The H Street Sledding Record by Ron Carlson, 1987
The magic trick:
The brief aside about the lonely single mother in the middle of the story
It’s really difficult to write happy. The line between cheerful and nauseating is just so narrow, and Ron Carlson is right on the brink of self-satisfied suburban schlock here in ‘H Street.’ Instead of tumbling into smug abyss, though, he produces what has to be one of the sweetest holiday stories ever written.
Beyond the obvious skills at work here – the detailed characterizations, the realistic dialogue, the wonderful use of humor – Carlson does a really neat trick in the middle of the story. He inserts a brief aside in which the narrator remembers a Christmas season spent delivering trees. He recalls bringing a tree to a young single mother who tries to convince our narrator to stay with her a little bit longer that night. It’s a very small part of the story, but mention of this woman’s holiday loneliness is just enough to provide a nice counterpoint to the overflowing happiness elsewhere. The narrator and reader, both, can return to the action of the main story with a new appreciation for the happy traditions.
Sometimes when you’re unhappy in your own life it’s easy to feel annoyed by someone else’s happiness. This story never irks, though. I’ve read this when I was head over heels in love and thrilled with the world. It made me even happier. I’ve read this when I was lonely and bitter, wrapping presents in a cold apartment with my cat. And it only made me happy. That’s a rare story. And that’s quite a trick on Carlson’s part.
By the time she had the tree secured, she had returned again with a box of ornaments, lights, junk like that, and I headed for the door. “Thanks,” I said. “Merry Christmas.”
Her son had caught on by now and was fully involved in unloading the ornaments. The girl looked up at me, and this time I saw it all: her husband coming home in his cap and gown last June, saying, “Thanks for law school, honey, but I met Doris at the Juris-Prudence Ball and I gotta be me. Keep the kid.”