Ignoring the visuals, I know what she means.
It starts after Thanksgiving, when Christmas decorations begin popping up all over town and my wife gets that "deer-in-the-headlights" look she gets when she decides she is behind where she should be and will never catch up.
At that point, the talk turns to Christmas trees.
For the Jacksons, this is where the whole tradition of Christmas-stressing usually begins. Every year, we pile kids into the truck and off we go to the cut-your-own tree farm, where our little darlings bicker over which tree is best until my lovely intervenes and makes a Solomon-like decision that she will second-guess until the tree, sad and shedding, is carted away to the dump.
(Her: "I didn't see that bare spot when I picked it. Maybe we should have gotten the other one." Me: "Now, honey, remember a tree is just something to hang stuff on." Eyes roll. Go figure.)
But not this year.
This year, things went so smoothly I could hardly believe it. My son, now 16, wanted to get tree-cutting over with so he could have the truck and go play tennis. Meanwhile, my wife had promised my daughter, who is 11 going on 18, they would go shopping once the tree was chosen. So it came to pass that with better things to do, there was no argument. A tree was quickly selected, quickly cut, and away they all flew like the down on a thistle.
I took it as a good sign.
Not wanting the glow to end, I decided that once back home I would reduce the stress even more.
Let me explain.
In 21 years of marital bliss (for me, at least), I have learned that when there is something to be done I should follow my wife's advice, which is, "Do it my way from the start, because that's how you will do it eventually."
To which she often adds the corollary, "If you can't do it right, then let me do it."
But, of course, I never do. Especially at Christmas. Instead, when there is a tree to be trimmed and halls to be decked, I jump in, put things where they shouldn't go, hang things where they shouldn't hang, and watch my darling's stress level slowly rise.
But not this year. This year, I decided to get out of the way and let my sweetheart do the decking.
And I did.
And she did.
Out came boxes, out came lights, out came ornaments, wreaths, candles, stockings (to be hung by the chimney with care), pictures of children with Santa (crying when they were young, predatory as they aged), memories of Christmases past she had wrapped neatly the year before and which, to my surprise but not hers, had remained just as neat and orderly as they were when she put them away.
Then, following an organizational design which explaining to me would have only been a waste of time, she set to work while I settled down to watch football.
Am I a good husband or what?
By halftime she was done and I, the master of the house, the lord of the manor, the Pater Familias, stood back and declared it good.
Which it was.
And we were off to a stress-free holiday — or so I thought.
I was wrong.
Despite this good start, in the weeks that followed, people who usually cause me no trouble at all conspired to make it impossible to avoid Christmas stress.
These people pitched parties. Office parties, Sunday school parties, class parties, friend's parties, team parties, on and on they go, filling the calendar and filling me with food and drink the variety and quantity of which should not be consumed by a person whose stomach is as old as mine, but which, out of good manners, I consume all the same.
And they held events — band concerts, Christmas cantatas, plays and programs, one piled upon another.
And they scheduled final exams. How can it be that people with more degrees than a thermometer think it is a good idea to give tests in the middle of the Christmas crush? Talk about Grinchiness.
And did I mention shopping? Don't get me started (which, by the way, I need to).
Then, on top of it all, I have to come up with an idea for a Christmas column. And this, it seems, is the best I can do.
But we have a tree and the house looks great.
Merry Christmas to you all.
Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: email@example.com.