I’ll say this much for my parents, when it came to death, they weren’t lingerers. With both my mom and my dad, the doctors and nurses told us they were dying, but it could be a matter of months. Both of them died within a few days of the doctors’ pronouncements.
But you know when they were lingerers? Over breakfast on Christmas morning.
Unlike every other family that my sister and I knew, we did not get up at the crack of dawn to open our presents. Instead Mom and Dad and our grandmother, who usually had joined us for Christmas, would sleep late and then we would have a very, very long, full breakfast with eggs, sausage and bacon. And THEN they would cut into the homemade stollen that mom had made and, for the only time each year, my dad would drink coffee. He’d dunk the stollen in it. The whole time, Jeannie and I would be dying to get to the presents. Every Christmas I remember wishing I belonged to another family, one that actually managed to open its presents by sunrise.
Then, and only then, would we go into the living room and start to open presents. Again, we did this differently than every other family I knew. Dad would play Santa and he’d pass out a present one at a time and we’d all have to ooh and ahh as the person opened the gift. That is a fine and lovely idea in theory, but when you’re 10 and you know that there is a good chance there’s a new bike with your name waiting for you down in the basement, it is torture. Especially if your grandmother unwraps each present as if she is going to re-use the paper, carefully making sure she doesn’t rip the wrapping as she peels off each piece of tape individually. I can feel my body tensing now just thinking about it.
Inevitably, my best friend Debbie would call to see what I’d gotten for Christmas- she would have finished opening presents six hours ago. This was the days before answering machines so I’d have to give her a mid-opening report and tell her I’d get back to her in a few hours when we were finished. My family tended to overdo it a bit at Christmas, so it literally took us hours to open up the presents... there was none of just diving in and when every one came up for air, the living room looked like a colorful war zone. I think we finished before it got dark out, but we probably were cutting it pretty close sometimes. There may have even been a few years when we broke for lunch.
Years later, my sister asked my parents why they made us sleep late and linger over breakfast when we were clearly going crazy. Their answer: They didn’t know. That was it. Not that they wanted to intentionally torture us or not even that they really wanted to relax and enjoy the day. “They didn’t know.” That will go down as one of the all-time least satisfactory answers ever. Ever.
So today, my sister and I had our first Christmas without a parent being alive. And you know what? I made a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and sausage. We lingered over our meal and had some stollen. Then we opened up our presents, one by one. We could finally do it any way we wanted to and we didn’t change a thing. Maybe our parents had it right all along... Nah...
Dec. 25: Heifer International
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