My dad taught us early on that the Godfather and Daddy Warbucks have a lot in common.
White-haired and handsome, Daddy was a bookie with organized crime connections. Several grand juries indicted him over the years, and the FBI raided our home a number of times, taking Daddy to jail. According to us kids, however, federal agents were the real evil. Our lives revolved more around Lego and Lincoln Logs than search warrants and wire taps.
But come December, my dad made up for these legal liabilities, for what my two sisters, brother, and I imagined mere misdemeanors.
Sure, he gave gifts throughout the year—World Series tickets to my sister Lynn when she turned ten, for example—
—but Christmas morning was Daddy’s center stage. There, with one wardrobe adjustment, he morphed, red-suited, into wise guy among Wise Men. A Savior who Jesus-ed us with gifts and trips, he would have outfitted himself in elf couture, if that’s what the occasion called for. I’m convinced of it. He was Superman in a Santa suit—at least in our minds.
You see, Daddy didn’t stuff our stockings with apples and oranges, underwear and socks, but with destination gifts and vacation elation—one year Mexico—another, a Caribbean cruise. He made sure our stockings bulged bigger and sagged deeper than any others in the neighborhood, in all of Pittsburgh, for that matter.
One Christmas morning I remember, he’d already showered us with Barbie dolls and Tonka trucks, GI Joes and Easy Bake Ovens. But pj-ed and pony-tailed in a roomful of presents, we knew the best was yet to come. It was time for Daddy’s annual encore, his curtain call, if you will. He’d lined us up, oldest to youngest, on an orange couch in the living room, our stocking feet twisting, little fingers twitching—so hard to sit still—so much anticipation.
“Are you ready? Daddy rubbed his hands together, drawing out the moment, making it last longer. We held our breath as he approached the stereo, positioning the needle on a song he’d pre-selected. The record played clue number one.
I go years without you.
Enough of cab drivers answering back
In language far from pure.
Enough of frankfurters answering back
Brother, you know you’re in NYC.
“New York,” we squealed. “We’re going to New York City!”
“Are you sure?” he asked, trying to throw us off, get us to second guess ourselves.
“Yes, yes,” we insisted.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Listen.” And again he set the needle down—this time on clue number two.
It’s a hard-knock life for us.
It’s a hard-knock life for us.
We get tricked.
We get kicked.
It’s a hard-knock life!
This was the ironic twist we never understood as kids. It was a hard life we led in legal terms, but not always, and not forever. Daddy’s joke to himself and Mommy, I imagine.
But then he finally fessed up. He confessed the destination.
“Okay. You’re too smart for me,” he said. “You guessed! We’re going to the Big Apple.”
He turned and picked up tickets from the mantle, fanning them in his hand, like playing cards, the theater’s royal flush.
“And we’re going to see Annie on Broadway.”
We hooted. We hollered, high-fiving one another as only happy kids can, my three-year-old brother still wondering what apples had to do with anything.
“But when?” Lynn squealed what we all wanted to know.
So, Daddy silenced us—holding his index finger in the air—“One moment, please.”
Again, Daddy approached the stereo. Again, the music played. This time, clue number three.
The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
They’ll be sun!
Just thinkin’ about
“Tomorrow!” We screamed—up off the couch. “We’re going tomorrow?” This was too good to be true.
Then as the music continued, he turned to Mommy—ceremonial gesture toward the pj-ed peanut gallery.
“The tickets, please.” And she placed the confirmation in each of our hands—airline tickets. And the date—December 26th.
“You better get packing!”
So, of course, we did. We packed every year—that is, until Daddy died in 1981, too young, too soon.
After that—no Christmas passports, no ports of call.
More than thirty years have passed now since Daddy died—no curtain call.
And I wonder sometimes what he does these days on December 25th. I don’t know if Broadway musicals play a place like heaven in the end—if that’s their final run. But if they do, I bet Daddy has orchestra seats. I bet he’s hanging out in bookie paradise, a promised land of legalized gambling, perpetual ESPN, and really good golf.
I still miss Daddy at Christmas time.
What’s your favorite Christmas memory?
Note: Please read my guest post published today on Tori’s blog “The Ramblings.” It’s called “The Far Side of Sanity and Back Again.” I hope you will stop by Tori’s hilarious blog and leave a comment!
Also: If you have not read or left a comment on my most recent Huffington Post piece, pleae do. Only one reader left a comment on that post, so I’m feeling sad. It shares tons of extra photos of gift wrapping with trash ideas that I did not post here.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to each of you! Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and supporting my blog over the past year. I love you all! You make my life richer, fuller——more meaningful!