December 6 will always mean just one thing to me: it is my Dad’s birthday.
Dad himself is gone now, his was a life much too short. As we’d first explained to my young children that first Christmas we had without him 15 years ago, heaven needs a lot of angels during this holiday season, and their Papa was one of those people who answered the call.
And as many stories do, especially when they are told as a way to comfort someone, and help the hurting heart remember another, this one has taken on a life of its own. The telling of “Papa’s Shopping Angel Story” is a December tradition where fact and fantasy has eagerly meshed together, spreading its own of Christmas cheer and adding a kind of magic to these early weeks of the month where even Santa must go through panic attacks as days are marked off the calendar.
Papa’s Shopping Angel Story is also one that is not told in one sitting; it’s become the background music singing in our heads for a few weeks, always lasting through the entire Christmas season. Sometimes it starts around Thanksgiving, but always, as sure as the sun comes up that morning, December 6 is the day we start to tell it to each other out loud. Everyone in the family does it, and from up in heaven, Dad makes sure none of us misses a beat in preparing for Christmas day.
You see one of the true facts we all knew about my Dad, was that he was that very rare man who loved going shopping. My dad was thought of as a fairly low-key, quiet and reserved gentleman, but shopping became a social event for him after he had retired from his full-time job. He was up bright and early every single Sunday to read the paper, for that was the day the front page was usually only a protective covering for a ream of flyers and advertisements. If by chance it was raining (other than on Mauna Kea, there’s no snow in Hawaii!) Dad got up extra early to meet the delivery boy and make sure the paper didn’t get wet.
There was this unwritten rule that no one could touch the familiar yellow Long’s Drugs Ad until Dad had peeled the rest of the paper’s clutter away from it and studied it with his morning coffee before we headed out to church. After church, Dad dropped us off at home, and went shopping. In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Dad’s Sunday ritual became a near-daily event: no one enjoyed the both the glitz and genuine caring of the season more than Dad.
Dad knew every cashier by name in every retail store in Pearl City, the neighborhood we lived in. And they knew him. The rest of us were just “Jerry’s family” to most of them, but they all knew what we were getting for Christmas, and exactly why my Dad felt it was the perfect gift for us. They knew if we deserved it because of something special we did ”“ and the entire story that went with it ”“ or if it would be under the tree Christmas Day only because Dad loved us. On my own shopping excursions days later, I’d get accustomed to the all-knowing looks my way, or hearing a cashier say, “you lucky girl, just wait until you see what Santa will bring you this year!”
There’s so much else involved with Papa’s Shopping Angel Story. We all loved to go shopping with him (when we were allowed to) because in the frenzy of the season we were positive there was an angel perched on his shoulder: the man could quickly find the perfect parking spot no matter how hectic the shopping weekend, no handicap sticker required. His research had paid off, and he found the deals of the century: if you bought something with him it was guaranteed not to show up cheaper somewhere else. Dad was my own personalized search engine long before Google’s founders were out of diapers.
So this morning, I woke up very early, instantly realizing I was already late with some of my own holiday preparations and had to get started with loving and relishing every day that is left in this wonder-filled month. Heart, mind and soul must be completely open for every single thing December has to offer me. I can’t go wrong with Dad’s angel on my shoulder.
I know you’re busy. So am I. But believe me, I love my job and what I do just as much as you do, and there are still those faultingly-human times I kid myself into believing I’m indispensable too. However, this is one of the rare times you’ll hear me say, Let the business go: trust that the investments you’ve made all year long will help it survive on its own. And whatever you do, DO NOT start any new projects this month, adding to anyone else’s plate. If you ask for extra time off, and your boss lays a guilt trip on you about it, ignore it, smile, and hand him or her a candy cane while you say mahalo (thank you), Mele Kalikimaka Kakou! (Merry Christmas for all of us.)
Enjoy the month.
Enjoy the hunt for that parking space.
Enjoy the double bagging to hide brand names, and pretending the latch to the car trunk is busted so you can stash your lunch-break purchases.
Enjoy the wonder of plastic and your great credit rating.
Enjoy sweeping up falling pine-needles and perfectly re-stacking the gifts you just wrapped so the bows don’t get crushed.
Get your family to sit around the dinner table and not in front of the TV, so you can start telling the snippets of your own family Christmas stories and love each other.
And by the way, since Dad’s not here anymore, say a few kind words to all those store employees working so hard to make Christmas as merry as they can for us. Since I’m here on O‘ahu right now, I’m filling up the gas tank and driving out to Longs Drugs in Pearl City. Dad will help me find a great parking space, I know he will.