The First Christmas Without My Old Man

The First Christmas Without My Old Man

This is the my first Christmas without my father since he passed in April. Its honestly been strange (I'm not sorrowful but have emotional moments), now I hadn't lived under the same roof with my father in 15 years and with us being 300 miles apart, our Christmases were not really close.

The highlight of our Christmases were phone conversations on and around the holidays. As well as exchanging Christmas cards via the US mail and then trading small presents when I visited him around his birthday the first week of February.

But obviously my best Christmas memories were as a kid, my dad 'was Christmas", he always insisted on "having presents to open on Christmas", he did not like gift certificates and gift cards and he not did give them.

Now as I look to become a parent I think of the hard work my father did to make Christmas special. When I was little the Toy R Us on 87th & Lafayette (just west of the Dan Ryan), would be open 24 hours as it got closer to Christmas. My dad told me years later when he was working the early shift at CTA (starting at 4 A.M.), he would clock in, get his CTA van and go to Toys R Us and buy my toys. He said he would be the only person in there (except a worker and security guard), and he'd load up on my gifts, then come home while I was I still sleeping and drop the gifts off and then go back to work.

When I heard Kohl's would be open all night for the last few days leading up to Christmas, I thought of him and how my dad took time out of his workday to make the extra trips to make sure I had the toys I wanted.

One of my favorite Christmases was 1986, already a great holiday with our first live tree (nailed to the floor as I explain in the previous blog from mid last week), Dad also bought our first real stereo system (from the long gone Musicraft), and he and I built the cabinet and hooked it up Christmas Eve night. I felt special as he trusted me to work on this expensive electronic gift and then we had a great stereo in the living that lasted for years and I still have a speaker from that system in my living room today.

But my best Christmas memory from my dad was from two years later in 1988. I remember early in the evening my dad honestly had too much too drink and it seemed Christmas might be a disappointment and him and I had a difference of opinion, probably about him drinking. He then went to sleep and I had to go to midnight mass (I was an altar sever), and I remember in church thinking about him as I served and trying to be in the Christmas spirit.

So I was not real thrilled about going back home thinking that at worst my dad would still be intoxicated and not in a good mood or at best still passed out.

So my mother (who was singing in the choir), and I carefully come home and to our shock my father not only woke up, cleaned up and sobered up but he made a great meal of shrimp and fries and had the house all ready for Christmas. I will never forget walking my childhood West Pullman home feeling "that was Christmas", that morning and the effort my dad put into that Christmas. I honestly don't remember what my gifts were but I just remember him "making everything great". It was better than any present.

Another great Christmas memory was about ten years ago and a couple of months before Christmas a storm knocked our neighbors tree over right between the houses. If you looked out the back room window all you saw was branches and leaves. I didn't have a chain saw (and my neighbor had no tools at all), so I used my old circular saw and everyday after work for several days I would be outside after work cutting up this tree. It was a ton of work and I did it alone (some nights finishing in the dark), and near the end my circular saw burned up and I finished it by hand with a hack saw.

So obviously I told my dad what happened and he didn't say much about it and I really couldn't afford a new circular saw at the time. But right before Christmas a big box was delivered to me from Sears. I opened it and my dad had bought Sears best Craftsman Circular saw and paid to have it shipped to me. I still have that saw in my tool cabinet.

The last great memory is the most recent from yesterday, I grilled nine pounds of wings for my wife's family's Christmas party and since I had time I figured I'd make barbeque sauce to go with it. I started with a basic recipe and remembered somethings my dad did when he made BBQ sauce. But to my shock after working on it and simmering it all afternoon, when I tasted it, it was my dad's sauce, it smelled like it and tasted like it. I took me back to my West Pullman childhood and of course it was a hit at the party.

So I know this Christmas, my dad is still with me.

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    Charles W. Johnson

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