I often wonder how my children will remember me when I die. Will they remember me as funny? (I definitely think they should remember me as funny.) Kind? Caring? A neat freak? A freaker-outer? It will definitely be a hodgepodge of feelings and memories. Hopefully, the overall lasting impression will be a good one. Kind of like the way I think about my dad. The good and the bad all kind of commingle into one hazy feeling of love.
The date: Friday, December 23, 1994. I spent the day shopping with a girlfriend at Tower City. (Crocker Park, Legacy Village, and Southpark Mall do not exist yet.) We bought trinkets and small gifts for our friends. A gift exchange is in store for that evening.
I park in the garage and walk in through the back hallway. The smell of cayenne pepper, ground beef, and onion waft in the air. My mouth waters. Mom must be making chili. My father is sitting at the dinner table. He is reading a magazine. In the background “Live on Five” is booming. I do not know how he can read with the television so loud. I immediately find the clicker and turn it down. The interruption of noise startles him.
“Your home already?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. “I wanted to have dinner with you and Mom. I need to wrap these.” I point to my bags. “The gift exchange is later.”
“Dinner will be ready soon,” he says absently. He is caught up in a “late breaking news story” on the television.
Instead of watching TV with him, I decide to wrap my gifts. On the way up the stairs to my bedroom, I peek into my mother’s office and say hello.
“Are you staying for dinner?” she asks.
I tell her that I am.
“Oh good,” she smiles warmly. “I miss you.”
I feel a twinge of regret. I have been spending a great deal of time with my friends. I don’t spend time with my parents as often as I should. I live in their house, for Christsake, but yet I never see them. I know that someday they will be gone, and I won’t have these moments to share. I will make it a New Year’s Resolution to spend more time with them.
I wrap my presents. We eat a pleasant dinner. I take a long leisurely shower and get ready.
Around 7:30 o’clock I come downstairs with my beautifully packaged gifts. I set them down on the island. Wheel of Fortune is on. I decide to guess the final puzzle with them. The category is “Things.”
C_ R _ SANT_E_ _ _ . Ten seconds.
“Chrysanthemum,” I yell.
“Nice one.” My mom holds up her hand. We hi-five.
Next to her on the couch is a video cassette case. In a few minutes, my dad will make popcorn and they will sit together and enjoy a movie.
“What are you guys going to watch tonight,” I ask.
“You know your mother,” my dad winks. “It’s Christmastime. Either It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street.”
“Oh, Richie. They are good movies.” She folds her arms across her chest and kind of pouts.
We all laugh. I am a little envious of where they are. 31 years together. They have been through the ringer together, and they have found this place of calm. This quiet life is the life they have finally etched together.
“Honey,” my dad says. “Your mother and I were talking after dinner. We just want you to know we are so proud of the woman you have become. You’re almost done with college. You have good friends. You have a good head on your shoulders.”
My mother is sitting on the couch, nodding and smiling. I feel the tears well in my eyes. I reach down and hug my dad.
“Thanks, Daddy. That means the world to me.”
I go to hug my mom who has stood up.
“We love you,” she says. “We are proud of you.”
I feel euphoric. An unsolicited compliment out of the blue. It’s Christmastime. I am giving presents tonight. I do not think I have ever felt happier in my life.
I say my goodbyes, grab my gifts and my car keys, and head out the door. I place the gifts on the passenger seat and start the ignition. Oh my God, this day cannot get any better: Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby is on the radio.
“Pa rum pa pum pum!” I belt it out. I put the car in reverse and…Bang. I peer in the rearview mirror. The garage door is still down.
What have I done? Reality sets in. My stomach contracts. I turn off the radio and push the button on the garage door opener. The door doesn’t open. I push it again. Nothing. I pull the car up and see the damage. The middle panels bow out. I get out of the car and walk inside again.
“Did you forget something,” Dad asks. His voice still resonates with his sweet compliment.
I do not know how to phrase this so he won’t get mad. “I think I broke the garage.”
“You did what?” He jumps up and moves past me. He opens the side door and peers out. Immediately he assesses the damage.
“Jesus Christ! Are you stupid?” His face is flushed. “What the hell is wrong with you? How the hell are we going to get the cars out? It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow. Shit, we might not be able to get a repairman here until next week.” He slams the door. “Nice going,” he stares me down as he passes me.
And with a “Pa rum pa pum pum,” Poof! There goes all that love and pride straight out the window.
It was the best of Christmases. It was the worst of Christmases. Lived, Learned, Laughed about, Forgiven.