Wham!

25 11 2011

I’ve been encouraged recently by a dear friend to try to verbalize memories that I wish to have live on outside of my fleeting thoughts and mind’s images.  Part of me, a great part, is hesitant to do as such because they are mine.  They are intimate and personal and to put them to pen (in a sense) shares them.  Call me selfish, but I’m not certain I am comfortable with this idea.  They’re mine.

And yet, I am going to give it a brief attempt.

Christmas 1996.  My father hadn’t yet been diagnosed with cancer and I hadn’t yet asked God to rob him of his life.  My marriage was still seemingly fruitful and I was pregnant with our second child.  All in all, life was fairly good.  In truth, this was one of my last “good” Christmases.

I don’t right remember when my father arrived to stay with us for the holidays, but it was a good week or more prior.  It seems odd to word it as “stay with us” when the truth of the matter was we lived in his home.  It was the home I’d lived in until my early teenage years and as a grown adult, we rented from my father as he no longer lived in it.  But it was his home.  The semantics of this all are rather irrelevant, I am certain, nonetheless, necessary to me.

He arrived by train.  We drove out to the train station to pick him up and I recall being so worried that he had lost his mind when he arrived because he had no glasses.  My father was legally blind without them and had worn glasses since childhood.  Yet when he stepped off the platform, he had none on.  I asked him where his glasses were and he asked me, “What glasses?”  I frantically began trying to find an Amtrak worker who could help me locate his glasses, all the while wondering how in the hell I was going to take care of my senile father.  He let me panic for a few minutes, more likely a few seconds, but in my memory it was forever.  Finally he told me that he had underwent the laser surgery and no longer used glasses.  He seemed so tickled with himself that he could get me worked into a tizzy.

It’s odd.  I remember so much about the days around Christmas that year, but not the day itself.

That first night, I had set about to make a pot roast.  I remember this because he would come into the kitchen and chop up celery to add to it and I would come back in and skim the crap out of my pot.  After two or so more rounds of this, I took the remains of the stalk to the trash and he lectured me about how it wouldn’t taste right now.  I don’t know why this stands out to me so vividly, this incident of too many cooks spoiling the stew, but it does.  I can’t even think of why I even had celery in my house, since I really cannot stand it.  Odder yet is that I now use it in every stew or pot roast I make.

Another night, he offered to stay home with my oldest daughter, our only daughter at that time, while my husband and I went to the store.  I remember thinking it rather silly since she wasn’t yet two and shopping for her Christmas presents was still something we could easily do with her.  But we went out for more Elmo finds anyhow.  The Tickle-Me-Elmo doll was the hit of the season that year, but I had already purchased her one that summer.  With all of the insanity surrounding that doll, I always worried about her taking it with her in public for fear of being some statistic.  She loved anything Elmo though, so we went out hunting for more odds and ends.

We all loaded up into my van and took a ride through the light tour down on the beach.  An ingenious tour where you purchased a cassette tape to play and your drove at a snail’s pace down the boardwalk enjoying the lights.

Daddy suggested we finish it up with a trip to Coleman’s Nursery, a tradition in our family when I was a little girl.  He toted Alannah around like she was a sack of potatoes worth enduring and her eyes lit up at every single sight.  I remembered fondly the Dutch Hot Chocolate and we finally located the kiosk where it was sold.

My husband at the time was in the Navy and as such, I attended Navy Wife meetings.  I was on a planning committee and we were trying to come up with holiday ideas.  The suggestion was made about hiring a Santa and I suggested we save funds and hire my father.  He was retired Navy and had played Santa for years.  He had so much joy and pleasure in making memories for families through his Santa work.  I mentioned that he was a truck driver but that he was home for the holidays and would gladly do this for us.  The wives sneered.

Literally.

A truck driver?  Playing Santa.  In their minds it must have been a game of limbo and I was not very politely told that they would never stoop that low.  I was outraged and rather vocal.  And then I left.

I remember sitting with him and telling him how upset that made me.  That they would think him some unfit individual because some truck drivers are regarded as sleazy.  He wasn’t terribly offended, I suppose he had heard it before.  I’m sure he had.  I poured him a glass of Jack and Coke and we sat outside talking.

In retrospect, this was the last Christmas with my father when the clock wasn’t ticking.  Within a month I would ask God to kill him, he would be diagnosed with cancer, and the time bomb on normality would be set to detonate.

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