At Christmas is when I really miss my family the most. What I miss, though, when I think about it, is the sense of family, really — not the individual members.
I can't, for the life of me, remember a bad Christmas growing up, when all of us were together. I know that makes me really lucky, especially after hearing some stories from other people about what it was like for them growing up.
We were never rich; hell, we weren't even well off. Sergeants in the Air Force don't make a ton of money, and my mom didn't work a full-time job until I was in junior high school. But you could never tell that on Christmas at my house. We always had gifts. True, we didn't get a shitload of presents or the really high-end stuff, but we got good, quality gifts. Usually, it was something small, a stocking full of goodies, and then a bigger present.
And my parents always made sure we kids had a few bucks to buy presents too, though we had to earn it via chores and what not.
I loved Christmas time as a kid. It meant family time together, putting up the tree and decorating it. It meant helping mom in the kitchen with the baking. It meant watching my dad turn those old computer punch cards into Christmas wreaths to be hung on the door.
In fact, a lot of my Christmas memories involve my dad. I remember how one year he didn't put the bikes together for me and my brother James ... but not because he got them late or was too lazy to do it before Christmas morning. It was so he could help us put them together.
I remember the few times when he actually went out and got my mom something without her knowing about it. He'd just pop into the bedroom: "Wrap this for your mother."
I remember all the wonderful Christmas brunches he would cook. Eggs how you liked them. Bacon. Sausage. His famous fried rice. French toast, pancakes or waffles — sometimes a couple of them.
I remember him helping his grandkids open presents, and watching him play with them, thinking that must have been how he was with us when I we were that age, his hazel eyes sparkling with laughter and delight.
I remember when I starting working full time and was able to get nice presents for everyone. My dad was always hard to shop for because his attitude was: "Don't waste your money on me." He was the ultimate giver. He always made sure everyone else was taken care of before he saw to his own needs.
I remember the year I got him a recliner, because I knew how much he liked them and because he hadn't had one in years.
I remember the year I got him the huge TV to replace the old, breaking down one. I hauled it into the living room and put it by the tree a good four days before Christmas. "This is your present, but you can't open it till Christmas," I told him. It stayed in the box till Christmas morning.
I remember the first Christmas after he died.
It's the first memory I have of a bad Christmas.
Merry Christmas, Pop. And thanks for all the great Christmases you made sure we had.