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HUCKABY: A happy season not without its bitterness

December is a bittersweet month for me. December brings Christmas, of course, and I agree with the minstrel who sang "It's the hap-hap-iest season of all." I love Christmas and everything about it — the food, the decorations, the music, the festive parties, the gifts — and of course the worship services that remind us why we seemingly set aside a whole month to celebrate. That's the sweet part, and that part gets sweeter every year.

This week, we have had all three of our children under one roof for the first time in months, and it doesn't get any sweeter than that. Our oldest daughter, Jamie, is home on sabbatical from Savannah, where she is finishing up her clinical rotations for UGA pharmacy school. Our son, Jackson, finally tore himself away from Athens, where he is a third-year math education major, and graced us with his presence Tuesday night. And last Friday, our youngest child, Jenna, was accepted into next fall's freshman class at Georgia — so we have had a full week of celebration. We have hauled out the holly and decked the halls and made merry in anticipation of Friday's big day.

But the season has a bit of a bitter bent, as well — or maybe melancholy is a better word. My father was born on Dec. 1, 1911, and even though he has been gone from us for more than 22 years, I still miss him this time of year. I miss traipsing through the woods with him in search of mistletoe — Homer Huckaby is the only person I know who went mistletoe hunting with a shotgun — shot it right out of the trees with a 12-gauge. And I miss the oyster roasts he used to host on Christmas Eve. Our little mill village house would be overflowing with friends and family members. Mama would serve boiled shrimp and roasted oysters, and Daddy would make the most potent punch known to man, and the revelry would continue late into the night.

It wasn't Christmas until all my parents' friends gathered around our kitchen table at midnight and joined in the most off-key — and most heartfelt — rendition of "Silent Night" that Evan Williams ever inspired.

My mother passed away on Dec. 15, 1999 — 10 years ago. It seems like yesterday, and not a day goes by that I don't miss her. As long as my mother was alive, I knew that there was one person here on Earth that loved me fully and unconditionally — and I miss that feeling. Many of my Christmas memories revolve around her. She and I would always decorate the Christmas tree together, and she could make even a tree of the Charlie Brown variety look spectacularly beautiful. Once my sister got married and had sons, my mother would have me drive her to Athens every year to buy her grandsons the truck-of-the-year at the Hess Station. I miss those trips. And nobody can make fruitcake cookies like my mama's.

I don't know how long it takes for the pain of losing your mother the week before Christmas to go away, but I know with absolute certainty that it takes longer than 10 years and five days.

And I got married in December. No, that's not the bitter part — at least not usually. The lovely Lisa Potts became my bride on Dec. 18, 1982, and we went to New Orleans on our honeymoon — primarily because Scarlett and Rhett had. We had a great time, too. We stayed in the French Quarter and sang Christmas carols in St. Peter's Square, had breakfast at Brennan's and dinner at the Court of Two Sisters and Antoine's, and indulged in a Flaming Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's. We went for a carriage ride and a riverboat cruise and listened to 80-year-old men perform authentic jazz at Preservation Hall. I ate dozens and dozens of raw oysters at Felix's.

This was before the days of cell phones and the Internet, of course. We ran out of money before we ran out of honeymoon, so I sent my father a telegram. "It's wonderful here! Want to stay longer. Please send money."

He sent me a reply. "It's good anywhere. Come on home."

Well, I did come on home, ahead of schedule and in a decidedly different manner than we had planned. I also got deathly ill after three days of marriage — I'm not saying there is a relationship between the two — and had to be hospitalized and flown home for emergency surgery. Lisa and I spent our first Christmas and our first New Year's Eve in a tiny hospital room. When my bride pledged to be there in sickness and in health, she meant it.

And now, here we still are, about to celebrate yet another Christmas. I hope yours is as merry as mine already has been.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.