Today, two years after I first wrote this, I am putting ornaments on the Christmas Tree and it's the same- lovely, joyous, heartbreaking same. This was his time, his season, his holiday.
I don't miss the gifts...I miss the giving. I miss the man.
This title is a bit misleading but it’s also the right-on, accurate truth.
I love Christmas.
I know I learned to love Christmas from my dad. He loved Christmas more than anyone I have ever known (or will know or will be born or ever lived). He loved Christmas more than he loved summer (and he really loved summer <especially in his later years when he turned into one of those REALLY skinny old guys with coat hanger shoulders and parchment skin>) and the Farmers Market (he really loved that too. He and I, we went every Saturday every year for 15 years. We went from the day it opened till the last Saturday in October <which can be a mighty cold Saturday in these parts> when it closed for the winter. We went after he needed a walker; we went after he needed a scooter; we went the week before he died. He was a fixture, he adopted a Laotian great grand daughter, he got hugs and handshakes- he loved the Farmers Market. <I don’t so much go anymore> BUT, I digress)!
My dad’s love affair with Christmas started with not being dead (as good a place as any I’m pretty sure you’ll agree). He was a navigator in a B17 during World War II and he was (literally) blown out of the skies over Germany on Christmas Eve during the Battle of the Bulge (a significant and bulgy battle for all you history buffs). He lived through that to be taken as a POW which he also lived through (I guess that’s pretty obvious given that I’m here to tell y’all about it but well, I’ll keep it in coz it has repetitive impact, right?) to be liberated by George S. Patton himself (the General road into the POW camp standing on a tank- the guy apparently knew how to make an entrance <even in the middle of a really big ol’ war>). For a very long time my dad thought he was the only one who survived the explosion. Nearly fifty years later he found out that another guy had lived…MAN…my dad liked Christmas even more after that.
My father celebrated the hell out of Christmas. Even when things were tight (and there were eight of us little boomers- things got tight) we had Christmas. Joyous, infectious (not the icky kind), fantasy filled, Sunday Mass, Christmas carols, tinsel, ornaments, live tree (my mother always instructed my dad (as we piled into the car to get a tree, that THIS year <each and every year> was the year he would find a tree shaped like a telephone pole <so it wouldn’t fill up half the living room in our rather small house> and every year he got a monster of a tree <poor woman, she already had eight kids>) CHRISTMAS!
When my dad got older and a little better off financially he didn’t just love Christmas he became Christmas. In November (after the market closed) he would boot up his computer (He christened himself the old fart hacker. Well into his eighties he was a terror with a credit card and a web browser) and start to shop. He shopped for everyone he knew and many that he didn’t. Bundles for Toys for Tots, Christmas for a single mother he had met, food for St. Ben’s homeless shelter and boxes and packages for his children and his grandchildren and the dogs and the neighbor upstairs who looked kinda down- No one didn’t have Christmas if he could help it.
That first week in November the UPS driver and the FedEx driver and the letter carrier and the DHL Driver would start to come to my door (did I forget to mention that the man didn’t wrap? He didn’t wrap. He would very kindly provide paper, tape and ribbon and have everything he ordered delivered to my door for wrapping and my daughter, my niece and I would wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap…well you get the picture…our backs ached and our fingers were sore and we became BFFs till right on up to Christmas Eve). Then, on Christmas Day he would preside over the day he had created (only after he had taken in the splendor of the tree and the gifts and the food and the people and declared it all to be wonderful).
The last two years of his life he kept his Christmas Tree up year ‘round (he had gone to artificial by then) and had ornaments for every season and holiday. He sang Christmas Carols at full voice in shopping malls and grocery stores. He gave out gold dollars to random little kids saying “Merry Christmas peanut nose.” (Honest, it wasn’t creepy and he always asked the moms first.)
And so we come to today, this afternoon, when the process of putting up the Christmas tree made me sad (for just a little while), when the ornament of a goofy little lady he called his “floozy” made me cry (just tear or two) and when the Christmas elf who looks just like the old guy and now presides over Christmas in his absence broke my heart (just a little bit).
He’d be really mad if he thought something as small as dying could ruin Christmas and really, it hasn’t. I still love Christmas I just miss the hell out of him every Christmas since he died and for a little while John Lennon has the soundtrack instead of Bing Crosby.
“…and so this is Christmas…”