I guess you could say I’m a kid at heart, especially when it comes to Christmas. I’m the first to put up the decorations, and the last to take them down. I partly blame my dad for my obsession with Christmas. He brought magic to the season throughout my youth. I have fond memories of hanging glittery painted balls on the tree between the bubble lights and handmade ornaments. I remember the dreadful worry of Santa not making it into our living room because Dad teased he would keep the fire alive in the chimney all night. Each Christmas morning I woke up to find hard candy in zigzag shapes in my stocking, and always an orange stuffed in the toe.
The best surprises of all awaited me under the tree and I was never disappointed. Besides presents from Santa, Dad always personally contributed to the bounty. He carefully handpicked each gift, displaying his sensitivity to my personality. I always received my fair share of dolls and the typical girlie treasures, but Dad was responsible for the telescope, a red Schwinn bike, and a chemistry set which was the source of many creative concoctions. When I turned twelve, he gave me a tiny transistor radio which was the rage that year, and the envy of my friends. I don’t know where he got all his grand ideas, but one thing was certain. The gift would be straight from his heart and a complete surprise.
The magic of the season flowed through my veins and I kept it alive as I grew, left home, and began a family of my own. My dad continued to be an integral part of each season’s celebrations. It was one of the things most endearing about him. That’s why I’ll never understand why he left us, just ten days before Christmas that year.
I remember the day well. I was Christmas shopping when I received the call. My dad, always healthy and vibrant, had just suffered a stroke. I almost didn’t take it seriously. He would be alright. You grow up believing that dads will always be there. One can imagine my shock when I arrived at the hospital and he wasn’t conscious. Within hours he quietly passed from this life into the next without even a chance to say good-bye . . . and only ten days before our favorite day of the year.
Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows what the next few days are like. Everything is a blur. Somehow one gets through the planning, the guests, the necessary meals, the funeral. Somehow. It’s the days that follow that are actually the hardest to bear when everyone else goes back to life as they know it.
Christmas still had to happen. My dad would want it that way, so we pressed on, going through the motions. If nothing else, I had to have a real Christmas tree. There had never been a Christmas in my home without the fragrant smell of pine, and this year it was more important than ever. Being only a few days before the twenty-fifth made this a bit tricky, but my husband humored me and drove literally miles to find one. Satisfied to have a tree, I couldn’t bring myself to decorate it. I saved that for a different day. We would get through this Christmas the best we could without Dad. Somehow.
The Sunday before Christmas was especially lonely. I came home early from church and walked into my living room where the tree stood barren, patiently waiting to be adorned. Like the tree without lights and tinsel, I lacked holiday cheer. As my mind drifted to happier scenes of Christmases past, my gaze left the tree, slowly focusing on a lone rose bush in the backyard; the rose bush my dad had given me for Mother’s Day several years before.
Squinting, I shifted my angle by the window to reduce the glare. I blinked several times, not believing what I saw. The scraggly, unkempt bush was bearing a solitary white rose in full bloom with a blush of pink brushing the edge of each petal. I rushed outside for a closer look, only to see not just one rose, but eleven other buds in varying stages of development. I counted twice to be sure, but there were exactly one dozen roses on the bush. Twelve roses that individually unfolded their tender petals, revealing life and hope throughout the entire Christmas season. My dad hadn’t forgotten me that Christmas. He managed to give one last perfect gift, a dozen Christmas roses–an assurance of his love and presence during our favorite time of year.