When you’ve lost someone you love, it’s funny how thoughts of that person pop into your head, no matter how long ago you lost him. My dad died in March of last year, at the admirable old age of 93. Even now, I’ll go to pick up the phone to call him, to share some news with him, and it hits me. I can’t do that anymore. He’s gone.
Dad was a character. There’s just no other way to put it. He was the oil to my mom’s water, the up to her down. She was serious, businesslike and no-nonsense. Dad was more laid back, and he found humor in most everything. Having been born in 1919, he was definitely an old-school dad, not very hands-on or warm and fuzzy. He provided, he traveled a lot, and occasionally he helped us with our homework. Other than that, Dad was pretty much just entertainment, at least when I was a little girl. That probably sounds awful, but I’m nothing if not a realist.
I was talking to a friend recently about my husband’s uncanny ability to find the most amazing gifts for me at this time of year. I don’t mean that he gives me outlandishly expensive gifts; rather, he gives me thoughtful gifts that require planning and effort. I am learning that his ability to do that is not common among all husbands. Several of my girlfriends are waiting in line to take my place should I pass away unexpectedly, and they are very quick to tell me that. Again, I’m a realist.
My conversation with my friend got me to thinking about some of the Christmas gifts my dad got my mom oh-so-many years ago, and I laughed aloud in spite of the pang of sadness that his memory can still bring.
One year, he bought her a bacon cooker and as a bonus, she also got a hot dog cooker. The bacon cooker looked like a toaster, but inside was a black metal rectangle over which you draped raw, stretchy bacon. In a matter of a minute or two, voila, crispy, U-shaped bacon and a drip pan full to overflowing with bacon grease (which my parents kept to cook with later, but that’s another story). To cook hot dogs, you basically just skewered the hot dogs on metal spikes and let ‘er rip. Dad would watch both processes time after time, with enraptured fascination. My mom didn’t speak to him for a week.
Another year, he gifted Mom with a black ashtray adorned with a 3-D naked lady. Mom didn’t smoke, but Dad did, and a lot more after he gave her that awful ashtray. I believe that he believed the gift was a true work of art, just as he believed the bacon and hot dog cookers were marvels of modern engineering. My mom didn’t share his belief about the ashtray, or maybe she just didn’t share his appreciation of fine art.
The piece de resistance, however, was the year that Dad gave mom both a wood-burning kit and an engraving kit. By then, she had gotten used to the nature of Dad’s gifts. Basically, if it fascinated him, it was a good gift for her. I do remember, in his defense, that wood-burning kits were all the rage that year. The 70s truly were a boring decade, weren’t they?
At any rate, all that Christmas Day, I remember Dad trying out the great gift he had gotten Mom. He used that engraving tool to carve his name and social security number into every piece of furniture in the house. He was so proud of his ingenious idea, sure that burglars would be deterred by seeing his ID carved into the furniture. When Mom got a gander at his handiwork, well, she flipped out. There’s no other way to say it. You see, he had not engraved all that personal information on the back of the TV, or underneath the end tables. He had carved it front and center, visible from all angles. My mother’s face turned beet red, and for a moment, she looked as though her head might explode. He had even engraved his name into a blue glass ashtray (ashtrays were a common theme throughout our house – the 70s, remember?).
With the wood-burning kit, dad made a giant plaque with the name “Adams” burned into it. Underneath that, he burned our house number into the wood. He planned to hang the plaque on our front porch, but Mom was having none of that. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing that plaque anywhere in our house after that Christmas Day.
Yes, my father was a character. He was a big man, about 6’2” and 220 lbs., right up to the end; though he was confined to a wheelchair in his last year, I could still see the larger-than-life man that he was to me when I was a little girl. For the most part, he maintained his faculties right up until the day he died, and every now and then his mischievous sense of humor would swim to the surface. He did get grumpier with each passing year, and he completely lost the notion of discretion. If a thought popped into his head, it came rolling out of his mouth. That can make for some uncomfortable situations, believe me.
Dad’s been gone for a year and a half now, and still, I think to call him first when our family has good news to share. I choose to believe that he knows anyway, even though we can’t call to talk about it.
So Dad, I just want to tell you “Merry Christmas.” I feel sure that you’ll spend this one as you did so many of them, tinkering with a new gadget, maybe cooking some bacon to crispy perfection or engraving your name and digits into whatever is within your reach. I also feel sure that Mom knows now the thought behind the unusual gifts you gave her every year. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad one, but I do feel sure that she knows.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.