Christmas is a very special time for me; it has been since I was a little girl. One of my favorite childhood memories is putting up lights with my dad. We had a beautiful house with a street-facing living room window, and around it, we would tack lights. It wasn’t like the houses you see today, with lights in perfect rows edging the rooftops. No, this was different. My dad would start at the top of the inside window, and I would stand beside him. I would hold the tacks in my hand while he secured the strand, and around the window we’d go, I holding the tacks, he pushing in each one carefully. Because he was an extremely diligent man, decorating would take time, so we would talk. One of his favorite things to ask me was, “What do you think?” And I would say, “About what?” And he would answer, “About life and death and all the things in between.” Looking back, that’s what we were doing. All the things in between.
One year, we did all six windows on the side of our house. It was a great feat, and he and I were very proud. But at some time during the project, we began trading jests. Maybe I was staring off into space, or maybe I was criticizing him for placing the lights too close together or too far apart. If you have kids, as I do, you know they are very good at critiquing your handy work. Anyway, at one point during the exchange, he dubbed me “an inexperienced tack handler.” For the rest of his life, we laughed about it, and I was always his inexperienced tack handler.
Later we would move from this house, and it was devastating for both of us. I don’t remember putting up lights on the new house. But I do remember planting trees, three blue spruces that still stand in the backyard today. Like with the lights, I remember me standing next to him, probably holding the tree spikes or the rubber hammer, something inconsequential. Yet this, too, it is one of my strongest memories.
When I think about it, it’s no wonder I miss him so much this time of year. Though Dad wasn’t a big gift giver, what he did give was his time, and I realize now this was the greatest gift of all. Whenever I was lonely or troubled, even as a grown woman, I would call home, secretly hoping he’d answer the phone. Much to my mom’s chagrin, he was only too happy to drop everything and have coffee or cupcakes, and preferably both. (He had a terrible sweet tooth.) When my eldest daughter was a toddler, he and my mom called her the cupcake princess, but I know the real reason I made so many cupcakes when she was young. They were for Dad. Baking was my way of thanking him for spending yet another moment with me.
You know, after writing this post, I remembered what it was I used to say to my dad. I used to reply, “It’s pretty good, Dad.” I guess that would still be my answer today. Life is pretty darn good. We only need know how to spend it.
I hope you have a really good Christmas and a happy New Year.