When I was four, my parents bought me a Powder Puff big wheel cycle for Christmas. This replaced my Fonzie cycle, which I guess I outgrew or it broke down. Of course, it had to be assembled before Christmas Day, and my mom worked in secret after I went to bed while Dad was at work to get the darn cycle put together.
In many households, assembling toys is the Dad’s job, but my father was never handy with tools, even though he worked for a trucking company for years.
Once Mom finally had the monstrosity assembled, a new problem arose. Where would they hide the conspicuous gift in our tiny apartment?
Mom did her best to hide it in the closet, but one day, as she was hanging up Dad’s freshly laundered clothes on his side of the closet, I snatched a peek at the big plastic wheel and the pastel streamers hanging off the handlebars.
And that’s the moment I realized Santa didn’t really exist. I don’t remember being particularly upset by discovering the truth. I played along for a couple of more years with my mom’s insistence that Santa was real before finally revealing I saw the cycle in the closet when I was four.
While most kids graduate to an actual bicycle after riding these contraptions as little kids, I never did. And while I never asked, I don’t think Dad ever learned how to ride a bike either. I just can’t imagine Dad atop a bike, wearing a helmet!
I finally made it back home. If I’ve learned anything over the past year or so, it’s not to take anything for granted.
I’ve always been a homebody, but after seeing Dad separated from his home in the last year of his life due to Alzheimer’s, I have a renewed sense of how important home and family and friends really are in this world.
We don’t know when disaster will strike and take us away from our creature comforts.
That lesson learned is better than any worldly possession that can be wrapped under a tree.
I’m inching closer to home, and as I sit in a Starbucks writing this, watching people gathering and exchanging gifts and wishing each other “happy holidays” I feel that pang of homesickness strike even harder. That got me to thinking about all of those years when Dad was a single guy, after he immigrated to America. He could rarely afford to make trips home to Ireland. So what did he do for Christmas all of those years?
I don’t remember him ever talking about memories of Christmas spent as a bachelor. Dad was pretty good at making pals, so maybe one of them invited him over to their family’s house for a Christmas dinner. Certainly Dad was quite handsome back then, so maybe he had a girlfriend to go out on a date with on Christmas. Knowing Dad, I’m guessing a pub was involved at some point. Maybe other solitary types banded together for a night of merriment. Also, I’m sure Dad would have attended holiday mass.
Or perhaps Dad had to work, or offered to work, to let the family guys spend the holiday at home. That’s something that Dad would have done.
I’m sure the pangs of homesickness were quite strong, especially those first few years in the States. He worshipped his mother and it must have been difficult to be separated from her during the holiday season. Did he even get a chance to make a phone call home?
This is one of those moments where I wish I could call up Dad and ask him to solve this mystery I’ve just created. Instead, I am left to my own imagination of what Dad did all of those holidays before Mom and I came along.
The best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is to ask your loved ones to tell stories about their past. Ask those burning questions now. You never know when it might be too late.
I had the misfortune of finding myself shopping in Walmart today. Mom wanted to stock up on some things prior to surgery, so she wouldn’t have to worry about it when she is released from the hospital after her surgery.
Any kind of giant store like Walmart makes my vertigo go crazy. The entire store is sensory overload, and then there’s the constant dodging of other customer’s carts. Mom went to get her hair done so I was left alone to shop. (And if you’ve ever shopped with an elderly woman, you know it’s preferable to shop alone!)
As I sped through the Christmas gift section, to get from the pharmacy department to the grocery side of the store, my gaze picked up a gift box of men’s cologne. It immediately gave me a pang in my heart. Every year, I would buy Dad one of those box sets of cologne. I would usually get Stetson or Grey Flannel. It was an easy to select gift that I honestly never put any thought into. Dad wasn’t into presents, so he never asked for anything specifically. I didn’t want him to feel left out so I tried to get him almost as many gifts as I would get my mom, who would gush over every little cheap trinket I would get for her.
Dad always seemed to appreciate the cologne, even if all he did was mumble a thanks when he opened it. He definitely used it every day, and the scent of men’s cologne will always remind me of my father.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen Christmas decoration displays already in stores. Every year, it seems to happen earlier.
This year, it reminds me of Dad.
Mom and I ate several times at the Albuquerque hospital cafeteria last November. On one visit, the staff were putting up some Christmas decorations. It seemed odd and out of place as a family member of a very sick patient, but hospitals are also workplaces for many employees. Why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy a little cheer?
Upstairs, Dad was heavily sedated, and knew not where he was, or what time of year it was. He would hang on for almost another month, before passing five days before Christmas.