A Christmas Story
I wrote a story. It's true. My folks said it was okay to share. They almost agreed on all the details. Here it goes:
A Dairy Hairy Christmas Holiday.
In 1998, I was a student at Briercrest College in Caronport Saskatchewan and was home in Ottawa for Christmas. I was in my 3rd year of a Pastoral Leadership degree and spent the majority of my time at home working on a paper covering pastoral responsibilities during the loss of life including counsel, care, planning and performing a funeral. I no longer remember my thesis, but I would say now that a pastor’s primary responsibility is to do whatever is necessary from service to silence to ensure that the grieving know that they are not alone in their suffering.
My parents were divorced (still are), my mother remarried, and my sisters all grown and out of the house, so my break was also spent bouncing around fulfilling obligations to the various branches of my nuclear family. Divorce: I get now why it is called a nuclear family. Boom.
I am not a fan of Christmas. I am not fully a bah-humbugger, but I am skeptical of the expectation that Christmas is a happy and carefree celebration of delight. For me, it is a reminder of what was lost and broken and the merry that we did make was irreverent at best. I longed for the promised peace on earth and good will towards men, but settled with well-timed sarcasm, euchre, and peanut butter marshmallow dainties. The craziest thing about our severed crew is that we still got together, including my mom’s husband, Gerald. Mom & Jerry. Yup, he switched the G to a J, because most people are dumb and pronounce Gerry as Gary. Jerry, a farmer, entered the picture when I was 12 and has always been good natured and easy going. Considering how intense my family could be, Jerry was refreshing because he never added to the hubbub. He would grab a comfy spot on the couch, stay out of the action and just smile. Maybe he was silently mocking us or simply content knowing we were nuts. My main observation about adding Jerry into the mix was that my dad, our stern Dutch patriarch, showed signs of uncertainty and insecurity when mom’s new man was around. My father felt rejected and replaced. I cannot imagine how difficult those gatherings must have been.
The day before I was scheduled to fly back to school, mom and Jerry returned me to my dad’s place to pack, print my paper and spend one last night with my pop. Jerry, who desperately needed grooming, agreed to let the master take a crack at it. I was a barber in college. After a few self-inflicted beautification mishaps, my mother gifted me with proper clippers and scissors. As a result, Clippin’ Cliff’s Chop Shop was born in the halls of my dorm. Clippin' Cliff’s Hack Shack would have also been an appropriate title. For $5, I would cut your hair and my knuckle skin. How about A Bloody Cheap Salon as a business name? ANYWAYS, the kitchen was the most suitable location. Dad was at work. I went to work. Dad came home from work. Uh-oh. Jerry’s Dairy Hair was everywhere (say that last line quickly and repeatedly for maximum enjoyment). Beyond finding clippings on his counter, in his sink and on his bananas, he was even less cool with the fact that ‘the milk man’ was in his home.
As a new day dawned, things had become less tense. Dad got over the hair thing, but the weather was the new issue; freezing rain, wind, treacherous roads and flight cancellations. We were unable to check my flight status before hopping in the car, but ventured out hoping for the best. Though delayed, my flight was good to go and after an unsettling amount of time on the runway being de-iced, I was off. My dad later reported that mine was the last flight to leave Ottawa that day before closing the airport completely. I escaped what is still listed as Canada’s worst natural disaster. Three separate storm fronts converged leading to 85 millimetres of frozen rain in the Ottawa area. Thickening ice, shattered trees, downed power lines and well…you get it.
If it was just our nuclear family affected by the storm, my dad would have been the one who had it the worst. It started with just needing a shower, but he eventually moved in with my sister. Okay, so maybe she had it worse (I love you dad). But, it wasn’t just us anymore. We now had Jerry. The farm had lost power too and Jerry had a lot of cows that needed milking. He used automated milkers, so he needed to milk by hand and simply could not keep up. Typically, when one farmer is in distress, the whole community comes together to support with whatever is needed. Unfortunately, the whole community was in the same boat. This is the point in the story where my dad becomes my hero. He gets in the car and braves the world’s largest outdoor skating rink that is Highway 31 and the rural roads which are just a slip from a deep ditch. Occasionally having to dodge fallen power lines, my dad risked his life to help the man who was a living reminder of all that was wrong with said life. Love your enemies? Exactly. As it turned out, Jerry was able to get most of the milking done before dad arrived thanks to a borrowed generator. My dad did milk a cow and helped clean the barn, but I suppose he did not need to leave home that day. But, that's not the point of the story is it? What he truly accomplished was that he faced his own grief for the better of a fellow human being who was also struggling.
I have now what I describe as a “functional-dysfunctional” family. My two dads share a love for cheese curds, grilled meats and I would even like to believe that they exchange stories of my mom’s neurosis from time to time. Dad remarried May of ’99 to a super cool lady named Sandi and oddly enough, my parents and their respective spouses do stuff together now. “You all went for a ride in Jerry’s boat…for real?” “Mom made a rhubarb cake to for Sandi to serve to seniors… serious? Yup, it’s weird, but it is more than I could have ever hoped or imagined.
After my dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer last year (don’t panic, he’s okay!) it was Jerry who paid for my flight to come home to surprise dad on his birthday. I am lucky to have such wonderful examples of love and sacrifice in my life. Choosing to reflect on family renewal and creating memories of with my own children I am becoming a fan of Christmas again.
In times of loss, whether loss of life, or a relationship, or even electricity, if that loss is met with selfless compassion, there can be life, healing and a new beginning. It is our primary responsibility to do whatever is necessary from service to silence to ensure that the ones grieving around us know that they are not alone in their suffering. Peace on earth may not be possible in our lifetime, but good will towards men is a daily opportunity for us all.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!