Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sneaky Santa

He always waits until Christmas Eve Day to do his shopping. And he's sneaky about it.

I never really thought much about how my Dad always managed to get my mom the perfect Christmas present, until I paid attention to him in action.

I remember when I was a little girl and him taking me shopping for a gift I could give to my mom. He would park the truck in the lot at Hardware Hank, hand me $15 (which was a fortune back then), and tell me to come out in 20 minutes. Never mind that I didn't have a watch, and I was probably 8 years old at the time. Back then you could feel okay about letting your child go into a store alone. On one occasion I remember being so enthralled with the offerings that I completely lost track of time and ended up being late for Christmas pageant practice at Church, but that's another story.

I had a ball. Hardware Hank always had an old fashioned popcorn maker right as you walked in, but back then I was too shy to grab a bag. They had everything in that store, sleds and record players and toys and my favorite, the kitchen stuff. Yes, even at 8 I was obsessed. I bet I went down each aisle ten times trying to use all of my $15 wisely. I suppose those were the beginnings of my bargain shopping obsession, although my dad never questioned anything I bought or if it was on sale, he simply gave it a look and a smile and drove me home where I would sneak in my bedroom and wrap it.

When I was old enough to drive and truly shop on my own, my dad and I would share quiet whispers starting a few weeks before Christmas, me telling him things Mom had been fond of while we were shopping together, him telling me to go ahead and get them, and giving me some cash.

After I moved away from home I would still offer my services, but I imagine he figured I had enough to deal with and said he would take care of it himself.

Many years he would make something totally unique for her that would always make her cry, and most of the rest of us too. My dad has been a machinist his entire life since he picked up a torch at the age of 5, and he can perform all types of magic with metal and a lot of heat. Every Christmas Eve when we were well into opening gifts and Mom was busying herself in the kitchen, he would proclaim that he had to go over to his shop and "build up the fire". He might secretly snag one of us to come with him if he was going to sneak back something particularly heavy or cumbersome. He made intricate leaf wall hangings, wildlife scenes, and one year a headboard and foot board for their bed, with metal hearts welded into both. It all must have taken him forever, and he was lucky that Mom never went over to the shop while he was working unless he was late for afternoon coffee, which he very rarely was.

Being somewhat retired now (he can't quite give it up yet) he sticks more to the stores for gifts. This year, living at home, I got to do some shopping for him again. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It's the secrets, the sneaking, trying to camouflage the wrapping so Mom won't guess what she's getting before she even begins to open it. She always does that, and sometimes ruins the surprise, but it's part of the fun, just knowing she will try to guess and that most of the time she is right. Except for the year I wrapped a robe in a round Quaker Oatmeal box, that was a tricky one.

In looking over my life of the last 13 years, I have started paying a lot more attention to what I should be looking for in a relationship. How have my parents stayed together for almost 50 years?

In chatting with my dad more these days, and watching him interact with my mom on a daily basis, I realize that he has been the very sticky glue that has helped to keep them so in love.

He listens to what she needs, he goes out of his way to make her happy, he remembers her favorite candy, the book she mentioned she wanted to read, and the new kitchen gadget she'd like to have. The material things inevitably show up in her stocking on Christmas morning, which they do for each other now that the kids are all gone.

My dad is a shining example of what a man should be, and I hope that a lot of his traits will rub off on Riley. He has shown me all the things that a father and husband should be willing to give. If I ever do find another special person to share my life with, he will have a lot to live up to.

A man who will get up early to make me homemade cinnamon rolls. Who goes to the basement to watch football so I can watch the "big" TV. Who changes the oil in my car, fills it with gas, and washes it for me. Such little things, but over the course of a marriage they mean so much.

I love you Dad, for being so sneaky, so sweet, and so what I want my son to be.

1 comment:

Valerie said...

Oh, Heather! I always knew your dad was special. And that he and your mom shared something most couples only dream about. You paint a perfect picture of the man I grew up knowing and respecting. He has always had that special spark--aside from the one coming from the end of his ever-glowing welder. Much love to you and your family. You are so very blessed--and have so much of your dad AND your mom coursing through your veins. You have a lot to be proud of--and nothing to be ashamed of. You haven't failed, sweetheart. Like many of us, me included, it takes a jolt to realize we are worth so much more than we ever imagined. And a second jolt to realize that we deserve better. Believe me when I tell you that your second marriage will be beautiful. You'll find someone like your dad. Someone who works with his hands and values and appreciates life around him--right down to the radishes growing neatly in his garden. Much love, honey. Keep faith.