This holiday season, the Wyoming Public Radio news team is sharing stories about memories and traditions that stand out to them. In this piece, news director Bob Beck tells us about a lonely Christmas in college.
It was 1981 and I was a junior at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Earlier that year my parents ended their 20 plus year marriage and my visit home after receiving that news was slightly uncomfortable.
I was working at the campus NPR station and at a little country music station about 20 miles from Carbondale and both desperately needed holiday help. Since I was still improving as a young broadcaster and was upset with the thought of spending Christmas at home without both parents, I made the decision to stay at school during the holiday break, make a ton of extra money and get a lot of air time -- something that was not easy to acquire.
The one night nobody wanted to work was obviously Christmas Eve, so I agreed to take the shift and worked from 4pm until Midnight. Playing Christmas country songs was a bit unnerving, but a few versions were acceptable so I lined up my music and decided to put a special twist on my evening. Borrowing from the NORAD tracking of Santa I arranged to have the station news staff and other folks help me develop localized coverage.
So you had the News Director claiming to be at the Airport with police following Santa’s arrival into Herrin, Illinois. It was a little hard to ignore the sound of people and of ice being dropped into glasses at the Christmas Eve party he was attending, but it was fun. We even had a brief interview with Santa telling all the kids that they needed to be in bed by 9pm or they get nothing!
My Santa character had a few cocktails and actually started mentioning first names of kids that were on his no present list, which led to a call from a concerned parent asking me to go on the air to say that the Tommy Santa mentioned was not Tommy Nihill of Oak Street. Tommy was apparently crying.
Anyway, for the most part it was a successful evening and I returned to Carbondale. However I noticed that I was the only person at my apartment. Then it hit me, I was alone on Christmas eve.
Being male college students, my roommates had one very small tree somebody’s girlfriend gave us. I started thinking about the rest of my family spending the evening at my Grandmother’s high rise apartment singing carols and handing out gifts. I was mailed two actual gifts…a microwave from my Dad, obviously trying to get a leg up in the best divorced parent sweepstakes, a sweater from my grandparents, and the rest were checks. Oh, there was the small canned ham the radio station gave me as a Christmas bonus. You got a bigger one if you were full time. I had opened the presents before Christmas and realized I had nothing to open. I had to work the next day and sadly went to bed. I woke up the next day without the usual excitement of opening presents with family, seeing what was in the stocking etc. I simply showered and dressed and drove back to Herrin where I played a couple of religious shows and some more country Christmas tunes until I was off at 2pm.
I figured I’d go somewhere for Christmas dinner. And then this suburban Chicago kid was introduced to Christmas day in rural American. Nothing was open on Christmas day! Well there was one place. The Cardinal Drive in featured hot dogs, various burgers, fries and shakes. It was open as usual and I drove up and got my Christmas dinner. It was a mushroom burger, a bag of Onion Rings and a shake. Merry Christmas to me. I sat in my car listening to Christmas music and ate my lunch. I scored a 9 on the ten point depressed scale.
I didn’t have a phone to call home, so I decided to drive home and along the way came up with the idea to see a movie. I noticed the new movie Neighbors with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd came out so I decided to watch it. Three of us were there that afternoon and we got to enjoy one of the weirdest and worst movies of the 20th century. Reports say that the actors had taken some…how do we politely say this? Massive amounts of medication while making that movie. It showed. Leaving even more depressed I drove home…to open my canned ham and watch television next to my little tree.
The next year…I decided to go home.