I’d like to sing along with the Carpenters…”Greeting cards have all been sent…” but I’d be lying! I was NEVER good at sending out cards…at Christmas, birthdays…doesn’t matter…I am horrible at it and always have been. My wife was never very good at it either…
The shopping, however, IS done. And the presents are wrapped and under the tree. This year I actually initiated the decorations! Last year, the first without her, our girls got together and did it a couple of days before the holiday, knowing that I wouldn’t/couldn’t, but they needed to do it for a sense of normalcy and continuation. I knew it was an important part of the grieving process, but I just wasn’t there yet. A few days ago, I clearly heard her voice telling me to get off my rear and start decorating! We acquired a pretty decent collection of decorations over the years – whether they be large, moving and inflatable, or indoors moving and musical – all purchased by us to be used to decorate the stages of our inner city music programs, and then brought home to continue the holiday feel around our home and neighborhood. Yes…it WAS difficult for me, but cathartic as well. Like the rest of you, I was flooded with memories of how, when, and where we acquired each…bittersweet, but I dealt with it and knew she was right behind me telling me what to put up where, etc.
Impermanence. That seems to be the lesson this week. Nothing in this life will remain the same forever. And that includes my aversion to the Christmas holidays without her here to share with. So before this becomes maudlin….
Let’s see if you can remember some of the items from your Christmas lists in years past…
My favorite memories are the big family gatherings before and after Christmas Day itself. My dad was the youngest of 10…my mom was the oldest of 6…HUGE family gatherings. My dad’s family Christmas gatherings were all about food and presents for Grandma…who was widowed 17 years before I was born. My mom’s family Christmas gatherings were also about the food…but we also drew names and exchanged gifts, and, of course, football! Those celebrations were most often held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. It didn’t hurt that Grandma and Grandpa T literally lived over the river and through the woods from the house I lived as a child. True story!
In my own immediate family Christmas celebrations, we were always amazed that Santa brought my paternal grandmother and dropped her off with the presents. (Grandma never learned how to drive, and obviously had no car) We awoke Christmas morning, and there she was! No tracks in the snow…just grandma snoring in the extra bed in my sisters’ room. Magic! Especially in the blizzard of ’67…snow was measured in feet and we couldn’t get out of the house for weeks!
Presents…Like the kid in “A Christmas Story,” I’m sure I wished for a BB gun (gun culture was important in our house as we were all hunters), but I don’t remember ever having one or any accompanying disappointment from not getting one. In fact, I don’t ever remember being disappointed by a missing wished-for present…except one year in 6th or 7th grade when I REALLY wanted a football helmet and probably ruined my parents’ holiday when it didn’t show up under the tree. As I recall, I got one at my mom’s greater family Christmas celebration.
I do remember lots of very cool things…one year was a football game Christmas…I got one of the Tyco Electric Football games – possibly the worst toy ever invented, but we all wanted one! It worked by having plastic football player pieces lined up, and the human players would press a start button that in turn began a vibration under those plastic player pieces. When the player with the ball was touched by the opposing team, the button was pressed again and play was stopped. God it was cool!
That same year, I received a Monday Night Football game that I didn’t even know I wanted, but I became quite popular when it was discovered by friends at school that I had one! The game operated by having players choose an offensive play and a defensive scheme from their stack of plays that were programmed on cards. What looked like a mini vinyl record was slid into a machine, a button was pushed, and Howard Cosell’s voice came out to announce the result of the play! Awesome experience!
Finally, that same year, I opened one more football game…one that worked a lot like checkers. I don’t remember much about that one…except I loved the pieces! And I could play it on my own. That was the “football” Christmas for me! In my stocking was a book that contained a synopsis of every NFL Championship game from 1932 to the present (1972?). There was also a fictional novel about a New York Giants quarterback that was the football version of the Cinderella story. And, of course, an official size and weight football.
There are, of course, other gifts I remember…a leather jacket (torn by mid-February much to the chagrin of my rear end when my parents found out about it!)…a tin toy robot that I seem to recall was sold at Sinclair service stations…a Billy Blastoff…ice fishing equipment…endless snowmobile suits and boots (I was NEVER warm enough as a kid, and it drove my father NUTS that he had to cut his ice fishing short because my feet or hands were freezing!)
Curiously, I never wanted a bike. I know, right???!!! Not even as an adult! My adult gift lists have almost ALWAYS been from the categories of pulps (Doc Savage or Operator 5), pipes (the more unusual shape or carving, the better), or music (CD’s or actual written scores). It has only been about the last eight years since bariatric bypass changed my lifestyle that I started requesting bike equipment – lights, accessories, tires, base layer, etc.
The base layer requests literally floored my wife. I hated getting clothes for Christmas and birthdays. I know I got the obligatory socks, pajamas, underwear, etc., as a kid, but I probably resembled Ralphie (again The Christmas Story reference!) receiving those bunny rabbit jammies! My poor parents! I’m sorry Mom and Dad! So I refused to buy clothes for our daughters for Christmas…I felt the same for my wife…except lingerie, because lingerie for the wife is NOT the same as buying clothes! No, these were NOT always my idea…we were quite taken the year “Bad Santa” came out. Enough said. Yes, I feel her punching me right now!
