that the women’s clothes were so trendy that “normal people wouldn’t wear them.” Finally, we found a less-edgy section, but Jenny dismissed it as “dowdy clothes for people who are 80.”
“But Grandma is 80,” Joe said.
I was glad I hadn’t said that.
Joe got away with an “I guess that’s right, but she still wouldn’t wear this” from his mother.
We struggled through the day, buying three or four presents. In the end, we pronounced it a success because we weren’t drenched and we had several bags of things.
Shopping is only part of the holiday stress in our family, though. There’s also the annual debate about Christmas cards and the Christmas letter. Jenny thinks we should just send cards, and maybe write a personal line or two in those to special friends.
But I like to send an annual family letter. Because I’m not a Facebook addict, it’s the one time of year when I hear from my high-school debate partner (now an English professor in Connecticut), my company commander in Vietnam (retired in Pennsylvania), or a number of acquaintances from places I’ve lived around the country.
In the 11 years we have been married, Jenny has just gone along, knowing how important it is to me to get the hundred or so out-of-town cards in the mail. In fact, because she is the best writer in the family, three or four times I actually talked her into writing it. (It’s a bit discouraging to hear from friends how much they think it improved.)
This year Jenny, who has been busy with her students in the classroom, told me I would have to write the letter and suggested again that we just skip it.
“If we don’t have a Christmas letter after all these years, people will think we’re getting divorced,” I said.
She just rolled her eyes.
The Christmas letter is in the mail.

T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by e-mail at