My youngest son Charlie has a look of pure delight when he is with his brother Chris. It is a look I have seen for fifteen years. When Charlie couldn’t walk he’d watch Chris-his eyes taking in every action. Now he is fifteen and tortuously (is that even a word) antagonizes his brother. Still he has that, for lack of a better word, look.
This Christmas I experienced the feelings behind the look. My stepfather Ralph invited us to his house for Christmas eve. He lives in a small town that is two hours away from Phoenix and located in the middle of nowhere. The plan was we hang out and have breakfast and I’d take the boys to my house and we’d celebrate Christmas with my sister.
The hanging out part entailed building a bonfire. This is one of the beauties of being located in the middle of nowhere. His home is the home that people who don’t live in Arizona envision. Flat dry land, tumbleweed blowing off in the distance and the sounds of the breeze peppered by the occasional coyotes calling across the desert. His plot of land is fenced in so the coyotes don’t get a chance to attack the pets or the pet owners.
Ralph had gathered enough wood for what he called a thirty minute fire. At first I would have to agree. The wood pile was four feet tall. Lit it was almost as tall as Christopher who is 5’11. However it lasted over two hours. The boys took turns breaking the dead trees and tumbleweed that Ralph collected. The trees sustained the fire; the tumbleweed, literally, added color. Some of the tumbleweed when added to the fire would burst into a green flame, others would have a bright yellow hue. If I remembered my high school chemistry I could tell you the elemental content that created the color. The boys were having too much fun to care.
Three hours later, the kindling was gone and four boys: Ralph, Randy, Charlie and Chris were off looking for wood. Chris and Charlie came back with tumbleweed and Ralph and Randy came back with wood. Lori and I were trying to figure out how to stay awake. It was 2 o’clock in the morning!
They showed mercy and let us put out the fire-which is admirable considering they outnumbered us four to two. The tree stayed by the pit waiting for our next adventure and we went in the house and watched The Christmas Story. Or I should say they watched the Christmas Story. I fell asleep in my clothes. It is an unofficial family favorite. How could we not like a movie where the main character’s names are Randy and Ralphie?
The present came in the morning. My mother has been gone for thirteen years. For thirteen years I have ached through life with a piece of my heart missing. Vowing that love for my children would be bigger than the ache their joy sustained me. My sister, on the other hand, dreams of my mother often and tells me how she wakes feeling the most content feeling. Often, and I mean often I have envied Judy and this contentment I have heard but not felt firsthand. Until Christmas morning.
The wind in the middle of nowhere is louder than the city. There aren’t buildings or any other man made features to interfere with the natural. So we awoke to the sound of the wind, instead of an alarm clock. Which meant being able to lie in bed a slowly come out of the sleep world into the real world.
My first vision in my fully awake state was Ralph. The sight was a sight I had seen many times in my childhood-except the hair was a little more salt than pepper. He was at the coffee pot making the morning coffee. For a moment in time I was 21 not 39 and that feeling that I have seen on Charlie’s face was mine. The contentment of knowing that I was with the people I loved and nothing was out of place was mine.
Many gifts were unwrapped that day, but none topped that first present on an unforgettable Christmas morning.