We usually picked out our tree early, wanting to get a good one before they became scarce and Dad would take it out back by the garage if it was cold and place it in a bucket of sugar water, propped up against the garage to keep it fresh. Then, at about this time on the calendar we would bring it inside and decorate, then that evening sit in the almost darkened living room listening to Christmas carols and enjoying the colors and the shapes of the shadows from the branches on the walls. We would also walk the neighborhood and marvel how the Christmas tree lights sparkled through the windows for all the neighbors to see.
Every year, Dad would take us downtown to our favorite stores and just walk around with us and watch our eyes as he listened to what we said was best. Now he already knew what we wanted from Santa, but he was just double checking us and listening for anything else that would be a smaller gift in the stockings. We three children had our personalized stocking, one red, one green and one blue and they would be hung from the mantle over the fireplace, below the fresh outdoor greens with red berries arranged above surrounding Mom's prized Hummel manger scene.
Finally school was out and we boys would keep ourselves occupied by playing football and basketball to wile the time away when not doing chores. It was a good thing we had plenty of boys in the neighborhood for play because we would have been pinging off the walls in anticipation otherwise and Mom and Dad would have been driven crazy.
Probably the biggest family fun moment, one that ranks right up there with Darren McGavin's "FRAGILE" leg lamp in "The Christmas Story." was Dad decorating our large outdoor evergreen. It was living, large and bulky yet he was determined to decorate it the way he wanted. Mom always held him off as long as she could because she told him it was tacky, but by the twenty-first there was no holding him back. He got out his big ladder and his big box of the old gaudy colored lights that required extensive untangling and a few choice words and he put them on the tree. Then he followed with even larger, gaudy hanging decorations before adding the final touch: a truck load of tinsel. Have you ever tried to remove tinsel from a large, scratchy evergreen? You can't and he would hear about the rest of the winter and into the spring until finally it was gone. Well, as darkness came he plugged it in. It usually took a couple of bulb changes and adjustments but then it came on. We kids and Dad would go outside and marvel at it, although when looking through the window at the indoor tree, I think I understood what Mom meant, but I never said a word. And despite her urging for him to take it down on the twenty-sixth, he refused until New Year's Day. She never walked outside and looked at it when it was shining brightlky.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Dad took the family to the midnight candlelight church service downtown at First Presbyterian. The mood was happy, the kids were fidgety but we made it through and I'm sure, when he was done, that Dr. Buckles was glad. But her never showed anything but smiling love and we all loved him.. And then, when we returned home, we admired the two trees from outside and all of the lights aglow on the block, We were rushed off to bed, but I couldn't sleep, listening to the commotion of Santa Claus unboxing and putting together presents by the fire place. Even though the fire was extinguished before we went to church, I knew the chimney was still hot and wondered how Santa handled that. Mom just said he was magical and nothing could stop him.
But then there was one other thing. If I heard Santa talking downstairs and asked from upstairs if it was time to come down yet, Mom would say "No, go back to sleep for Santa is still working?" I always wondered about Santa's accent, for I don't believe he came from Old Virginny. But then I remembered that he talked like with Santa at Miller and Rhoads in Richmond and my doubts were quelled.
We lost Dad the Christmas after I turned nine, but dear old Mom, bless her heart, always kept it joyful. And as I graduated to my high school years the focus naturally changed. But those days before Christmas as a little boy, when everything and everyone was happy and cheerful and full ofn energy and excitement, were some of the best days in my life and I will always remember them fondly.