And Christmas Came Anyway

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Monette Bebow-Reinhard

Editor’s note: To celebrate Christmas, the Times Herald invited several local authors to submit holiday-related articles for publication. Here are their submissions.

Dad and I had always been close. It could have been because I was his eldest daughter or because we seemed to think and laugh alike. Or maybe he only doted on me because my little sister died some years before. Only a few days after returning from cutting our Christmas tree at Rawhide that December 1967, I watched with growing unease as he called his doctor about a pain shooting down his left side.

The next day he was in the hospital preparing for surgery. The Christmas season should have ground to a halt, but it didn’t. With news that Dad’s surgery had gone well, we made up for lost time getting Christmas ready to come as scheduled.

Even without Dad’s singing to lead us on, we relearned all the Christmas songs. I especially practiced his favorite, “O Holy Night.”

The Christmas tree went up in the basement for the first time as a special welcome home for Dad, because he had been working so hard on the remodeling, with a painted Hawaiian scene on the cement wall and even a running waterfall—both not quite done.

Shortly before he was to be released, we were told he’d need another operation. They couldn’t find anything wrong, they finally admitted. I kept thinking how Dad would miss us this Christmas Eve, miss telling us the Christmas story from the Bible and miss most of all helping Mom with the cookies and eggnog—helping to devour them, that is.

Dad was still a boy at heart, and this was his favorite time of year. I wanted to go to the hospital, too. I thought at least we could sing together.

Mom came back that Christmas Eve and said only my older brother and I could visit him because we were 14 and older. I was glad to go, but my other brother was only a year younger than me, and he hated being left behind. In the waiting room I was surprised to see so many of Dad’s relatives there, most from out of town. Mom took my brother, Marty, into Dad’s room first, making me wait.

I saw the Christmas poster I made for him in art class hanging on the outside of his door. “He can’t see it there,” I said to no one in particular.

Relatives made hushed small talk. I wondered what was going on but was afraid to ask. Why didn’t Grandma know what was wrong with her son?

I went in, wanting to see him sitting up, but instead he just lie there, an oxygen mask over his face. He saw me, and his eyes lit up. I smiled at him but couldn’t think of a thing to say. I took his hand that had stretched toward me.

“You look so pretty,” he said.

My throat clogged so I couldn’t sing. “You’ll be OK, Daddy.” I couldn’t take my eyes off him as my turn to visit ended.

Mom took us home. In heavy haze we listened to her read the Christmas story. I tried singing but couldn’t find the melody. My little sisters didn’t understand the gloom, but they just sat quietly. In immense relief I buried myself under the covers that night, grasping at the little bit of hope I could find.

“Surely, he’ll be fine,” I reasoned. “Wishes come true on Christmas Eve.”

I felt myself shaken awake in what could have been just minutes later. Mom, a little after midnight, said Dad was dead.

That morning we saw under the tree that Santa still came. I saw presents and listened to my sisters giggling, but there was nothing there I wanted. I put my arm around my younger brother and told him how much Dad missed seeing him. We cried together, and then I started singing “O Holy Night.”

The words were different now, but he’s still there, listening, as always.