Halfway down, on top of haphazardly folded garland and lying under a box of battery lights I find him. He’s reclining on top of crushed greenery and grinning up at me as if to say, “been awhile, nice to see you again.” I pull him out of the green container, straighten his smoky white beard, and in answer to his silent greeting I tell him, “Hello, it’s good to see you, too. Looks like we made it to another year. Merry Christmas.“
To say my dad loved Christmas is an understatement. In movies, he’s the guy that brings home the too big freshly cut Balsam fir. The guy that singlehandedly carries it into the house and directly into the living room, its branches knocking delicate holiday decorations off each table it passes. Though sold several times since, I am sure my childhood home’s living room ceiling bears a hint of a scar attributed to too many tree jabs from a too tall tree. And I’ll wager that, if standing completely still under that part of the ceiling and listening with great concentration, one can still hear a wave of excuses: but the tree looked a lot smaller in the middle of that damn tree lot AND we needed a Christmas focal point. Mom’s reply was to cast a wilting stare in Dad’s direction with his response a shrug and tilt of his head as he innocently tried to gain her approval.
So, as due course would have it in our holiday household, it happened that one cold and snowflake filled night Dad walked in after work holding a gift wrapped package the size of a shoe box meant for very large shoes. As he handed it to my mom my dad smiled in a too broad grin. Although I was only about five at the time, his grin reminded me of childhood pictures of him proudly displayed at my grandmother’s house. His nickname was Sonny, he sported a headful of blonde hair, and always displayed that very same smile.
Mom was of a different temperament. Oh, she had a sense of humor; she enjoyed TV sitcoms, cracked jokes with her friends, and could cast a sarcastic dig with the best of any gagman. But she was also the mother of an everywhere-every minute toddler and a snarky, curious five year-old as well as the title holder of acting chief financial officer for the family. Always tired and always busy, she resonated a distinct no nonsense image. She didn’t grin when Dad handed her the package. Although she didn’t quite scowl either.
Her unenthusiastic response was lost on me and my brother. With wide eyed anticipation evidenced through our obnoxious jumping, we forced our mother into a predicament. She overcame her passivity and sat down on our red velvet couch to open the present. Upon opening the lid she sighed. I’m still not sure if she was pleased, overwhelmed, or questioning the cost. But upon reaching in and lifting the gift out of the box the trepidation was over. She lost. Because the minute we saw what it was, my brother and I stopped jumping up and down, stopped giggling and froze. After a beat, simple delight filled our eyes.
Mom and Dad are both gone now. My brother is happy in a new marriage and I don’t see him very often. I have a husband of almost fifty years and two grown daughters. With one daughter living far away and working non-traditional hours, our family celebrates the holidays on her terms, delighted to make Christmas Eve and Christmas Day whatever two days we can all get together, but always in December.
In this present day the responsibility to feel joy and merriment can weigh heavy at times. Growing older with each Christmas can bring about a breathtaking pause. The rush of time becomes overbearing, particularly at Christmas as a sudden urge to do a personal life-inventory becomes necessary and urgent.
But this feeling falls away when, just as Mom lifted him out of the package for the very first time, I hoist the grinning chubby and rosy cheeked Santa up and out of the green container. This old and scruffy Santa resumes his place once again on our entry side table, greeting holiday visitors with his chubby hand raised in a hello and his red velvet suit cast in a warmly lit glow.
If only for a short time, this Santa stops the clock for me and ushers in memories of a child jumping in exuberant glee with the inability to contain her wild abandon. This Santa guarantees that with each Christmas I bring up the holiday boxes he will be there providing anticipation and a sense of excitement that I can take into the new of each year.
But most of all, this Santa gives me back a part of my dad that I never met. This Santa gives me Sonny and makes me smile, year in and year out. Merry Christmas Dad.