So…what did my Christmas shopping look like this year? For our girls and their partners, it is as it has been for several years – cash! I was told about six years ago that I was a horrible gift giver in that I only bought the presents I wanted to give people, not things from their lists…message received. They know what they want, and I really don’t want to be that person. Green goes with everything.
For our grandsons, however….Toys. They all have so many toys…everywhere. Too many toys! In keeping with my recent blog posts about what I want for them, I gave it some thought. It helps that I have brilliant daughters and sons in law that continue a tradition my wife and I started when they were very young. We read every night to them. My wife read them the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I read them “The Lord of the Rings.” Our grandsons are read to every night as well, but they get shorter stories. So, one grandson is getting a beautifully illustrated “The Fables and Stories of Rumi” from Rumi’s Masnavi. These are all very entertaining and highly moral stories that will also introduce him to another culture that is too often portrayed in our society as violent and amoral. His brother is getting an illustrated and age appropriate version of Aesop’s fables…for the same reasons! Our other grandson is getting an equally beautifully illustrated “Sitting Still Like A Frog” meditation and activity guide to help him as he goes thru the chaotic changes of shuffling between continents half a world away! This boy has logged more flight miles in his three years than I have in my entire life…and I was in the USAF Band for crying out loud!
Each of the boys is also getting…yes…another bike! But wait! This isn’t just another bike…these are SMART bikes! Yep, I was stunned that they make smart bikes for kids, but they really do. Playskool makes a bike that the boys can connect their tablets (the last gift they got from Nana when she was still alive) to and play games. Think of it as Zwift for toddlers! I hope this keeps them active during the winter months, off the TV, and, although on screen, at least they are getting exercise!
Unfortunately, the brothers will have to share the smart bike, while the other grandson will have his all alone. Not to worry…to compensate, I got the brothers each a superhero! They will be moving into a new house soon…a brand new house built just for them. Again, not wanting to focus on toys, I opted for room décor….they are getting a huge fat head of their favorite superhero for their wall space, that apparently (and please don’t ask me to explain how because I don’t understand it myself!) is also a 3D interactive thing as well….
So, what about me? What am I asking Santa for? Well….this afternoon as I was picking up a prescription at Wally World, I made the mistake of walking past the slipper aisle. Damn. I was doing so well…decorations up. Tree is up. Trying really hard to live her number one mantra “Happiness is a choice.” But the slippers. From our first year together she received a pair of slippers (the crazy animal/character shaped ones) every year, and I got a pipe. Every. Single. Year. For the last 20 years, it was always the last gift she would open, and the one she looked forward to the most. I know it sounds stupid, but I loved shopping for those because it reminded me of how poor we were that first year, and that’s all she wanted for Christmas that year, and how far we had come. Over the years, my pipes became more expensive and intricate, while her slippers always hovered between $20 and $40. Last year I ugly cried when my children surprised me with a pipe and informed me that she had made them promise to continue the tradition when she was gone.
Damn the slipper aisle! So, Santa, this year I know you can’t bring her back…physically. But I would love to have her back every night in my dreams. That should be easy enough, Santa. Even Apple has a holiday commercial that gets in on the act (I HATE that commercial and would never buy one of those new iPads that commercialize grief in that manner!).
If that isn’t possible…I wouldn’t turn down a Centurion Dave Scott Ironman Carbon, a Pinarello Opera Degasado, an Eddy Merckx Mourenx ’69 (all size 56 or so), a pair of 700x35c winter studded tires (all of these are available on E-Bay, Santa), a couple of two bar front and/or rear racks from Kaddy Rack, an extra eight cell battery for my NiteRider Pro 3200 head light, or, a half barrel of: Scotty Karate from Dark Horse, Sin Eater from Dragonmead, Ocular Love from War Water, or Weirdo With A Beardo from Big T. I’m really not picky about the color!
Seriously, however, I have reached the age where I know full well that I have too much crap under this roof. My kids don’t want any of it. My grandsons wouldn’t have a clue. I don’t need any more stuff.
Two years ago was maybe our best Christmas. We had been told in January that she had 3-6 months without treatment, and maybe as much as 9-10 months with. We were told in November that we had exhausted all options and she had maybe a month. We were told the same thing on December 7th. So we just focused on each other and our family that year. My God it was glorious. Yes, she got slippers. I got a pipe. We splurged and bought tickets to see the Trans Siberian Orchestra do their Christmas program in Detroit (she had always wanted to see them). But that was it for gifts between us. The biggest gift was the gift of time.
That is my Christmas wish for all of you this season. Time. Time away from screens (he says to the people reading this on a screen!). Time away from the stores and malls. Time away from the stresses of career and societal demands. Time with each other…family and loved ones. Bask in it. Notice everything. All of the colors of their iris when their eyes are captivated by something new and exciting. The sighs. The postures. The smiles. The wrinkles and crinkles on their faces when they laugh. The changes in timbre of the laughter. Notice everything.
Because that is all that is really important anyway, isn’t it Santa? That’s why we are reminded of the holiness of the season by the scarcity of the elements in the history…a child born in a cattle stall…a lamp that never runs out of the tiniest bit of oil… It isn’t material abundance that is important in any of these stories. It is the abundance of love and presence. And THAT is what we too often neglect or do not appreciate…until it is no longer there.
Greeting cards have all been sent
The Christmas rush is through
But I still have one wish to make
A special one for you
Merry Christmas Darling
We’re apart that’s true
But I can dream and in my dreams
I’m Christmasing with you….