The other evening, my husband sat me down for “a talk.” I should’ve realized something was up when he paused the football game he was watching and then got up to pour me a glass of wine before he sat down across from me and started to speak. “You know…I’ve been thinking,” he started, apprehensively. “I’ve been thinking that we’re sending our kids the wrong message with all the excess every year for Christmas. I think this year, we should keep things simple and not go too overboard,” he said.
At this point, my brain went into instant recall to last Christmas. “Uh-oh,” I thought. Last year, I promised him a Christmas of moderation too, but it took nearly two hours for the family to open all of their presents. It wasn’t the value of the gifts or how much really, I had spent that concerned my husband; it was the sheer number of presents that magically appeared under the Christmas tree, and it all looked and felt, excessive. It wasn’t that I had intended to buy all of those gifts, either. I had poorly planned Christmas and second-guessed myself up to the last-minute, and continued to buy more and more. The kids opened each gift, one after the other. They didn’t spend much time on each one and couldn’t wait to open the next. My husband was right. I had gone overboard on Christmas once again, and single-handedly, I lost track of what Christmas really meant to me.
When I was a kid, Christmas gifts were sometimes sparse under our tree back home in Indiana, but still; we could always count on the fact that they would be there waiting for us, each marked with our names, and there by Christmas morning. Back then, my father, who has since passed, was a supervisor for the Indiana State Department of Highways and he always made sure to take all the overtime he could, so that he could afford Christmas for his wife and three kids. The phone would ring in the middle of the nights he would be on call, and he would selflessly, pull himself up out of bed to go out to plow the roads, together with his men.
I remember those blustery nights, when the temperatures would drop well below zero, when Northern Indiana would get pummeled by all that icy, lake-effect snow sent down from Lake Michigan. Mom would get up with my father, pour him his coffee in his thermos and watch as he’d walk out the door. Those nights, she’d sit in the kitchen and listen to the police scanner, hoping that her own husband would be alright, out there in those sometimes, near-blizzard conditions. There were many days and nights in the wintertime when dad wouldn’t even get to come home because he was out there working, plowing roads so people could pass to do their holiday shopping and so that he could earn enough money to put presents under his own family’s tree. For some, those days were called Snow Days and that meant that kids got to miss school. But for us, a snow day meant that dad probably wouldn’t be coming home.
Looking back on all of that now, I realize that working overtime was optional for my dad, like many public service providers. It wasn’t something that he had to do; he didn’t have to get up night after night and brave the chilly night’s air. After all, my dad was a supervisor and he could have sent any of his men out in his replace, but he didn’t. Selflessly, my father climbed out of his own warm bed, put on his coveralls and boots and went out into those cold, blustery nights to plow the roads.
I wrote this today to remind myself of what the Christmas season means to me. In addition to celebrating Christ’s birth; it’s all about the time of year where we remember from where we came and learning to give selflessly, not excessively.
“43-04-10-7 Station-H-KFR640,” was the call my father made back to the highway department when his state-issued truck arrived safely, back in our driveway. We’d always hear it loud and clear, coming through the scanner tucked on top of the refrigerator, and we would watch as our mother would shut it off, just before my father walked the front door.