By Brenda Bevan Remmes
My father loved Christmas more than any person I know. He told us when he was a boy growing up in a strict Methodist family in Pennsylvania, he and his three brothers received a basket of fruit and nuts under the tree—the sum total of the gift-giving.
My father and his brothers all became men of substance: important men, busy men, men addicted to proving themselves by putting in long hours at their jobs at the expense of time with their families. Christmas turned into my father’s moment to give-back for all the violin concerts, baseball games and little theater performances he’d missed.
What my father bestowed upon us came in waves, an excess of curiosities depending on the best deal that caught his eye during the few times he walked through the local department store. In an effort, I think, not to offend or show favoritism, he often gave us all the same thing. With the advent of 24 hour specials sandwiched in between the occasional television shows he watched, his gifts became amusingly predictable.
I remember Christmases where we all got a suitcase, pillows, or steak knife sets. Remember those little orange plastic skewers to core an apple? We got those along with an onion slicer specially designed to make fried onion rings, amusing since none of us liked onion rings. Only later did I realize my mother loved onion rings, but refrained from eating anything fried.
We received make-up kits, even though we wore little make-up, and numerous boxes of dusting powder which piled up in closets between chocolate covered cherries wrapped in silver foil. At one point he developed a friendship with a fine jewelry dealer. That was a banner year. Alas, the dealer died shortly thereafter and that was the end of what we all hoped would be a new standard of gifts that might appear under the tree.
My father’s generosity extended far beyond our immediate family. It was a rare person who knew him that didn’t receive a seasonal token of appreciation. As he approached what he knew would be his last Christmas, he went into a frenzy of catalog buying. Some days the UPS and FedEx trucks sat bumper to bumper in his drive waiting their turn to unload. Mother would simply roll her eyes and disappear into the kitchen as the packages piled up. After his death, she overheard several women at her beauty parlor discussing the wonderful shortbread cookies he had sent them for Christmas. My mother had never met the women and didn’t introduce herself, but she paid the credit card bill for those two dozen orders plus countless other unexpected gifts.
Last Christmas as I sat around the lit tree with my boys and their families we began to reminisce about the gifts they’d received from me in the past. “Remember the year you gave us luggage?” my youngest asked. “What were we, eight and ten? Were you trying to get rid of us?”
“Did I give you luggage?” I asked. “Surely not.”
“Yep, and then there was the year you gave us pillows,” the oldest said. “We got pillows from Santa Claus. I couldn’t believe it. My friends laughed out loud.”
“Pillows I remember,” I confessed. “They were goose down—on sale—a rare find. You slept better, didn’t you?”
“What about those crystal balls from Czechoslovakia?”
“I thought they might be valuable someday,” I said. “A friend gave me a deal.”
“And the country western CDs of Charlie Pride? Really, Mom.”
I slumped in my chair. “All that bad, huh?”
“It was pretty weird,” one said and the other nodded in agreement. “We just figured you went a little bonkers around Christmas time. We gave up telling you what we wanted and agreed there was some quirk in your DNA that switched on with the Christmas lights.”
“I suppose,” I admitted, feeling a bit ashamed that I’d let my buying get out of control. “Honestly,” I paused and threw up my arms in a small gesture of apology. “I thought I was giving you exactly what you wanted.”