|w/ Santa and my brother Miles|
likely at the Northside or Porter Square Mall in Dothan, AL, circa 1975
Growing up, during the Christmas season, we'd always end up in line waiting to sit on Santa's lap so that we could express our wants and wishes. There was even a time - pretty sure when I was in kindergarten - when my class went on a field trip to the Ann Varnum Show to be on her Christmas special. Live on the air, I was one of the kids called up to sit on Santa's lap. As Santa was asking me what I wanted for Christmas, I was just sitting there tugging on his beard. It got a lot of laughs. Mother loved to recall that story. And she'd say something like, "You were just a doll." The only Christmas morning 'Santa Claus story' I recall is, after a night of great anticipation, usually involving hearing my older siblings warn me to get to bed early so Santa wouldn't skip our house that evening and then listening for reindeer hooves on the roof as I eventually fell asleep, I jumped up with my siblings to go into the den to see what Santa left us. In my mind's eye, I can clearly recall looking at the chair that had all my gifts neatly arranged to create maximum joy in a child's life. After looking a bit, and probably picking up a couple of things, I then raced over to my parents' bedroom, where they were still asleep. With a lot of joy, I jumped on the bed, woke them up and exclaimed, "Guess what Santa brought me! Guess what Santa brought me!" They answered happily, and with looks of surprise on their faces, "What?" I then reeled off all I could think of. I can even see my mother's face today. Amazing, really. A few years passed, and someone told me - either Mother or Leslie - that Santa was not really real. Maybe I felt a little disappointment or shock, but it was soon overcome when I was assured that the Santa gift-giving spectacle would still continue. I guess, in the end, it was those gifts that mattered!
Fast forward to 2012! Easily the best Christmas gift of this year was the time I spent with my dad in his last months and weeks. Although several moments stand out, I want to share just one right now. One visit, just after we had spent some time talking in the den, Dad said he felt like lying down on the sofa. Working together, we got the pillows positioned right, and made sure the oxygen was running properly and the line was not kinked. He then got to where he was comfortable - as comfortable as he could be, I guess. I then asked him if I could do anything else for him. He then said, "Pull that chair up over there, and sit so I can just look at you." So I went after the chair, got it, brought it over and put it a few feet away from him. It took a little while to get the chair positioned at just the right angle and distance to minimize the strain on him. And, for the next several minutes, I just sat there looking over at him, and he was looking at me. It was a little strange at first - in part, because we're a family that likes to fill those awkward silences. Dad looked like he was dozing off at times, and other times his eyes would open and he would just stare at me. I settled in. I just was wondering what was going through his mind. Part of it, I thought, was it had to be that he got satisfaction just looking at me and kind of thinking back to what his life was like at my age. Or maybe, since so many people over the years continuously said I resembled him, perhaps looking at me was like looking in a mirror and seeing what used to be - almost the way I look back with nostalgia at Santa Claus. I hope that moment brought him joy. It did me. I sat there thinking, "This is how I will likely look one day." And I also thought, "This is the man that created me. I wouldn't be here were it not for him." So I sat there, in silence, with lots of warm thoughts, feeling an abundance of gratitude.