Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas, 1961

"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."—Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

Like Dylan Thomas, I find the Christmases of my childhood tend to blend together. I can't recall how old I was when my new Vac-U-Form burst into flames on Christmas morning, or what year I got the chemistry set that allowed me to create gelatinous pink goo that exploded out of the test tube and stuck to the ceiling. However, the Christmas of 1961 stands apart from the others. It was the only Christmas without my father.

1961 was the year the Berlin Wall went up. Things were getting very tense with the Communists, and my father, along with many other reservists, was deployed to Europe. My mother, my sister, and I spent that Christmas with my grandmother and aunts in Fort Wayne.

I wasn't really expecting a call from him. We got regular letters on thin, translucent airmail paper, and once or twice we received a spool of audio tape, but never a phone call. Back then, it was unheard of to get a telephone call from Europe; it was much too expensive.

But Christmas was special, and on Christmas morning when the telephone rang at my grandmother's house, I knew it had to be him, and I raced to be the first to answer it.

"Merry Christmas!" I said, breathlessly.

"Merry Christmas!" said a man's voice. "Do you know who this is?"


"No, it's not your dad. It's your uncle."

"Oh... Hi."

I'm sure my uncle could hear the disappointment in my voice, and years later I felt badly about that, but at the time, all I could feel was the disappointment. I missed my father so much; I needed so much to hear the sound of his voice.

A few months later, he came home. Since then, there hasn't been a Christmas that I haven't heard his voice—until this year.

This will be the first Christmas since 1961 without my father. It will be the first Christmas ever without my mother.

But they will always live on in my memories—especially during the holidays, when so many of those memories come flooding back.

Like the memory of my mother sitting at the old piano at my grandmother's house, playing and singing Sleigh Ride while the rest of us try to keep up—all of us breaking down in laughter when we stumble over the nearly impossible phrase, "These wonderful things are the things we'll remember all through our lives."

So true.

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