My big tough Army guy will be home in four days. He hasn’t been home for Christmas in many, many, many years.
See these cards? Sarge, when he was in elementary school, collected them. He was very, very serious about these Fleer X-Men cards. I bought a lot of them in a dark little local shop run by two swarthy older men who smoked and–in my wild imagination–took bets in the back room.
It was quite a place with quite the New England mafia vibe.
Fast forward to Christmas Eve:
My father was a man who was never at a loss for fun things to do. And at the top of his “fun things to do” list was anything that involved his grandchildren. So on Christmas Eve, when he loaded some of the children into the little trailer of his riding lawn mower for an evening ride around the driveway, no one was surprised.
No one was surprised either when Sarge, despite instructions to the contrary, dropped a stick and reached out of the trailer to retrieve it. A tire ran over his hand. There was blood. Grandpa was devastated. Sarge was not. As I would learn in the years to come, Sarge would require many trips to the ER. The nurses would cheerfully greet us by name and chat with Sarge about school.
Son #1 (home from college and a stranger to emergency rooms) accompanied Sarge and me to the ER this Christmas Eve. I vaguely remember stitches, but no broken bones. Sarge emerged with a nasty bandage and an aching hand. He insisted it was “no big deal, Mom.”
Sarge, unlike his sisters, loved to use the words “Mom” and “Dad”. He’d find a way to work them proudly into any conversation.
Before I went to bed, I took the big stack of X-Men cards I’d been buying from the Mafia guys for months and made a path of cards from Sarge’s lower-level room, down the hall, up the stairs, across the living room to the tree, where his new G.I. Joe trucks and toys were wrapped and waiting. Banjo Man was mystified by my behavior. As usual, he went to sleep and I didn’t (I was always too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve).
Around 2 AM I heard Sarge in the bathroom, so I got up and checked on him. He was hurting and couldn’t sleep either. But the little guy pretended he hadn’t seen the trail of X-Men cards. I told him he could pick them up and start looking, but he wanted to wait until morning. So, with an ice pack and Tylenol, we curled up on the couch, ate cookies and watched television together until dawn, when he went to bed (tiptoeing carefully around the cards, of course).
I wish it was as easy to shop for him this Christmas. I thought about going on ebay and buying him another batch of those odd comic cards, but I thought it might embarrass him. He’s now the G.I. Joe, the real action figure of his childhood toys. I’m at a loss at what to tuck under the tree.
Somehow gift cards just aren’t as much fun, are they?
Most of the time I’m happy that my children grown up, but not at Christmas.