When I was five, my father died.
My dad was the harbinger of Christmas, his voice ringing through the house, singing Christmas carols before Thanksgiving arrived. He had a beautiful baritone voice anyone would love and my sister and brother added the accompaniment. My mother and I were the only two in the family that couldn't sing, but we joined in the best we could.
The day after Thanksgiving, up would go three plastic carolers—dressed in red and green. Two giant plastic candles glowed with good cheer, and carols would blast from speakers my dad had rigged on our front porch. Anyone who knew my father, understood they were welcome in our home, greeted with cups of eggnog, brandy, and laughter.
Sadly, the year I turned five, the carols died along with my father. This was during a time when one didn't discuss death, so in my own way I struggled with the grief the best I could. The year after his death, Kodak came out with the Instamatic camera. Most of you probably don't know what that is, but it was one of the first hand-held cameras a child could use.
The Kodak commercials that year were full of happy families standing around Christmas trees opening presents while sparkling ornaments and fires warmed the soul. In the way of all things children, I decided that if I could get my hands on a Kodak Instamatic camera, I would have my dad back.
Christmas morning had me running down the hallway, through the kitchen, and into the den. I yelped when I saw the presents, just knowing that deep inside, hidden with the recesses of that tree was the answer to death. Inside that camera my father would reside, just waiting to appear next to his family, basking in the warmth of the fire, stockings hanging from the mantle filled with toys and chocolate.
My mother and sister joined me at the tree as I opened presents one after the other, sure that within one my father lived. Finally, disappointment rising, I opened the last present. Nothing. No camera, no way to bring back my dad.
Then, like in all Christmas stories, my sister handed me a present. The gift was small but I knew, I just knew!
Greedy hands ripped at that gift. The magical box had a happy family on the top, a Christmas tree in the background. My heart beating wildly, filled with hope for the first time in months, I had a look at the camera that would heal my wounds.
The flash bulb fit on top—my sister showed me how to put in the film. I stood up and took a picture, waiting to see my father again. I waited some more—the breath caught in my throat.
"Where's the picture?" I finally asked. I looked around, into my sister's face, the one who had given me the gift of a lifetime.
"You have to have it developed."
"You have to take it to the store and they will turn the film into pictures of Mom and me."
Pictures? I didn't want pictures. I wanted my dad.
Something in my brain clicked. At six, I wasn't stupid. I got it. My dad wasn't in the camera. I wondered: Where had I gotten such a dorky idea? Disappointment settled in the pit of my stomach, my dreams crashing around me.
My sister laughed, probably wondering why I had a look of such consternation on my face, because I'm sure it was there.
Yet… at that moment, grief gave way to hope.
As I gazed at our Christmas tree, a warm feeling enveloped me. I glanced at my sister and mother, both with smiles on their faces and something woke inside me. I realized my father would not come back, but that he still lived in the smiles on their faces, the warmth of the large colored bulbs on our Christmas tree. He lived in the tattered music box I loved so well, a tiny Christmas tree with broken ornaments and bent limbed wings.
I reached for my music box and wound it up, waiting for Silent Night to stream forth from steel teeth that had forgotten part of the chorus. A tear slid down my cheek as I found my father in the beauty that surrounded me.
I have lived that memory well as I keep Christmas in my heart as a testament to my father, of his love and laughter and cherished security he offered me for such a short time.
From him, to me, to you, I offer you my best wishes and prayers for this Christmas season. As a gift, I give you Gemini Rising in e-book form, to five people who leave a comment about their favorite Christmas present. I would offer Journey's, The Adventure of Leaf, since the book is written for children who have questions about death, but it doesn't come in an e-book.
In any case, I give Gemini as a Christmas gift, the one that lives in my heart and not in my purse.
Merry Christmas everyone!