Dad poked his head out his bedroom door and seeing me pass by yanked me inside.
“Help me wrap!”
He needed help with gifts for my younger brother and sister.
We sat on the floor surrounded by ribbons and scraps of holiday paper. He was still in his blue work shirt and chatty, even after pulling an all-night tow call, asking me whether I thought Santa would bring me everything I wanted. I was 16.
I pulled from the NAPA Auto Parts bag a rubbery black stick. He snatched it back. Because that was so clearly MY gift.
“No, not that one. This bag. Wrap what’s in this bag.”
That’s how I knew, with my newly minted driver’s license and first used car, I got a tire air pressure gauge for Christmas.
Every year, my mom gave us neatly wrapped packages signed in perfect script, “love, mom and dad,” with clothes, toys, and jewelry. These were the gifts we asked for and wanted.
Dad still bought his own gifts. A mechanic and tow truck driver by trade, they came from auto part stores and sometimes luxury car washes. Over the years, I received:
- Sheep skin seat covers
- New rims
- Mini tool sets
He got us what he wanted, but it didn’t matter
I’m not knocking gifts of the gear-head variety. They were great, though perhaps not for teenage daughters and a bookish son. He got us what he loved. What he would have wanted.
On Christmas morning, in the trash heap of opened presents, his gifts lay untouched. He wanted first to see the rapture he so obviously expected on his children’s faces when they opened the gifts from Pep Boys or Checker Auto.
I admit, my tire gauge reaction fell flat.
He helped me along.
“Yes, but it’s a DIGITAL tire gauge!”
What could I do but laugh? The man was so darn happy to be giving me an upgraded tire gauge.
Dad died Christmas day 14 years ago of bone cancer. It has me thinking about holiday joy.
My dad had a habit of choosing the things that made him happy and sharing it —though they weren’t shared by all. Anybody, really.
He would return home greasy from a day’s work with gallons of ice cream. We would squeal with delight. Only to discover that they were his personal favorites, Pistachio and Butter Pecan. Euww. No chocolate? No mint chip?
We would squeeze in next to him on the couch with our bowls anyway and watch his favorite movie “Blazing Saddles” while he laughed so hard that we laughed until we cried.
He’d shake us out of our summer malaise and shout, “Who’s up for some fun?” We kids would think (hope) Disneyland and pile into the truck. We would drive for hours only to find ourselves in cavernous convention centers across the southwest for car shows, boat shows, motor home shows, model airplane shows or military aircraft shows. None of which any of his grown children attend today.
But if you’re ever watched “The Crocodile Hunter” and seen Steve Irwin engage with nature’s most terrifying creatures with magnificent wonder, passion and earnest cheer, then you understand what it was like to attend those shows with my dad.
He was in his natural habitat and you were blessed to be in his presence.
Joy is contagious.
The subject matter DOES NOT MATTER.
I miss him.
I miss his love for life.
I miss his auto parts store gifts.
What would he give me today, I wonder. An auto-mounted smart phone holder certainly.
I kept that tire gauge through three moves to three different cities.
It measured more than air pressure. It measured my love for a man who taught me that when something gives you joy, you share it.
Especially at Christmas.