As a high school teacher, I try to keep in contact with our graduates, a task made easier by Facebook these days. Graduates who go on to college have similar comments: Can’t believe how hard it is and how much they have to study. I usually joke that “HS seniors just can’t wait to graduate … it’s a trick!” But they fall for it every time. They can’t wait to get into the world only to find the world is sometimes a cruel and demanding place.
Many of the graduates around here chose colleges within Alabama. Most of these are 2 hours or less from Prattville, which makes coming “home” for weekends or holidays an easy task. For me at UCLA coming home to Long Beach meant for food or laundry. However since I worked in the cafeteria, I was not a starving student. But I never missed a holiday at home. That changed the winter of 1962.
I was a plebe (freshman) at the US military Academy and plebes then didn’t go home for Christmas. Of course I had 700 classmates in the same boat plus a small cadre of upperclassmen to run the place. So it wasn’t like being alone for the holidays. Besides my parents were in California so getting home from New York was expensive. It wasn’t until much later in life that I experienced the surprising and unexpected dark cloud of depression at being alone for holidays.
The experience was vivid enough that I remember it to this day. I was in Savannah in the fall of 1975. I’d started a new job and had no vacation time. It was Thanksgiving and my kids were in New Jersey. I had duty at the mill and had to stay in town as I remember. The week of Thanksgiving rolled around and all of my friends went home. I experienced a profound sadness which came on suddenly and unexpectedly. I rolled with the punches and got through it but I learned a lesson about loneliness and depression: They come together and can affect anyone.
This writing was prompted by a Facebook comment from a recent graduate from our church who is a freshman at Alabama. She wrote today that her empty dorm was spooky. I flashed back to 1975 and realized how easy it is for people to get depressed particularly during the holidays.
So if you have a close acquaintance or family member who can’t get home for the holidays, remember them with a phone call or personal message. It can make all the difference.
Kathy and I wish you all a great holiday. Now get out there and shop. Wall Street needs you.
Go Army – Beat Navy.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA