Saturday, December 18, 2010
in media res...Christmas 1983
The real deal, if there ever was a real deal about telling the truth and there isn't one that I know of, but my father invented Christmas. Straight up stuff, he did. Two trees would be decorated, one in the front window and a second in the family room in the basement. A wreath on the front door, ribbons and bough would be festooned on the mantle, plates of cookies, and candies and nuts& chocolates would be decked on the dining table and a pot of cider laced with cinnamon and orange peel simmering on the stove. Orchestral Christmas music on the stereo. He would always wait in the front room for everyone to arrive. His sister, Aunt Helen, was already there when we pulled up. So was my sister and her husband and their two young boys. I guess it will be hard to see that house this year after remembering how all the arrivals then were treated then, how the house looked then. Mom is in a nursing home now, the house mostly empty, the dishes are gone, the closets are bare and all the Christmas ornaments sit like bones in a pile of boxes in the old family room but back then all those bones were fresh, promises and love, and Dad, if he truly did not invent Christmas, was one of it's foremost practitioners, adherents, and the family room with the adjoining kitchenette was where he strategized it, directed it and admired it. Dad, I believe, thought of Christmas as one big nest of family and he would decorate as a way of welcoming all back, his only real wish for Christmas.
The afternoon was creeping easily into darkness when my young brother, all six foot eight of him, the rumble of his deep canyon voice of him, the sack full of unwrapped presents of him, arrived. John eschewed wrapping presents, or would wrap them in old newspaper---"don't waste trees". John's presents were always things like jars of honey and herbal teas or hand carved walking sticks, wild bird seed, home made beer or mead or wine.... it was a goodness he never learned to knit or there would have been wild hats and scarves, too. He would bring himself into a room and immediately the room would become small and then he would laugh and smile and like the magic only a giant heart can produce, the room would expand three times it's walls. The Hunter, though, my older brother, and his wife had still not arrived from the Cities and, with a dread, I began to wonder if they would.
Dad's eyes showed the pain he felt when he finally said we would save some diner, but the rest of us should eat. Even as he spoke I could see him look to the front window for that last set of headlights, that last piece of his nest. We all knew his heart was sinking, the old man's, and that he couldn't really shake off what had taken place three weeks earlier, that this year would not be Christmas as usual no matter how much he tried to make it so.
Dinner ended, the dishes cleaned and still no headlights in the drive and the old man's eyes, with a last glance out the window, looked at me for help. "He'll be here," I said, " Let's go open some presents before the little guys get tired." We opened family presents on Christmas Eve, Santa brings more in the morning. And we went to Christmas in the family room.
My older brother had always been my father's favorite despite all his efforts not to have favorites. Chuck tramped the woods that my father, with his polio afflicted leg, never could. Who fished, canoed, camped, traveled. Older brother got married young, at twenty, and provided most of his and his wife's food by hunting and fishing. I remember the stories.... how he would take to the woods after his college classes for white bass or deer or rabbit. It was a passion that never left the Hunter. Even when he turned into a Big Biz executive,,, the hunting and fishing were still a big part of his life. Dad thought that was the stuff and that Christmas he eyes kept looking toward the window in the basement that looked out to the drive. for the headlights that should have been there long ago.
Now, all these years later, I have never been able to produce a Christmas with all the trimmings like my father did. I tried and I guess when my kids were young I pulled it off pretty good, but what happened that year has always rather prevented me from really getting into the 'Spirit' as it were, and even as I write this now, that year still chills me.
Here is how it went.
We opened the presents. And waited. Cheryl and I announce our engagement and it was good. Despite my brother not being there we brought in a little cheer. My sister and her husband took their boys home as the hour grew later. Aunt Helen retired. John went off to see his old HS buddy Gus. Cheryl and I kept vigil for the headlights which, finally, at about 10pm did arrive. The Hunter had come home. But without his wife. His son was not with him either, but we knew Nicholas would not be along this year.... we had buried him in the cemetery south of town just three weeks previous.
I have to break this off. I need to take a walk.