The holidays are quickly approaching and while we make our preparations, we also reminisce about the holidays of our childhood. Maybe you’re thinking about time spent with family, decorating the tree, listening to Christmas music, baking cookies and opening gifts. This time of year always reminds me of one particular thing. My dad walking through the house, muttering under his breath those three magical words: “I hate Christmas.” Christmas Eve was a special time for most people, a time to begin a couple of days off of work and to travel and spend time with family. It was also the day that would begin and end my dad’s Christmas shopping.
Looking back on my childhood, clearly it was my mom who took care of Christmas shopping when we were little. We always got some things that we wanted and then there were things that might not be on the list but that my mom just knew would be right for us. (Great job, Mom!) I am not kidding when I say that my dad shopped on Christmas Eve. I would sometimes accompany him on these trips and I remember one year, maybe we got snowed in or maybe he was just really late getting started, but we had to shop in town at the local five and dime store. I specifically remember being adamant about him NOT buying my mom a cast iron skillet for Christmas. Even as a kid I knew this was a bad idea. To be fair, I can’t even imagine the Christmases my dad grew up with. My grandparents were notorious for giving us gifts such as toilet paper and Wrigley’s gum.
When we returned home from our Christmas Eve shopping trips, he would have me wrap all the gifts because I was good at it. This was my first lesson in how the world works. Sometimes I still get fooled by this one and am always envious of people who can fake incompetency. So I would happily wrap all the gifts for my mom because my dad asked me to and because he thought I was good at something. I remember one Christmas my dad had gone out on his own and gotten my sister and I gifts. They were wrapped in brown paper grocery bags since he had done his own wrapping. I have no recollection of what the gifts were, but I do have a clear memory of how proud of himself he was that he had an idea on his own that he thought would be perfect for us.
Things took a turn when I was in college. I went along with my dad for another gift buying trip and we were going into the bookstore. I had a list of books that I wanted and was happy knowing that I was on my dad’s stomping ground and it would be easy for him to pick out something off the list and I would get what I wanted. I thought it was a bonding moment for us because my dad LOVED books. I thought he would look at the list and maybe comment on some of the feminist authors or ask me about what I was reading. He looked at the list, handed it back to me and said, “Why don’t you just get some of these and meet me back at the front counter.” Yep. Bonding moment over. Things got worse when we returned home and he wanted me to wrap everything, including my own gifts. I refused. I don’t remember the exact way I did it but I do remember that he seemed really mad about the way I was speaking to him.
I think about that now, 18 years after his death and I wonder if I would be happy to wrap presents for him now that he would’ve been 70 years old. I remember the times he really did try, like when I was a teenager and he got me a Navy Pea coat from the surplus store that he really thought I wanted, only to find out I was more interested in a $4 Marine trench coat from Goodwill. (He traded it in for me although he never understood why I would want the old thing.) I’ll never get to know what Christmas would be like if he were here now. Unlike Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, I’ll never get to have that catch with my dad. (Speaking metaphorically here, I suck at sports) It’s funny how a lot of the things that used to bother me about my dad have now become the memories I have of him. They are endearing to me now because it reminds me that he was human. It makes me think that when I leave this world, maybe my friends will remember all the really annoying, bothersome things about me and wrap them in with the good things and have a good laugh. And although it hasn’t happened yet this year, when I hear my husband utter those three words, “I hate Christmas”, I’ll just turn away and smile and probably roll my eyes, knowing that it is Christmas music to my ears.