Chapter 16
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A Tennessee Christmas

My father wasn’t about to buy a tree

Cutting one’s own Christmas tree certainly does evoke images of a happy family pulling a sleigh through snowy landscapes in the Appalachian Mountains. But my family’s Christmas tree acquisition process wasn’t quite what Norman Rockwell had in mind.

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Humming

One sound undulated constantly through my father’s life

His tone was edgy. He limped past me gruffly. My mother flashed me the look which meant to shut up about it. Other than to occasionally refer to himself as crippled, my father almost never talked about the complications of his disability.

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Hope Smiles

A holiday experiment yields a lesson in kindness

In return for sore feet, knuckles slammed in register drawers, and more of that sort of amusement, I had the privilege of watching, over and over again, one of the most powerful human emotions: generosity, and the genuine desire to give to others, not as a perfunctory requirement, but as an expression of love.

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The Games of Life

Fight like hell and then forgive, but don’t forget

Everyone in my family played something. Dad loved word games, dice games, and pool. Mom was a fierce competitor at Monopoly, rummy, and double solitaire, during which, in her motherly way, she would trash talk her offspring to gain psychological advantage.

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Just the Way We Were

Remembering a friend, 30 years later

One of my friends looks exactly as he did 30 years ago: skinny, black shaggy hair, beige corduroy pants, untied Hush Puppies, a wrinkled dress shirt, and a loosely knotted knit tie. He is still 19 years old. That is when he died.

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Taken

I had no idea my father was capable of such complex treachery 

In over 30 years of travel abroad I’ve had ample opportunity to haggle for things in exotic markets. I learned the rules of haggling at a very young age, long before I departed my hometown of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, destined for hard-to-pronounce places at the tattered edges of a map. My father showed me exactly how to play this game, and my first lesson occurred about a mile from our house.

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