I remember one Christmas when our fourth son, Patrick -- he in the footed pajamas -- clearly confused about Christmas, ignored the gifts and toddled around the clutter clutching a banana he pulled from his stocking. Unable to open it and unable to get help from his wild-eyed older brothers or his blurry-eyed parents, Patrick sat down upon a package, chewed a hole through the peeling and sucked out the banana as best he could. Today, Patrick is a police officer with three children – Layni, Hadley and Tate – and a fourth on the way.
I remember a "very tight" Christmas -- remember a lot of those, actually -- when it became obvious to me that the presents we had to put beneath the tree for our five children just didn't balance out. It was almost on Christmas Eve and all I could find open was a 7-11, which had a special display of baseball trading cards with an album book. I bought those for Russell and the balance was better achieved. He loved baseball cards, and we still have them here, stored in a cabinet. Russell is married now, a leader in the Abolish Human Abortion movement, and has a daughter, Melian.
I remember struggling to put together toys and bicycles with dawn fast approaching and hopelessness emerging, knowing that if my oldest son, Zach, would just stumble down the stairs with a nod and wink, he could put all those things together in the wink of an eye. But I couldn't wake him. I needed to be the best Dad I could be, almost all thumbs, but with a heart that wanted to give what I could give. Zach is all grown-up now, married with a son, Ty, and two daughters, Rylee and Avery . . . and he's a contractor. He really can build anything.
I remember Donovan, the middle son, the hard-to-buy-for son, who never seemed to really need or want much, but was always happy with what he got. I feel a bit of guilt that it wasn't harder to put his gifts beneath the tree and wonder if they were just right. He was a giver himself. Donovan, a former Army Ranger and now a police officer, has moved from protecting us all in
I remember my only daughter -- Lauren -- being a blast to shop for at Christmas. I could wander the mall and find music boxes, plastic high heels, dolls and stuffed animals, and later perfumes and bracelets and trendy things . . . and even occasional pink. Most of all I remember how badly she wanted a set of Quints, tiny dolls all dressed alike and so girly. They were also so tiny they got lost in the Christmas wrapping on Christmas morning and never showed their tiny little plastic faces again. I hurt about that for a long time. No longer the little girl down the hall, Lauren traveled the world, lingered long in
I was myself a little one once. One of four in our family. I remember a lot of Christmases. One stands out because it contained all the emotions and angst of which we are capable . . . and proved love to be the greatest of them all. We were living in a very cheap apartment in
We needed a tree. Whether there would ever be presents placed beneath it was one of those bridges my Mother said she would cross later. We had no tree and that needed to be remedied above all. One evening, after working all day, my mother took the three of us -- my brother was living elsewhere at the time -- across the parking lot and down the alley to the grocery store, where she oohed and aahed over the scrawny trees leaning against the brick wall, ones rejected by all the other shoppers who had bought the best ones earlier. She found a $7 bargain, proclaiming that it fit within a budget we probably didn't have. We dragged it home, set it in the stand, pulled out the boxes of precious decorations, ate sugar cookies and decorated it to the hilt, drowning it in icicles. We stood back and surveyed our handiwork . . . and the tree took a quick bow . . . all the way to the floor.
We were shocked . . . but she was Mother, undaunted. She stood it up, readjusted the stand, salvaged the decorations and ran a string around the tree, thumb tacking it to the walls. We sat back on the couch, hot chocolate in hand, and -- smiles turning to shrieks -- observed the tree as it did a slow motion dive-bomb back to the floor.
Our heads in our hands, we watched as Mother stood it up, peeled back the cheap carpet to reveal a hardwood floor beneath, took out a hammer and nails and nailed the stand right to the floor. Wow . . . Mom! Only a bit later, our hands covered with the stickiness of ribbon candy, we could hear the skritch as the small nails slowly slid free from the old wood of the floor. Tipping at first, the tree gently, like a too-gaudy ballerina, took a half twist, broke free and resumed its reclining position.
This time Mother wept. But only for a moment. Within seconds, the lights were unplugged, her hands were around the trunk in a strangling motion, the front door was open and she was heading down the alley, dragging the evergreen ballerina behind her. We ran behind in horror, believing out lives to be as much in shambles as the shattered ornaments now tossed about in the parking lot. Someone is gonna' see. We followed the trail of icicles, yelling at our Mother to stop. "It doesn't matter. We don't need a tree!"
She answered without stopping.
"We need a tree . . . and we will have a tree."
And we did have a tree. She dragged it right through the front doors of the grocery store, where she was spared having to offer any explanation at all. Her tears were overwhelming. She couldn't talk, and the manager of the store really didn't want her to anyway. The presence of coatless and barefoot kids behind her, our heads dropping almost to our knees, didn't exactly diminish the drama.
The good people at the grocery store replaced our tree with one that had an actual straight trunk and that certainly cost more than $7. They gave us replacement decorations and plenty of icicles and even candy, which we ate around our new and truly beautiful tree, standing on its own.
I don't really remember what I got for Christmas that year. Well, at least, what I got under the tree. But I do remember realizing that love can sure overcome a lot, pretty much everything, in fact. And I knew that my mother loved me beyond any humiliation. I still count on that to be true.
Actually, I really don't remember many of the gifts I've received for Christmas through the years, though I loved them at the time. But I do remember the Christmases themselves and the people in my life that made them memorable. Sometimes memories suffice, girded by hope.
I am prepared for a tinge of sadness with the sunrise next Tuesday morn. But I am ready for joy . . . anyway.