To begin with, no one loves the holiday season more than me. Surrounded by lights in the trees bordering our house, go inside to see our nine foot Christmas tree and a large village filled with houses, bridges, mountains, and little people. Then walk up our circular stairway filled with elves and stuffed animals. One of them is a bear that my son slept with fifty years ago.
While all of this means something to me, the pandemic has left me and my wife Monica feeling like strangers in a strange land. There are no office parties or social gatherings with old friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be necessarily reduced to exchanging presents in the doorway with our son, daughter-in-law and the two grandkids, one at Purdue and one at DePauw.
Yet while I hope the vaccine allows all of us to celebrate the holidays next year with 2020 being a dark memory, like many this experience has caused me to reflect on my childhood. I grew up in Batesville, Indiana, and I have four brothers and sisters. My father was a rural mail carrier and mom worked part-time in a drug store.
We were taught to embrace the joy of Christmas in every manner possible. You will see a picture of me (on the left) and my brother Bill in the early 1950s as we told Santa what we hoped he would leave under our family tree.
My brothers and I were always puzzled that presents shaped like bottles started to accumulate under the tree with a card for our dad. We learned from mom that these contained wine and booze made by farmers on our dad’s rural route. Ironically, the bottles were usually empty by New Year’s Day!
But the story I must tell you concerns my dad as he was confined to home after suffering a serious of strokes in the late 1990s. I have enclosed a picture of me and him where we laughed over a book I gave him entitled “Why I am not a Christian”!
However, I will never forget going to visit on what was to be his last Christmas. My mom was incensed with him. When I asked why, she told me that after putting up part of their tree, she left for the kitchen to finish dinner.
Shortly thereafter, dad, who was dozing on the couch, approached her. He was complaining about the candy left near the tree, saying, “The red ones were good but the blue and yellow ones were stale.”
When mom told him they had no candy, she discovered that he had eaten the spare bulbs for the tree! As my father gagged, saying that he had devoured metal wires, he urged my mom to take him to the hospital. She replied, “What, and tell them that my husband is so stupid that he ate all of my spare lights? No way, old man, if you want to go drive yourself!”
He went into the backyard to vomit and then took a nap. I told this story at his funeral service in a Catholic church. We all suspected that God would forgive him.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Remember your parents and your childhood.