My dad died two years ago this week. He was 99 years old. That meant that my dad lived through the Great Depression. He was about 14 years old when it began, and 24 years old when the war brought it to an end. My dad was forever marked by the Depression. It was especially evident on Christmas morning, when my brothers and I were growing up. When someone handed our dad a present to open, he first put it on his lap and just looked at it. (I’m not sure why.) Then he carefully removed the bow and set it aside so it didn’t get damaged. He turned the present over to the side where the edges of the paper meet and are taped together. Then he reached into his right hand pocket and pulled out his little pocket knife. Slowly he pulled out the blade. With great care he slid the blade between the two sheets of paper and under the tape so that the paper wasn’t ripped at all. He did this in every spot where there was tape. Then before opening the box, he carefully folded the paper and set it next to the bow.
You see, both the bow and the paper could be used again. The Depression caused him to forever be frugal and save everything! Then, finally, he would open the box and smile at the sweater inside.
This was absolutely excruciating for us kids. We went around the circle opening gifts so everyone could see what everyone else got. My brothers and I all sat with a huge pile of gifts in front of us. We were dying to open our presents, and there we sat as our father took his sweet time saving that paper. It was torture for us.
Of course, we kids were just the opposite. As soon as it was our turn, we pulled off the bow and threw it at our mom. If she wanted to save it, that was her problem. Then we grabbed the paper and ripped it off. My brothers, ever the athletes, wadded the paper into a ball and threw it toward the wastebasket, hoping to score 2 points. We eagerly wanted to get to the present. And, rarely were we disappointed. Usually the response was “Awright! I’ve been wanting this!” Or, “Thanks, Mom, this is perfect.” (She reminded us to thank our dad, but we knew who had done the shopping and gift wrapping.)
On Christmas morning, my dad and his four kids were a stark contrast. We kids had eagerly waited for Christmas morning. We enthusiastically anticipated the gifts our parents and Santa would give. And, Christmas morning was the day we had so earnestly envisioned.
My dad, on the other hand, demonstrated amazing stoicism. No one would ever call our father excited, enthusiastic, or eager. Actually, he saw Christmas Day as the start of the days getting longer - there would be more sunshine every day that followed Christmas. I won’t call him a Scrooge; he wasn’t. But, he didn’t anticipate Christmas with even a glimpse of eagerness.
And, I have to confess: now that I’m an adult, now that I have a kid and a grandchild, too – he had four kids, plus foster kids - now that I have a house that always needs something fixed; now that I watch the cost of a gallon of gas going up again, (and my dad complained when gas was 32 cents/gallon); that is, now that I understand the weight and cares of adulthood, I get the stoicism. It’s pretty hard to be excited when your sister-in-law isn't speaking to the rest of the family; it’s pretty hard to be eager when a child had an emergency appendectomy, a hospital bill you hadn’t budgeted for; it’s hard to be enthusiastic when the company you work for has downsized, giving you more responsibilities, but no more pay.
So, I get it. But, I also know that my dad was a man of faith, and that Christmas was important to him, and that he really loved his kids a lot. And, so this year, I hope to have the eagerness for Christmas that I did 45 years ago, and with that eagerness, honor my dad, the stoic. Because I know that underneath, he was sort of excited about Christmas.