Being joyful at this time of year has always been a struggle for me. Early in my life, my father was in the military, but we didn’t live on base with him. Quite often he didn’t get holiday leave to come home, which meant my mother was in a hellish mood. There were several December holidays without him.
There wasn’t much of an improvement after he got out of the military because of strains in his and my mother’s marriage. I often longed to be anywhere except at my house at this time of year.
One Christmas Eve when I was around sixteen and didn’t much care but my brother was nine and still very much into holiday decorations and what Santa would bring, we got ready to put up and decorate our tree. (I suspect because both my parents had British backgrounds, that was why our tree didn’t go up earlier in the month.) The fresh-cut tree was in its stand, the tree skirt precisely placed beneath it, and… There were no hooks for the ornaments.
I’ve always suspected my mother tossed them out because she was never much of a Christmas person. She saw the holiday as extra work put on her to cook, clean, buy and wrap presents, and decorate the house for the holiday. As a feminist, I can understand that. There was very much a division of “man’s work” and “woman’s work” in my house growing up. Her reasoning might have been, “No ornament hooks, no decorating, no tree, no extra work for me.”
This was Christmas Eve close to forty years ago in a small, Virginia town. Nothing would be open to go buy ornament hooks–no CVS, no Target, no Wal-Mart. Nada.
Being a teenager, I was “meh.” My brother, however, was convinced that without a tree it wasn’t really Christmas. He was close to tears.
My Dad went to the tool kit he kept in the house and got a pair of needle-nose pliers. Next, he went to his desk and took out a container of paper clips. He sat in his recliner and began shaping those paper clips into ornament hooks. True to his nature, each one was perfect. It took hours and hours: big tree, lots of ornaments. My mother eventually grasped the reality of it and improved her mood, my brother got more and more excited as each ornament went on the tree, and even this disinterested teenager got into the spirit.
This year will be thirty-seven Christmases without my father, more than I had with him. Each year I bring that memory of him to mind, sitting in his chair and doing what he could to make the holiday meaningful to his children. And it’s the best reminder of what the holidays should mean to families.
It’s my favorite holiday memory, ever.
What’s your favorite holiday memory? Share in the comments.