Posts Tagged ‘parents’

She was a pro at just sneaking it into the conversation.  We would all be sitting at the dinner table, our forks raised mid-bite, and she would just slide it in.

“Would you be able to dig the decorations out of the cubby hole for me tomorrow?” she would ask, simultaneously dishing out more potatoes and smiling lovingly at my dad from across the table.

And there it was, with those few words uttered, Christmas had officially begun.

When I was a kid the surest sign that Christmas was coming was not the sound of Christmas music playing on the radio or the smell of cookies baking in the oven, no, not for me.  For me, Christmas did not officially begin until the decorations came out from under the stairs.  It’s funny that I have maybe a handful of memories of actually putting up the decorations, trimming the tree, all of that, but at least twice as many of the process it took to get those decorations out from the spot they called home for the remaining 11 months of the year.

The “cubby hole” at our house was just that – a cupboard/hole under our stairs that at its opening was large enough for a full size door but which, at its depth, was barely tall enough for a 10 year old, let alone a grown man, to crawl on hands and knees. My father had ingeniously turned the largest section of it into a walk-in closet / mudroom and by hammering a few nails into the exposed 2 x 4s, thereby creating an effective little coat room.

The remainder of the space was used for storage, and as the place my brother would threaten to lock me when my parents were out and he was “babysitting.”

But I digress.

On the appointed day my dad would crawl deep into the depths of the cubby hole in search of the Christmas tree and all of its assorted accessories. Now this was a time before lovely Rubbermaid stacking containers and handy cloth sacks for holding artificial trees so our decorations spent 11 months of the year stuffed in aging cardboard boxes. Boxes that would inevitably disintegrate at the first touch, causing ornaments and knick-knacks to spill, scattering into the farthest reaches of the darkness.

And let me say, it’s not like there were one or two boxes.  Oh no, there were always at least a dozen.  They were varying sizes, varying shapes and notoriously poorly marked so although my mother could tell by merely glancing at them that the toilet paper box was definitely Christmas but the photocopy box was, of course, Halloween, my father had absolutely no idea.  So he would push all of them to the door of the cubby hole and yell up to my mother to please come down and tell him which ones she needed.

It was at this point in the process where he usually ended up hitting his head.  It always happened; if it was a good year it happened only once.  Then there would come the inevitable string of profanities, laced together with such mastery that my brother and I would sit wide-eyed on the stairs and cover our mouths in shock.  We were normally told to “stay out of the way” during this whole ordeal but, through the years, we discovered just how far away we needed to be to make ourselves scarce, while still being close enough to partake of the show.

I, of course, was not there when my parents got married but I do believe that the yearly unearthing of the Christmas decorations must have been present in their wedding vows.  I promise to love, honour and once a year I will crawl down into a dark, dusty, dingy crawl space and dig out 17 boxes of holiday decorations.  It must have been there because he did it…every single year.  And even though he would bang his head, and even though he would swear, and even though I’m sure he hated every minute of it, he did it.

Because she asked him to.

I am all grown up now (apparently) and I have my own house, and my own 17 boxes of Christmas decorations.  The ornament didn’t fall far from the Christmas tree on that one.  And, just like they did in all of my childhood memories, my decorations live in a closet under my stairs.  And as I look at the calendar I see that it’s almost that time again, almost time for me to make my foray into that dark closet and dig out my boxes.

And when I do, I will probably hit my head, and I will probably scream like a little girl when a spider scurries across the floor in front of me, but deep inside I will be enjoying it.  Because it makes me think of my childhood, and my parents, and all the magic and wonder that lives under the stairs.

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Yesterday was my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.

40 years.

I really don’t know what to do with that; it’s really too much to wrap my head around.

They got married, had two kids and then decided to move across the country with a newborn and a toddler. My dad got a new job and they packed up and moved away from all of their family and the only life they had ever known to start a new life just the four of us.

For better or worse.

They arrived in their new home and my dad had to start work right away so my mom was alone with us in an empty house. The moving truck that held all of our belongings was sitting at the side of the highway, somewhere east of the Rocky Mountains, abandoned by a driver who had apparently had a nervous breakdown.

I’m sure my mom was in the process of having a breakdown of her own. Imagine living with two kids with no toys, no tv, no pots and pans, no beds. I have no idea how their marriage survived it.

Years later when they tell the story they laugh, glancing at each other across the room, their eyes dancing at the memory.

40 years.

When I had just entered high school my dad had routine eye surgery that turned out to be anything but routine.

In sickness and in health.

It turned into a series of surgeries, each one scarier than the one before it, spanning over five years and resulting in him losing sight completely in one eye.  Then, six weeks before my wedding, a phone call from my dad from the golf course informed us that it was all starting again, only now with the other eye. I worried, selfishly, that he wouldn’t be able to walk me down the aisle while my mom grappled with the possibility of her husband going blind.

Thankfully the next surgery went well and they began to envision their future in a different way. They started to plan trips, focusing on enjoying their time together.

Then, less than two years later my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and their roles shifted. Now it was my dad’s turn to take care of him, as she had done for him the years before.

In good times and in bad.

They have since welcomed four grandchildren, moved three times, buried one of their parents and wrestled with the issues of caring for two other aging parents from 3,000 miles away.

And to this day they seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They have friendly competitions over who gets the most answers on the daily crossword puzzle. They finish each other’s sentences and laugh at each other’s jokes. They bicker over how to load the dishwasher. They are a team.  They fell in love all those years ago and created a family and a life together.

40 years.

My own hubby and I are a couple of weeks away from celebrating our 11th anniversary and I can’t even imagine where we’ll be 29 years from now. I can just hope that we’ll weather the storms and be as happy as my parents are.

40 years.


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