Sunday, December 09, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 12-16-07
Jeff Gill

Sunrise From Days Gone By

Normally, he would leave for work this time of year before the sun was up.

He was used to tip-toeing around the scatter of toys and newspapers in the living room, quietly pitching his lunch into the cooler bag without turning on any more lights than the one inside the refrigerator.

Not a sound rose out of the sink other than running water, since he and his wife had strong and shared views about doing dishes before bedtime, going back to their separate but shared childhoods in homes filled with chaos.

You may not be able to clear every item off the floor with kids in the house, but you can at least wash up or load the dishwasher. He smiled in the dimness while he entertained that recurring thought.

A late night and a slow day ahead meant that he’d slept in, which meant 6:30 am today. Within minutes the kids would be up and turning on the Christmas tree lights and flipping the TV to some animated oddity. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be around for that activity, which he rarely got to experience. Whether he was there or not, the kids would look to Mom for breakfast and lunch money, so he could just be a cheerful observer, which was his plan.

The cheerful part took conscious effort, not because he wasn’t happy this pre-holiday week. Every year as Christmas drew near he wondered when he would feel the weight of Christmases gone by lift a bit, and maybe even fall away entirely.

The joy of his own children lightened his spirits no matter what, yet it always made him think about the young boy he had once been, living with his father in a shabby double, his mother gone almost before he could recall. There was something about shopping for gifts that made him think of the year, heading into middle school, when Dad gave him a six-pack of beer for Christmas. From Dad, that was a real gift, and it was a measure of the side of him that wanted to be a good father that he never, no matter what, asked for one of those beers, even the first few years when they stayed on the fridge shelf for weeks.

As he got older, the misguided gift continued year by year, along with valiant paternal attempts to find a wallet or belt or knife that would work as a Christmas surprise for a kid who never played with toys. Then it was college, and a beer sodden first semester, a near-death moment for a friend so drunk his lungs forgot to pump air, and then the awkward statement a week before Christmas when he got home: “Dad, please don’t give me any beer, because I don’t want to drink ever again.”

Dad didn’t argue, he recalled, looking out over the sink and into the backyard where a swing and sandbox and treefort looked almost oddly normal to him, even now. He just said “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.” Other than a muttered “don’t know what I’m gonna get you now,” there was no complaint, and no further comment, even when a case of cream soda showed up next to his father’s usual case of beer.

They had three more Christmases like that, until the spring when a one car accident on the interstate took dad out of his life. There was never much curiosity about the why or the how of his choice not to drink, but he was grateful for the fact that there was not much grief about it either. He was already dating a woman he’d met at an Al-Anon meeting, and there was a tiny bit of relief swirled with guilt over not having to introduce her to the man who was the reason why he’d come to those meetings.

Right after they’d married, trying to build a world for themselves that began from nothing, they came to Christmas morning with not an empty fridge, but very near one. Not empty wallets, but near enough that going out and buying fancy food items was not in the picture.

So they went to Skip’s Big Boy, where they’d heard from the single lady in the apartment down the hall that Christmas dinner was served on the big day. They figured they could afford that, and walked over in a light snow.

Not only was it cheerful in a quiet way, not only did they hold hands right through the meal, talking of dreams that looked a lot like what the rising sun was revealing this morning, but when they went up to pay, the cashier said “Somebody already got you guys, and left your tip, too. Merry Christmas!”

As he thought about the walk back home, marveling at the possibility that the world had some good in it after all, there was a thunder on the stairs, and a shrieked “hey, my pick on the channel this morning.”

Then a tug at his pants leg, and the words “it’s not fair, dad. It’s my turn, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is, son. It’s not fair, and it’s your turn now. Let’s go talk about this.”

(Continued next week…)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

No comments:

Post a Comment