When I got to high school, I met friends there I would keep forever, the kind of lifelong friends who saddle you with nicknames hard to shake. As it happens, one of my many nicknames in high-school was Charlie Brown. Perhaps it’s due to my rather large, round head, or maybe I’m just wishy-washy sometimes (I did date a girl named Sally briefly). Whatever the reason, it is one of the names which stuck, along with several derivatives, many of which I couldn’t repeat here. Suffice it to say I’ve been called a blockhead in every imaginable way. Christmas has always been a special time in my family, as it has in many families. I hope you enjoy some of my favorite moments from my past and present, as I present a Charlie Brown Christmas.
When I was a young child, probably 12 or so, there was nothing that a boy my age wanted more than the Atari 2600. My brother and I begged for what seemed like years, until my parents finally acquiesced and got it for us one Christmas. My mother handled most of the shopping and all of the wrapping. She always had ingenious ways and places to hide the gifts before Christmas. Over the years, my brother and I became experts in locating and deciphering each one. That year, we scoured the house for a few days before we finally located the Atari 2600. How did we know it was an Atari? Why, we carefully opened the wrapping to check.
One day after school, while Mom was still at work, we rationalized the opening, taking out of the box, connecting, and playing of the game we couldn’t wait to get: Space Invaders (and I wonder where my children’s beguilement comes from?) When the hour for Mom to come home was approaching, we reversed the process, finally scotch-taping the wrapping paper in perfect position as to not be discovered. This went on for probably a week to 10 days until Christmas finally arrived. Richard and I were quite skilled at feigning surprise as we opened our biggest gift. A gift we had not only discovered, but became expert at before we even received it. As an adult I came clean to my mother about the whole thing and she laughed heartily. I can remember like yesterday her saying the following: “I remember being so impressed with how quickly you and your brother became so good at Space Invaders” afterward we laughed and laughed as she promised I would be paid back someday with children of my own. Oh how she was right, she was ALWAYS right. I miss you mom, especially at this time of year.
Two years ago, right about the same time of year, my son Christian provided me with a moment all parents dread. He prefaced his question with: “Dad, remember how you told me that I could ask you anything at all, and I would always get an honest answer?” I replied: “Yes I do, what is it?” An alarm went off in my head telling me this wouldn’t be easy. He asked me if Santa Clause was real. I asked him what he thought, knowing how he was much smarter than the average 9 year old. He said: “I do not think he is real, I think it is you and mommy that buy our gifts each year.” I struggled for a moment, remembered my promise to him, and told him the truth. He took it pretty well, and I don’t think he was upset for nearly as long as I was.
His brother Andrew, who turns 8 this month, is still a believer. We still talk about Santa, although I can detect the beginnings of skepticism. When his time comes, and the question is asked, the same promise will bind me to tell him the truth. As I look ahead, I know that promise will come back to me several more times for each of my sons, as the questions become much more difficult, and the answers infinitely more important.
One of the things that will remain in my memory forever is our old Christmas tree. As the years went by, and the tree got older and older, I always marveled at the way my mother would transform our old, sickly looking tree into one of the most beautiful things from my childhood. Upon removal from the box, my dad would inevitably say, “Its time we got a new tree, this one has had it”. To which my mother would always reply. “You will be thrown out before this tree is!” Ironically, my wife and I seem to have the same banter each season, with the results being identical; tree stays, you go! After the tree was decorated and lit, there were always one or two evenings, when the tree was aglow, and I was alone, I would sit for a while just mesmerized by the tree. As I began to understand and fully embrace the true meaning of Christmas, the tree became even more meaningful than pretty decorations or glowing lights. For me, it became infinitely more than the sum of its parts. It was a daily reminder of all the good at this time of year: The love of a great family, the cherished gift of having good friends, the spirit of love, compassion, and generosity, all the ideology of being a Christian, which I strive to improve on each year.
As an adult, with a family of my own, I must thank my beautiful wife for the flawless way she makes our home special each Christmas. It is uncanny at how our tree now gives me the same feeling that our old one did growing up. I always joke with her at how there always seems to be a little more each year than the previous one (we have more decorations per sq. ft. than an Oriental Trading catalog!). But truth be told, I wouldn’t want it any other way. She has taken the best traditions from each of our families, and hybridized them into our own unique style. Adele, thank you for all your wonderful work. I’m sure I don’t say it enough, but I so appreciate all you do for our family. Because of you, where we are now has never felt more like home.
Inevitably, the years pass by quickly. The children grow up way too fast. Long after this season’s must have gift is broken, misplaced, or outgrown, the love and spirit of Christmas remain. As my children get older, I know the traditions we set in place for them now will be a part of their future family, a family I hope to be a large part of as patriarch. Not that my dad is ready to relinquish the reigns just yet. One of the things I pray for most at this time of year, aside from my wife and children, is that God allows my father to keep the job for as long as he wants to.