January 7, 2011 2:37:00 PM
When Michael Smith got engaged in the late ''90s, he wasn''t quite prepared for the great Christmas compromise, a bridge to be crossed by all who marry. There''s a learning curve to be gingerly navigated as families blend traditions.
"To understand the difference between my family and my wife''s family when it comes to the annual ritual of opening Christmas presents, you only need to be able to understand the difference between a horse-drawn carriage and a rocket," he writes in his essay, "Hurry Up and Slow Down," in "Christmas Memories from Mississippi."
The assistant professor of English at Mississippi University for Women shares his experience of coming from a family whose gift-opening routine is "fierce and hurried" to his debut holiday with wife Sabrea''s family, which revels in methodically opening -- and admiring -- one gift at a time.
"Christmas Memories" co-editor Charline McCord became familiar with Smith''s work when he won the Brick Streets Press Short Story Award. She knew she wanted him as a contributor to the recently-released book of holiday recollections by Mississippians.
"I thought he was such a fine writer that when we started putting the book together, I asked if he would submit a piece," praised McCord. "I''m just delighted with his work."
Smith, a McComb native, said, "We all have 100 Christmas memories, but to pick one to write about that you think other people will be interested in is the tough part. Things that are warm and fuzzy to you may not transfer to a lot of other people."
But when he recalled the eye-opening revelation of discovering how diverse gift-opening customs could be, he thought others would enjoy it. Because Sabrea''s father has since passed away, the essay he wrote about that time in their lives is even more meaningful.
This Christmas season marks at least two milestones for the Smiths, who moved to Columbus in 2007. Their second daughter, Brooklyn, was born Dec. 7. And Michael''s first short novel, "The Hands of a Stranger," has begun advance sales; it will be released this spring. The novel grew from a short story he''d written in 2003, while living in France.
"I just couldn''t stop thinking about the people in that story, a couple who lives in Paris; their daughter disappears on a class field trip to the impressionist museum. ... I just picked up writing it where that story ended."
The soft cover novel, put out by Main Street Rag Publishing, can be advance-ordered at a discount, through a link at www.michaelfsmith.wordpress.com.
As for the Smith''s disparate gifting customs, the author concludes in his essay, " ... I discovered that it''s not simply that the Christmas presents are opened, but how they are opened, at what pace they are opened, and that people from different present-opening cultures can live together peacefully. It takes some getting used to, but it can work."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.