The Lump In My Throat Just Keeps Getting Bigger — A Christmas story in which I get far more than I expect.

36 North forty in Autumn

They always told us “it’s the thought that counts,” but really, didn’t we all want that pony? After a dozen or so Christmases spent ramping up my hopes only to see them dashed by the trinkets and toothbrushes that invariably took their place in Santa’s stocking, I learned to accept that the happy surprises of my fantasies all-too-often took a backseat to the exigencies of my parent’s financial reality—and adjusted my sentiments accordingly.

I’ve not had a Christmas wish for many years now, but somehow I always seem to get infected with the holiday spirit a week or so before it’s upon us. And although I’m too embarrassed to give gifts face-to-face anymore (there’s always that unspoken implication of reciprocity – which there’s not,) I do love giving presents on the sly, or better still, anonymously and unexpectedly.

Secret Santa exchanges were made for people like me, so when announced their annual match-up, I was one of the first in line. Over 200,000 people from 149 countries signed up (along with such luminaries as Bill Gates and Snoop Dog) to exchange gifts with anonymous strangers then post the results on the website.

Now, I’m a pretty lucky camper actually, and certainly old enough that I don’t need any more “stuff” in my life, so here’s what I asked my Secret Santa for:

I would ask that you anonymously place the cash equivalent of whatever you’d spend on my Secret Santa gift into the mailbox, pocket, backpack, textbook, collection bucket, shopping basket, purse, ??? of the individual or family of your choice (not some institutional collection effort or charity, but an actual person you think might be glad to have a bit of unexpected money at holiday time.)

Alternately, please quietly pre-pay the grocery bill of the oldster in front of you in line at the store, or slip a few bucks under their groceries as they’re being tallied up — especially if it’s an old dude or lady buying cat food. You’ll know which one I mean.

And here, unedited, is the lovely gift my Santa sent to me:

“I would like for you to know how I spent the 20.00 that i set aside for a secret gift.

First off I was at a diner at the bar eating and seen the man next to me a bit rude, old, grumpy guy kinda being an ass to the waitress. He didn’t leave her a tip. I used 20.00 right then and there.

Then I went to local Walmart and paid off someone’s layaway bill, that was a bit more than 20.00, but a single mom of 2 kids got two new bikes for her kids for Christmas.

Lastly I was eating at a Mexican burrito joint yesterday. it was a bit busy a homeless man wandered in and ask some people for some money. I watch as a few people gave a few bucks and he got a small plate of food. As he sat alone me and my friend started to talk to him.

A timid man, beaten down by his own bad habits, but still grateful to be alive, I asked him if he was thirsty and would like for me to buy him a drink and he said no thank you I don’t drink soda. I figured he would be like FREE sure. But he said no……Not once did he ask for money we said good bye and left.

I reached into my pocket as we walked out and I felt the bills in my pocket it was only like 8 dollars but said maybe this gets him until the next week or a few days of food, I walked back in quietly hand him the cash in a low profile way not to draw attention to him or me. I told him Have a good holiday and that there are people out here who care. . . .”

Here’s where I lost it:

“. . .He could barely utter the thank you in his voice, and his eyes were that of a sad puppy. It was the best Feeling I’ve had in awhile and only wish I had some more to give him. Thank you for giving me this gift As I am usually numb to feelings, this was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Thank you Happy Holidays!”

(Allena fishes out hankie, honks nose.) 

There’s so much burden in the world right now, from cyber warfare to the continuing betrayal of our national ideals. Our idols once again turn out to have feet of dried muck, and our citizens increasingly feel their lives are worthless. So it makes me enormously happy to know that someone out there “gets” it. Seven people’s lives were made a little bit better by my Santa’s kindness, and I got a lesson in happy consequence; what more could anyone possibly ask for Christmas? 

TL;DR: My Secret Santa ends up thanking me for giving me my gift. I end up sobbing my eyes out.

Note: for those who would like to read the comments this story garnered, here’s a link:


A Roadkill Christmas

roadkill peacock

For those with a marginal holiday budget and a lively sense of culinary adventure, nothing beats the fun of “found” protein sources. And for those confronting less-than-welcome drop-ins who show up expecting to be fed and entertained, here’s a dandy way to discourage them from sticking around for supper.

“Hey, what’s for dinner?”

“Roadkill. . . . . No, really.”


Times are hard. And accordingly, the creative cook must work with the ingredients on hand.
 Sometimes these are cleanly packaged and readily available, and sometimes, well, maybe not so much. If you’re facing a feasting holiday with a depleted larder, take heart. One of my all-time favorite Christmas dinners featured a road kill peacock that still sets me to salivating when I remember how wonderfully it turned out.

Now, if your initial reaction to the idea of serving your guests salvaged carrion is revulsion, let me just say that properly prepared, it’s not nearly as gag-inducing as you might imagine. After all, that hundred-and-fifty dollar prime rib of beef you’re contemplating was probably dispatched and dressed with less care than whatever met its demise at the front end of someone’s SUV. With a little creativity (and the stomach to google for butchering instructions,) your road kill repast is, at the very least, bound to be memorable. Besides, do you really want to spend the holidays with people whose sense of festivity doesn’t extend to their gullet? (Unless, of course, you’re stuck with insufferable foodies, in which case, road kill, unidentified as such, is probably the perfect main course for further stuffing their stuffed shirts. Just be sure to tell them you special-ordered it from a free range rancher in Sonoma.)


From “A Roadkill Christmas“-copyright 2010 by Allena Hansen

It had been snowing on and off that December evening, and by the time I got to the canyon on my way back from town, there was ice all over the road. Fortunately I’d been driving with uncharacteristic caution, because if I’d sped by like I usually do, I’d have missed it. The plumage caught my headlights and reflected off the glistening ice, a dark form against the white snow, iridescent and unmistakable—a peacock! Likely a coyote kill from the ranch up canyon. I was feeling frugal, having just blown the last of my year’s discretionary income on dish soap and toilet paper, and it seemed like a terrible waste to leave it lying there so I pulled over and carefully peeled it off the pavement.

It was a big one, maybe 15 pounds or so, and already beginning to freeze. Granted, there was a sizable chunk missing from the breast where whatever had nabbed it had gouged out a dinner, but danged if I was going to let that discourage me. I mean, how often do you get a chance to dine on roast peacock?

I threw it in the trunk and carted it home where I skinned and gutted the thing, blasted it clean with a garden hose, and carefully trimmed the mangled part from the carcass. Then I rubbed it all over with koshering salt, set it in the refrigerator, and went to bed.

The next morning, contemplating my folly, I rinsed, patted it dry, and inspected it for any unspeakable things I’d missed the night before. Finding none, I salted it again, and stuck it back it in the fridge for another 12 hours figuring the salinity would kill any untoward microorganisms still clinging to life on its surfaces.

That evening I gave it a final rinse and brined it overnight in a stockpot to which I’d added two cups of salt, an equal amount of maple syrup, and enough ice water to cover it all. The next morning I dried it inside and out, stuffed it loosely with figs and black walnuts from the orchard, then trussed and rolled it in cracked black pepper and dried garden herbs. Thus prepped, I settled it into the Komodo oven and slow-smoked it over apple wood for the next two days.

I’d alerted a couple of my epicurean nerd friends of my find, and they were sufficiently trusting—as nerds alone at Hannakwanazachristmasolstice tend to be—to venture up to join me for Christmas dinner. Knowing both my predilections and my propensities, they’d brought along a bottle of good champagne and several peppery pinots to soothe me as I cooked and fussed. (There’s no point serving peacock without good wines and an audience—and nerds tend to make exemplary drunks.) So, after reheating my prize, I carved the smoked bird to minimize the missing breast chunk, and served it with a wild current jelly I’d put up the previous summer, grilled root vegetables from the garden, wilted winter greens with balsamic vinegar, and wild rice with shallots and morels.

It was an extraordinary meal, baroque in the best sense of the word. Four of us devoured the entire thing in one sitting, with nary a sandwich’s worth left over for later. The irony of dining so sumptuously on such blatant lowlifery was delicious, but the memory of that road kill Christmas turned out to leave the best taste of all.

My one-time triumph notwithstanding, this year I bought a goose; me chancing upon a fresh-smacked peacock is likely a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, given the invasion of scrub jays who’ve taken to tormenting me this winter, I’m sorely tempted to drive through their claven and transform some of them into a side dish.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Travel well. Eat safely.