I mentioned in my last post that we didn't open presents on Christmas until later in the afternoon. That 'tradition' began when I was in high school and continued until my dad passed away. It was both irritating and expected, to the point that when Dad was ready to get started someone would always shout out "Who needs coffee?" and go start a pot just to make Dad have to wait for a little bit.
The thing about my dad, Dick Smith, is he was the epitome of the type A personality. This man ironed his underwear, wore dress shoes with his blue jeans and built his life around his work. He was also an alcoholic who celebrated 47 years of sobriety before his death. AA --and mowing the lawn-- were the only things that received the same level of attention as his work.
In many ways, Dick Smith was 'bigger-than-life.' I have come to understand that Dad was actually an introvert who chose to live an extrovert's life very public life, but I never understood that when I was younger.
The most common reason we didn't gather around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning was that Dad had to go into the office to 'finish up' some work before he could spend time with his family, which meant he would be gone for hours. He always promised he would be home before 10, but that never happened. We used to joke that he was out looking for an open truckstop to buy presents because he had been too busy to go shopping. By the way, I am sure that a couple of my presents over the years did come from a truckstop. So we would end up gathering around the tree at one or two in the afternoon and then Christmas would begin, unless someone shouted out "Who wants coffee?" Even after Dad quit working, this never changed. And it was hell on his grandkids who had to spend half the day staring at presents under the Christmas tree and hearing that they had to wait for their Grandpa to get back from the office before they could open anything.
At Dad's funeral, in 2017, my older brother Andy described growing up as Dick's son "was like hiking around the shoulder of a mountain. When you're that close to a mountain, you can't begin to see it's true shape. You need distance to see that it is a mountain." His words proved to be prophetic. When the service reached that point where the minister asked if anyone in the audience wanted to say something about Dick Smith, the number of folks who stepped up to speak was amazing, and a testament to how many lives Dad had touched.
One of them , looking a little embarrassed, told the crowd that he was going to break a confidence, a promise that he had made to Dad. He felt the story was too important to go untold, even though Dick had sworn him to silence. He went on to say that several years earlier he had been unemployed and had been unable to provide Christmas for his family. He was feeling very low and unworthy. On Christmas morning, someone knocked on his door. It was Dad, with a turkey and all the fixings for a Christmas dinner, and packages for his kids. The man said he'd never been so surprised and grateful in his life and he wanted the world to know that.
My brothers and I were surprised to hear the man's 'confession', but immediately understood the genesis of that: Dad had been unemployed for 16 months back when I was in 7th and 8th grade and he had always told us about his aunt Rose who had sent him a check in early December "so the boys could have Christmas." It was nice, but not unexpected, to hear that my father had paid that gift forward.
What was unexpected was the number of people at that service who then felt compelled to admit that Dad had done the same thing for them during year they were struggling and unable to give their kids a Christmas. Each one was sworn to silence, and until the first story, they all thought they were the only person my Dad had helped in that way. Each of them were as surprised as we were to learn that Dad had gifted a family Christmas, year after year, and he never let anyone know. That was my Dad.
Talk about being too close to the mountain to see what it really was...