Memories, Pressed Between the PagesPosted: December 23, 2007
One image always comes to mind as Christmas arrives, and there are snapshots in albums and lying loose in The Big Cardboard Picture Box that document it. The main actor in this image appears first as a handsome dark-haired twenty-something and later as a white-haired grandpa.
Dad, at Christmastime.
Ten years after he was a little boy on the farm during the Great Depression, sitting in front of a hot fireplace with oranges and firecrackers and a gun or toy truck from Santa, he spent Christmas in snowy, frozen Bastogne in the worst of the war — trapped in a barn with frozen toes, gripped with fear and unable to speak. Ten years later, he was a father with two daughters, enjoying Christmas in a little white house on Deering Street.
We didn’t hear much out of Dad leading up to Christmas. He kept the same routine of work, eat, sleep. Drudgery, perhaps. But on Christmas morning, he sprang to life, much like a Jack-in-the-Box, as you’d wind it up, around and around, and when the time was right, a clown would pop out the top, all smiles, lively and colorful.
Dad was the first one up on Christmas morning, and when my sister and I entered the living room, he’d bounce and hop and laugh and yell, “Ho, ho, ho! Me-e-erry Christmas! Look at all this!” He’d point to the tree. “Look at all the toys! How’d they get here? I don’t know how all these toys got here.” I can still remember the tingle in my stomach, catching his excitement. And then, he was under the tree, playing with each toy. Bikes and trikes and wagons and trains and merry-go-rounds. Dollhouses and pogo sticks and pop beads and Barbies and baby dolls. In our household, it was never two children under the tree. It was three.
Dad mellowed out a bit when Santa started bringing manicure sets and hair dryers and sweaters and jewelry boxes and leather jackets, but he occasionally found delight in a basketball or a transistor radio.
Ten years later, the cycle started all over again when the grandchildren began coming along. It was Dad under the tree with babies and toddlers and preschoolers, trying out Tonkas and Matchboxes and Star Wars spaceships and Lincoln Logs and Legos. One year, a kid got a plastic segmented Winnie the Pooh tunnel to crawl through. Dad was the first one in it, and a snapshot records his backside in the opening, with a toddler behind him, patiently waiting to play with his own toy.
I knew Christmas before last would be Dad’s last Christmas, when the jar of scuppernong jelly my sister wrapped barely brought a smile to his face. The same with the Whoopie Cushion I took.
I remember the life, the liveliness, the laughter, the wonder of all those Christmases I had him, a half century of holidays, and my heart is glad, because those memories won’t ever go away.