I used to be the Grinch
would gripe and groan and green
my way through the holiday season
but that got old and people got tired
of hearing me complain.
A father now,I’m confronted
with the question, Am I obligated
to the preservation of the fat man
down the chimney mythology for my son?
Last night, while walking
home, carrying my 30lb bundle of Finn
up the big hill in the wake
of a diesel belching fire-engine
with a ruddy, pock-marked, slim
version of the fat man in red atop,
I posed the question to Melinda
who replied, who the hell is Santa?
But today I can still remember
being an unbelieving kid
who didn’t appreciate the antics
my parents exhibited to keep us
excited about Christmas.
My younger brother- Kevin would wake
my sister- Lauren and I by six and we were responsible
for wrangling him for a few hours until Dad
declared a decent hour had been reached
and then we barrelled down the hall
into our parents’ bedroom door,
one hand firm on Kevin’s upper arm,
so he couldn’t slip down the stairs
before Dad could.
Dad would bolt upright, bed-headed
and bewildered, What’s the big deal?
he’d ask, Christmas isn’t until tomorrow, you know?
Our faces would bunch up our Lauren’s eyes would roll
and I’d shout, It’s today, Dad!
and he would laugh and mom would emerge
from the bathroom, slightly more presentable
because she’d been caught in pictures
last year wearing old pajamas. Dad would insist
on going down to make sure the old fat guy
hadn’t overdone it on cookies and milk
and fallen asleep on the couch.
So we’d wait for his o.k. to run
down the stairs, through the hall and round
the corner to see the piles, some years smaller than others,
around the crooked, overly decorated tree beside the fireplace
and it’s hearth that shattered my sister’s head one Easter.
Mom and dad always knew exactly
which gift each of us wanted the most,
was sure not to place that one under the tree
but instead hid it just out of site
only to bring it out if and when
a look of disappointment crept across our faces.
I always loved the stockings best.
The small, inexpensive gifts seemed a more reasonable
expectation to accompany the love we tried to give
each other year round but sometimes forgot
Some years when lake effect snow
did not prevent it, we drove to Cleveland
to spend the holidays with Mociute and Tevukas.
In their home, a portrait of 1950s affluence,
we celebrated Kūčios, a Lithuanian meatless meal
on Christmas eve. We ate silke,mushrina, koldunai
and ten other dishes I had to grow older to savor.
Three years, in order to maintain the illusion
of Santa as gift bearer the elders in the family
conspired to distract us in the kitchen or
living room while another put presents beneath
the tree which at Mociute and Tevukas’
was always a wispy white pine with fragile, kid-hands-off
crystal and glass ornaments.
When the gifts were in place and we were called
to the dinner table Dad or Uncle Leonas
slammed the front door, a door never used by family
and cry, What was that?.
He’d open the door for a glance at what
could have only been Santa himself fleeing
the house having been forced to use a less theatrical
entrance due to the existence of a fake fireplace!
The first time this happened, I was puzzled,
the second time, entertained at my sister’s joy
knowing Santa came even though we were cheating
by celebrating Kūčios and opening our gifts early.
By the third time, I was annoyed at my brother’s
disbelief of the charade but today, looking back
I realize I love my parents for the effort they made to help us
believe despite our growing skepticism.
This year Melinda and I agreed to get a tree.
For Finn, we told ourselves.
I wanted to go into the woods
and cut our own, a Spruce sapling
to replace the houseplant we typically
decorated just so we could say we had a Christmas tree.
But instead, our busy lives landed
us at a neighborhood tree lot where we bought
for forty dollars, a short, Charlie Brown-esque
Douglas Fir which despite its lack of height and a fall
from the car on the way up the hill and home
looks magical all lit up and hung
with home-made paper ornaments.
So this year we’ll have a Christmas
that Finn will remember. Not his first,
but one he’ll remember, our first
in our new home and the first with a real tree,
not a fake one like we had at my parents’ house
which always made it too easy to hang ornaments
and bend to lend the illusion of fullness and symmetry.