If you farm animals, you farm all year long. It’s the type of job where you work every day and, at least for my dad, you expect everybody else to work every day. So the holidays were always interesting around the Howard house. Dad was incredibly grumpy at Christmas because he was basically forced to take two days off and that was not in his comfort zone. While he enjoyed spending time with his family, he would periodically pout and shut the door to his bedroom because he couldn’t go to work. Good, bad or ugly, that’s a big part of my Christmas memory growing up in farming family.
I think for a lot of farmers Christmas is kind of difficult, especially if you’re a farmer who falls into the category of work is all you know. When work is your life, you don’t necessarily have time for hobbies or time to watch TV, so when you have free time you don’t know what to do with yourself.
As a kid, it was always hard to understand why Dad had such a hard time enjoying the holidays. But as an adult, with a busy home and work life, I can better understand his frustration. I run a restaurant and can sympathize with the challenges of balancing holiday obligations and work obligations. This is one of our businesses most important times of the year—dinner service is really busy, we have a lot of private parties, and to add to it, this year, we’re in the middle of opening a third restaurant. With all that going on, it takes a bit of planning to carve out additional time to fulfill Christmas responsibilities.
For me, it’s about recognizing ahead of time when I’m going to have the free time and making the most of it. Ben and I knew this December would be abnormally busy. So, we made it a point to start the season early, and the day after Thanksgiving, we got our Christmas tree. We get a lot of joy out of decorating the tree with ornaments the kids have made through the years. They’re really into seeing what it is they made in years past and it so much fun to bring them out to talk about them. Our kids really love being part of the decorating process.
Dad’s case of the holiday blues has gotten better, too. Perhaps, that’s because in the last 15 years he’s channeled his idle time into forging a new tradition. A few days before Christmas, he goes to a special store in neighboring Beulaville and buys air-dried sausage—literally 30 pounds of it. He’s afraid we might run out.
On Christmas morning, he gets up early and grills sausage for everyone. My family packs up and travels the 100 yards or so to his little cabin where we meet the whole family for sausage biscuits, grape preserves, and orange juice.
While maybe my childhood Christmases in Deep Run weren’t postcard perfection, I don’t think there’s anywhere I’d rather be. My parents, my sister Leraine, and I live in Deep Run but my other sisters live elsewhere. But no matter what, we always come to home to Deep Run for Christmas. It’s never been questioned. We feel such a strong connection to this place and maybe feel Deep Run is the only place that’s appropriate for us to celebrate Christmas. I’ve wondered what will happen when my parents aren’t here anymore. Will we still all come here? I think the answer is probably yes.