Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Bright Lights of Home

When the time came to go home for the break at Christmas of my freshman year of college, I expected it to be the typical annual family endurance contest to which I'd always been accustomed. Without a car of my own, I desperately hoped that my best friend would rescue me during the bleak, cold weeks before we returned to our respective campuses.

My father's idea of decorating the house for the holidays consisted of a wreath on either side of the double front door, under the carriage lamps, and another small wreath on the door at the side porch. I'd long admired the homes with small, twinkling white lights on the bare trees and clear-bulbed electrical candles in the windows, but my father eschewed these things as overkill. Unable to mount my annual campaign from far away at dear old SFU, I expected things to be exactly as usual.

As my mother turned onto our street, I beheld a jam-packed yard with standing Christmas decorations, one of which was an angelic choir that was wired for sound. Santa and his reindeer adorned the lady's rooftop. While Mom lamented the traffic snarls it caused, we took a slow circuit of the streets so I could see our other neighbors' decorations. The Chez faces the top of the circle drive; I was admiring some rustic log reindeer and a hand-painted creche when my mother stopped the car opposite our house. Confused by this, I turned to look forward.

Thousands of tiny white lights glittered on the trees lining the driveway and the front walk. Electric candles blazed in all of the front windows, except my sister's room, which was directly above the front door: in her window, there was a miniature Christmas tree with white lights. The wreaths still hung to either side of the door under the carriage lamps, but now there were matching brass hunting horns on each door.

When I was small, before things soured, I decided that my father could turn the night and stars on and off. I would dance by the back door and chant, "Daddy, do! Daddy, DO!", demanding that he perform his magical feat. I was probably no more than three then, so it took him fifteen years to make another stab at it.

My father would have rather died a thousand deaths than to say that he'd missed me at all, and yet here was this strange testament that despite all the misery that had passed between us, my emotionally repressed male parent might actually love me. Much like the letters sent by our Cocker Spaniel (who mysteriously shared his handwriting) when I was studying abroad a few years later, he'd executed an elaborately planned gesture instead of simply telling me.

Anyone who thinks I'm obtuse needs to back up and take a long, hard look at Dr. AiredaleParent. That's where I learned it, and he's a pro.

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