Family & Friends

A Christmas Gift From My Father

Christmases were a big deal to my father, a larger than life figure himself, a man who enjoyed making others happy; he did this primarily by using his amazing artistic powers to create unusual homes, holiday tableaus, whatever struck his fancy. As he was my only parent, I was more than occasionally the focus of this attention—attention I did not always cherish.  An example: as a child I once won an award for selling more Camp Fire Girl peanuts than any other Camp Fire Girl in town. While I dutifully canvassed the local neighborhoods, cans of peanuts in hand, selling what I could, it was my father’s insistence that his clients, employees of large engineering and architectural firms, purchase peanuts to have on their desks, a nice welcome for visiting salesmen.  (In those days salespeople were all men.) Even at a young age I knew it wasn’t my award; it was his.  But that’s another story.)

One Christmas my father learned that our town sponsored a holiday house-decorating contest. He found in a storehouse—and don’t ask me how; this was long before the Internet—a  piano-playing Santa, no doubt a department store holiday window display from earlier days.  With Santa in tow, my father proceeded to construct in our front yard a stage from which Santa played his piano, attracting hordes of cars that drove past our busy street.  During the holidays it was difficult to get in and out of our driveway.


Every year the display grew; initially it was simply Santa and the piano and the endless Christmas music that must have driven our neighbors insane, though I do recall that we faithfully turned it off at ten every evening. The following year my father added an additional room to the display with two child mannequins peeking around the corner to watch Santa playing. I think that at one point a dog mannequin also joined the fray.

One New Year’s, Santa sported an ice pack on his head while a champagne bottle decorated the piano top. When our local paper proclaimed that Santa playing the piano had won first place in the contest, guess who was chosen to accept the award?

One year, vandals knocked Santa off his piano bench, a story that also made the paper.  Perhaps one of our neighbors had tired of hearing “Jingle Bells” for the hundredth time. Or, more likely, bored teenagers were the culprits, wondering if that champagne bottle was full. Regardless, I still have notes from strangers who wrote thanking us for enchanting their children. And isn’t that part of what the holiday season is about: the enchantment, the magic we share with youngsters?

Today I look back with fondness on those Christmas displays my father spent so much time perfecting, though I can recall with astounding clarity that at the time I was mortified by the entire proceedings. Embarrassed? You bet.  As a child I was embarrassed about most everything involving little ol’ me, though today I am able to laugh off many of life’s absurdities, a gift from my time spent with a remarkable man.  My father gave me a childhood to remember; every day was an adventure. How he accomplished this as a single parent remains a mystery, particularly at a time when single parenthood, particularly for a man, was rare. As the years pass I have come to love his eccentricities, his sense of humor, his huge heart.

Merry Christmas, Dad.  I miss you.

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