Christmas. My mom can be a little over the top when it comes to Christmas presents. Like on Monday, when Mr. UPS dropped a package at the store, addressed to me. There was no indication of who had sent it, but since my mom had posted a similarly unmarked package last week - that one contained three boxes of candy canes and two huge nutcrackers, for the girls - my guess was that the three-foot tall Santa with his full and fluffy beard probably came from the same source.
Christmas. This would have been the 49th that my parents spent together. They got married in '62. Their marriage was pretty typical for a couple from that generation. You're watching Mad Men, yes? Well, their union, my mom and dad's, didn't have that kind of glitz, but the gender roles? Similar. My mom stayed home, did everything that entailed, while my dad worked - a lot. They were comfortable with their tasks. And after forty-eight years, the comfort that one finds in the commonplace can often be taken for granted.
My dad never took my mom for granted.
But - there were things my mom handled, and both she and he understood and accepted this. Christmas presents? Definitely my mom's purview. He may have had input over the years - the Daisy BB gun I got, circa 1976? Maybe he had some say. But the year in, year out?
Thanks for all of that, Mom. Thanks.
A funny thing happened, though, when Karen and I were lucky enough to welcome Elizabeth into our lives. That first Christmas, my dad decided he wanted to get her a Christmas present. Something just from him to her. My mom tells me she had no input on this. He wanted it to be his gift.
My dad, with my daughter?
My parents were married in 1962, I said that, right? Different times, different roles. My mom did so much of the baby stuff, so much of the holding and feeding and clothing. My dad was a dad of his time - so the baby stuff? Not his bailiwick. But when Elizabeth came along? That first time I got fussed when my folks were over and I handed Elizabeth to him, without warning? My dad sat there, holding her, holding his first granddaughter. Worried there at the start - but quickly just smiling, just holding her gentle.
I think my dad loved being a grandfather because he got to experience babies for the first time, in a lot of ways, even though he helped raise three boys.
Loved being a grandfather to Elizabeth. Then Elizabeth and Kristina. And then Eleni, my niece.
But that first year, that first Christmas, he thought about what he could give Elizabeth - and my dad came up with a Silver Bell. This was so unlike him. How did he decide on a Silver Bell? My dad, so tall, and with his big hands, his hands - those hands, at least - his hands at least better suited to the coal mines my grandfather worked, his hands at least better suited there than the pharmacies he would grace. And here was my big, Greek dad, picking out a Silver Bell? Such a little thing in his hands, such a pretty, little, tinkly thing.
My dad had the Bell engraved. One side read:
And on the other side:
It was just splendid. He was so pleased with the gift, with something just from him, just to her.
My dad would do this every year. For Elizabeth - then Kristina, too. And last year, when Eleni arrived, then also for her, for my beautiful niece.
So Eleni received a bell from her Papou - and this is important, so important, because the bells from my dad in 2009 - those would be the last bells he would gift to his grandchildren.
This year, when it was time to unwrap all the decorations, when the halls of our house needed to be decked - so many boxes, so many bags. I love unwrapping the crinkly paper from each treasure. The angel I got Karen in 1988. The Scandinavian Star treetopper that we found in Booneville in 1989, the year before we married.
The Star is there now, as it's been every year, looking down on me as I write.
And then, this year, unwrapping the first Silver Bell.
Unwrapping the Bell. Holding it, so cool in my hand. Hearing its sweet tinkle as I placed it on the mantle. Placing it there, in front of the antique clock, the clock that belonged to Karen's grandparents.
Crying, a little bit. Sure. Yes. A little bit.
We had my family over to our house yesterday, for Christmas Eve. Our first without Papou Tony. And in spite of that, we had a lovely, sweet time. Somber, fleetingly somber - I couldn't quite make it through saying grace, not quite, but still, a sweet time with everyone. With my brother George, and his wife, Karna. Dean, the youngest brother of we three, and his wife, Laura - and little Eleni. Connie and Gordon - Connie godmother to Kristina. Kristine came up - Karen's sister Kristine. What would we have done yesterday without Kristine? And my mom. My mom, of course.
I made drinks - it's been a year since I made Aviations. You should have one right now. Trust me.
3 parts Hendrick's Gin.
1 part lemon juice.
1 part Maraschino Liqueur
1 part Creme de Violette.
Shake with cracked ice, pour into chilled glass. Serve with Luxardo Maraschino cherries. Two cherries, at least - maybe three - because they're so good.
We all visited, and drank, and ate. Opened presents. Near the end of the presents, my mom hands me an envelope addressed to her granddaughters - an envelope and three gift-wrapped boxes. The envelope contained a note, and in the note, my mom wrote about Papou's bells:
December 23, 2010
My dear Elizabeth, Kristina and baby Eleni.
The year 2004. When Elizabeth was born. Papou Tony for Christmas wanted to give Elizabeth a silver bell with her name on it.
He said, I will do this every Christmas so she can get many bells.
2007 Kristina came.
So he did the same.
2009, Baby Eleni came.
So he did the same. A silver bell, to Eleni. From Papou. 2009.
He said they are so beautiful and bright, I hope their future will be as bright as these silver bells. Annio, please keep doing that for me.
So my dear ones, I will as long as I am here. I hope when you get older and understand, please remember your Papou Tony. Because he loved you all very much.
I love you, too. God bless you and Merry Christmas.
So the three girls received three more Silver Bells. Elizabeth and Kristina, their Bells are on the mantle with the others. Beautiful and bright, yes.
Beautiful and bright.
I hope you have a wonderful day - and even if your day doesn't involve Christmas, I hope it involves family and friends. Or thoughts of family and friends. Today's a hard one for me, hard but beautiful, too. I'm lucky to have Karen, and my girls. The friends and family we saw yesterday, the friends and family we'll see later today, in the Valley.
Take a moment, please take a moment and remember. Remember - and wish family and friends, past and present, wish them well.
I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad.