Lemme get this straight.
A big fat guy in a red suit
will come down the chimney,
A big fat guy in a red suit
will come down the chimney,
Does your family tell the same stories, over and over again? Mine does. Or my Mom and Dad did. Oh and in case you haven’t noticed, I do too.
My husband is no doubt rolling his eyes and thanking his lucky stars. Because since I started blogging, he is forced to hear fewer repeats of my stories.
To me, the heart and soul of Christmas is Love. And repeating traditions. That is what this story means to me. And even though Christmas is a sadder day than it once was, this story warms my heart. And I tell it every year.
Here. If you haven’t read it before, you may need this.
She told the story every year with a warm smile on her face. Sometimes her eyes got a little bit misty.
“It was 1943, and the War was on, and your father was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the Pacific. We never knew where he was. Like all the other boys I knew, he was in danger every day. We lived for the mail, we were terrified of unfamiliar visitors in uniform. A telegram sent us into a panic. And ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ had just been recorded by Bing Crosby. It was Number One on the Hit Parade.”
That’s how Mom started the story every time.
Of course I’ll Be Home For Christmas was Number One that year. Everyone, or just about, was hoping that someone they loved would, in fact, be home for Christmas. That all the boys would be home for good. But all too many people were disappointed. I doubt there were many dry eyes when that song came on the radio that year or for the next few.
Mom and Dad got engaged right around Pearl Harbor Day, but the War lengthened their courtship significantly because Dad enlisted shortly after the attack. It was to be a long war, and a long engagement. But Mom was in love with her handsome man. If possible, I think that Dad was even more so.
My Dad was drop-dead gorgeous, and I have heard that in his single days, he was a bit of a ladies’ man. Every girl in town, it seemed, had a crush on Dad.
In fact, my Aunt Sally once told me that she had been manning a booth at a church bizarre one Saturday in about 1995, when an elderly woman came up to talk to her.
“Are you Freddie E’s sister?” the woman asked Aunt Sal.
“Yes I am. Do you know my brother?” Aunt Sal responded.
“I did,” she sighed. “I haven’t seen him since we graduated from high school in 1935. Sixty years ago. He was,” she stopped to think of just the right word, “… He was dream-my.”
“He still is,” Sally quipped.
One day not long after after Mom had passed, Dad and I were looking at some pictures I hadn’t seen before.
“Dad,” I told him with wonder looking at a particularly good shot, “You should have gone to Hollywood. You’d have been a star.”
“Nah,” Dad said. “Mom would never have gone with me. And once the war was over, well, I wasn’t going anywhere else without her.”
Dad never quite got over feeling lucky that he had Mom. And he never stopped loving her.
But back to Mom’s story.
“It was Christmas morning, 1943, and I went over to visit Dad’s mom and dad. Grammy E’d had symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for seven or eight years at that point. She could still move around (she was later, when I knew her, almost completely paralyzed), but she could barely talk.”
Mom continued. “But your Dad’s mom was singing ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’ Well, she was trying to sing it, any how. She kept repeating that one line, over and over again. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’ I thought she was crazy.”
“You see,” Mom would say, “Your father had somehow managed to get Christmas leave – he was coming home! He wanted to surprise me and wouldn’t let anyone tell me he was coming. He was expected any minute, and there I was, trying to leave. But I couldn’t stay. That song made me cry; Freddie was so far away, and in so much danger. I couldn’t bear hearing it.”
So Mom left after a while, she had other people and her own family to see. Later Dad caught up with her and they spent most of Christmas together. Both of them always smiled at the memory. Dad was home for Christmas that year, just like in the song. It was a magical year for them both.
Mom was always touched by Dad’s surprise and by his mother’s loving gesture in fighting back the paralysis that was taking over her body to try to get her son’s girl to stay. To sing when she could barely speak.
“I’ve always wished I’d stayed.”
We lost Mom on Easter of 1997, and Dad really never got over her passing.
The song and Mom’s story took on an even more poignant meaning in 2000. Because on Christmas of that year, Dad joined Mom again for the holiday. He went “home” to Mom for Christmas again, joining her in the afterlife.
Even through the sadness of losing Dad on Christmas, I always have to smile when I hear that song. Because I can just see the warmth in Mom’s eyes now as she welcomed Dad home. This time, I’m sure she was waiting for him with open arms.
Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.
But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom. That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?
I looked around the room in wonder. It was, of course, huge. I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.
A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.
As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.
You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes. Heroes always use the front door.
Wanna know what happened?
Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard. It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.
“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting. “A Christmas tree farm.”
Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.
But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere. I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)
Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”
Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.
So back to the Ballroom.
Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!
“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields. You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both. And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*
Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember. But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees. Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field. We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.
But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.
You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all. Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.
And there was another issue.
If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years. We’re way past that. The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?
* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White. So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them. Then again, it was the 60s. Everybody didn’t get a trophy.