We left Christmas day, loaded up the family and the dogs and drove to my mom’s house, 6 hours away.
I wanted to have Christmas morning at home, open the presents with just the few of us, then leave. But after opening presents, we had to take down the tree, because I didn’t want to come home to a dry, crusty tree with needles littering the floor. And then I needed to clean out the fridge, because I didn’t want to come home two weeks later to green, fuzzy mac and cheese. Because obviously, the mac and cheese has been in the fridge for two weeks already.
Of course, then I wanted to get all the laundry done because I didn’t want to come home with suitcases full of dirty clothes to add to Mount Washalot that has erected itself in my laundry room.
We all know when you’ve been away from your house for nearly two weeks, what you want to come home to is not laundry, your dead Christmas tree, or month old leftovers, but what you want to come home to is your bed and your shower. I was being proactive, longing for the day I would return before I ever left.
After arriving at my mom’s house, we opened presents. Now there are families who have organized Christmas present opening, and then there are families who don’t. I would belong to the latter. Paper is flying, kids are screaming, you practically need ear plugs for all the shouting and people talking at once. It is sheer chaos. Someone inevitably opens someone else’s underwear and looks quizzically at it until someone shouts out “that belongs to uncle herbert” or something like it. Also there is usually a lone, leftover present buried under the wrappings that is discovered during clean up, which the recipient grabs with glee.
I got towels. Which is not the reason I cried on Christmas.
The reason I cried on Christmas is because tucked inside the box with the towels was an envelope addressed to me, written in my dad’s printed hand, with my mom’s address (I haven’t lived there in more than 20 years). No matter how many years he’s been gone, I doubt I’ll ever forget his handwriting. I held the card and studied it curiously, much like the kid with someone else’s underwear in hand. The room shouted and carried on around me, but I was alone with this envelope.
I turned it over. My uncle, my dad’s only brother, had written on the back. He had found it and decided to send it on to me. You see, my parents separated when I was about 12 years old, and my dad moved to Oklahoma. It was still the age of letter writing so it wasn’t uncommon to receive his cards and letters, usually with a little cash tucked inside. While we were growing up, we talked on the phone every Sunday after church. That’s when he knew he could reach my sister and I together, along with the rest of the family, because we all met together at my grandmother’s house,( the very house I sit in while typing this), for Sunday dinner that always, without fail, consisted of roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and rolls.
I held the card in both of my hands and with a bit of a nervous nature I opened it carefully, trying not to tear off any of the writing, the post mark, or any part of the envelope. It had instantly become precious to me. A message from my dad, nearly three years after he died.
Inside was a card. A Valentine’s card for a little girl. With hearts, a rainbow, and a teddy bear on the front. I didn’t bother reading the message inside the card, but instead my eyes fell to the blue ink underneath the commercial greeting, where my dad had written, “I love and miss you daily—- DAD”
And that’s why I cried on Christmas.
Tears began to fall uncontrollably. You see, I expected to receive the towels. (My mom’s been harping on me for years about my towels.) I expected the sweater, the oil and vinegar bottle, all the things I had told people I wanted. But this card, this was an unexpected surprise. A Valentine’s Day card on Christmas Day.
And the message he gave me, although he meant it years ago and it was intended to be read in the past, was more than fitting for the present. Because now, our situation has changed and he’s the one who is loved and missed daily.
I wiped my tears away quickly with the palm of my hand to no avail. More fell just as swiftly as I wiped. I then showed the card to my family. I don’t think any of them understood, until I face timed my sister.
She got it. She understood.
My dad was with me for Christmas this year.
It was the best gift I have ever received.
Uncle Leon, Thank you so much for sending it on.