Dad had been in charge of transforming our house for the holidays; now, it was our turn.
Posted in , Dec 18, 2012
This was no ordinary family gathering. We had a job to do. My son and I moved silently up the driveway at my mother’s darkened house. My wife slipped inside the front door.
After days of planning, we, along with my sister and her family, were ready to execute our secret plan: to decorate the house for Christmas while Mom was out.
As the seven of us filed in, I remembered the offhand remark Mom had made at Thanksgiving dinner—the remark that had inspired us. “I guess I’ll let the house go undecorated again this year,” she had said with a sigh. “Christmas just isn’t the same without your father.”
When we were kids, traditions like trimming the tree were family events. Dad called my sister and me into the living room to give us instructions. He supervised everything, down to the smallest detail.
We worked as a team to get the house ready for Christmas, and Dad was our fearless leader. We put together the tree, set up Mom’s Victorian village, hung the stockings.
After my sister and I moved out, Dad took it all on himself. He spent hours turning the house into one big celebration with a lighted angel on the front lawn. Maybe Gabriel, as we called him, couldn’t string lights or hang ornaments, but his presence always seemed to herald the arrival of Christmas.
Now that Dad was gone, Gabriel would stay shut up in his box unless we got back to work ourselves.
With Mom at her Friday night church meeting, we sprang into action. I climbed the ladder to reach the overhead storage shelves and looked around. Now, where would Dad have packed the Christmas stuff? I pictured him directing us where to find it, like he’d done when we were kids.
Sure enough, I spied the tower of boxes labeled “Christmas.” I handed them down to my brother-in-law one by one. I lifted Gabriel out of his box too. His lights were not yet lit, but already the season seemed a little brighter.
Everyone got to work, digging in to look for items we’d cherished from Christmases past.
My niece pulled the Nativity set from a dusty box and set it up. Her sister shook the packing peanuts from the Victorian village scene. My son found balls of working lights and untangled the knots. My brother-in-law took Gabriel outside.
“Has anyone seen the stocking holders?” my sister asked, her arms elbow deep in a box as she rooted around for more decorations. “Or the little set of caroler figurines?”
“They’re here somewhere,” I told her as I dragged another box into the living room for unpacking.
“Dad!” my son called out. “This tree is ridiculously complicated!” He was crouched in front of a giant box of disassembled tree limbs. Our own tree came in four parts and could be snapped together in two minutes. Clearly this was an older model.
The family converged on the puzzle. Dad did this by himself every year, I thought. I wondered how he’d managed. “Anyone have another lower branch?” my wife asked. “There’s a big hole over here.”
The tree began to take shape. Once it was standing, the family got to work on dressing it. Ornaments, lights, ribbons—Christmas came to life before our eyes. Through the window I could see Gabriel’s reassuring glow.
Surely the whole neighborhood had missed him. He and Dad had made a great team. And now they were together again in spirit, true Christmas spirit.
Two hours after we’d arrived, the whirlwind was finished. And not a moment too soon. Mom pulled up while we watched from inside. She got out of the car and stood in front of Gabriel. She was smiling, though her face was wet with tears.
We met her at the door. “Our angel came back for Christmas,” she said. Just like Dad would have wanted. Christmas was Christmas again in our family. Mission: accomplished.
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