My best – and worst – Christmas
It was the best Christmas ever.
It was the worst Christmas ever.
My apologies to Charles Dickens for paraphrasing his classic opening lines from “A Tale of Two Cities.”
But it fits. Christmas Day of 1992 was my best Christmas ever, and it was my worst. But overall the good part outweighed the bad.
I will explain that later.
I grew up in San Diego celebrating Christmas in the typical American way. Well, except for that no snow thing.
We went to church on Christmas Eve, with us kids part of the church service singing in the children’s choir and dressing up as shepherds, angels and Mary and Joseph.
Afterwards we went home and had to eat some supper before being allowed to finally gather around the tree and open a present or two. Or three. In those days many of the gifts were “practical” ones, like new clothes for school not just toys.
On Christmas morning we got up early, found gifts from Santa, went to church again, then headed over to my uncle’s house for a big dinner and a few more gifts.
We continued much this same tradition when we started our own family.
Only there were the added trips to both my parents’ home and my wife Pam’s family for additional Christmas celebrations besides our own. Sometimes Christmas celebrating lasted for days, if not weeks.
We see that continue today as our children and their spouses plot and plan, getting to both sides of their family for celebrations. Sometimes it is Christmas Eve at one parents’ home, Christmas Day at the other. Or it might be the weekend before or after actual Christmas Day itself.
These days, getting a whole family group together at one time seems to be a major undertaking. It takes as much planning as a military invasion.
But I digress.
In May of 1992 my father retired at the age of 62.
Actually, it was his second retirement. Twenty years earlier he had completed 21 years in the Navy and retired from the military and started working in the vinyl replacement window business in Minneapolis, eventually owning his own company.
My dad was the type of guy whom everybody liked and many people loved to be around. Outgoing, funny, witty and charming. The very epitome of the “nice guy.” Don’t just take my rather biased opinion for it ask anyone who knew him. They will all tell you the same thing.
He was a Chattanooga, Tennessee, boy and had that southern grin and humor that was infectious.
Unfortunately, shortly after he officially retired, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and doctors gave him just six months to live. And, sadly, they were right.
My brothers and their families, scattered around Minnesota and Wisconsin, gathered that Christmas Day at my parents’ retirement home on Lake Volney, near Le Center.
There, surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren, my dad passed away peacefully on Christmas afternoon at the young age of 62.
Some might think this would be the absolutely worst thing that could ever happen on a Christmas Day. Having a loved one die on what is supposed to be the happiest day of the year. Wouldn’t that ruin Christmas forever after?
But, those people would be wrong.
Oh, it was so very sad at the time, no denying that. We all cried and cried and were devastated.
But his death brought us all very close together as a family. It gave us this special bond that is hard to describe. And, unbelievably, made this already very meaningful day have even more meaning.
You see, my dad gave us all a special Christmas gift that December day in 1992.
His gift to us that afternoon was showing us how to die with a strong faith in the Lord. How to love God and all his people. How to love each other as a family, and be loved back by them. How to be a good Christian man.
And, he taught us that Christmas is so much more than a bunch of toys gift-wrapped under a tree.
While I may not remember any specific presents, meals or celebrations during those snow-less California Christmases of my youth and the other ones with my family over the years when I was an adult, that Christmas of 1992 on Lake Volney is one I will never ever forget.
May you have a very merry but also very meaningful Christmas this year.