But there were a few missing faces around the table where we were working. During the holidays I always miss my dad who died a few years ago. He loved his family so much that he thought of a way to give us one final gift after his death. This is the way it was.
Okay, I admit it; I was always a daddy’s girl. My daddy was the first person I ever told a story to. I couldn’t write at the time, I hadn’t even started school yet, so I dictated the story to him, and he wrote it down for me. After he died I found that story written in pencil on notebook paper safely packed away in the cedar chest where he kept important papers.
He used to work the second shift and didn’t get home until eleven. I remember begging to stay up until he came home. Sometimes Mama would let me. When she did Daddy and I would watch the late news together while he ate a fried egg sandwich. He always shared with me. I don’t even like eggs, but sharing one with Daddy made it tasty.
Daddy also gave me a marvelous gift when I was eleven. I was horse crazy, but my mother was afraid for me to have a horse in case I should get hurt. Daddy talked her into it, and one icy Christmas morning I got a beautiful palomino mare from Santa.
Years later after I got married and moved to another state I was washing dishes one morning and looked out the window when a car stopped in my driveway. It looked like Daddy’s car, but what would he be doing at my house on a workday? He said he missed me and thought he’d take a day off to drive up and see me.
When I had my first child Daddy and Mama went crazy over him, especially Daddy. After a family of girls I expect that little boy did thrill him. That little boy was Daddy’s best man at his second wedding. My mother died young.
The last Christmas Daddy was alive he baked a fruit cake to bring to my house for Christmas dinner. I know what you’re thinking: fruit cake. Daddy loved to bake. If you’d ever eaten his fruit cake you wouldn’t turn your nose up at it.
Anyway, he only brought half of the cake. He said, “I decided to freeze half of it for you to have next year. I don’t think I’ll be here.”
Everyone pooh poohed him, but Daddy was right. He died in March of the following year.
As Christmas rolled around my stepmother said, “We still have the fruit cake that David baked. I’ll bring it.”
Those words struck terror into my heart. How could we eat the last thing my father baked? Once it was gone there would never be any more. The cherries and nuts that decorated the top had been placed there by his own hands in a pattern of his own design. It wasn’t right to eat it!
But on the other hand, how could we not enjoy it as he had wished us to do? Wasn’t that why he cut it in half the previous Christmas?
I went back and forth in my mind for several weeks, but the issue was decided a week before Christmas. The cemetery in our community hosts a remembrance ceremony right before Christmas each year. They put candles in white paper bags on each grave, and after playing a carol and having a prayer, relatives of the dead light candles in remembrance of their loved ones.
My heart felt like a lump of ice in my chest as I joined my stepmother at the cemetery. This was the first Christmas without my father, and it had cast a shadow over my holiday. As we lighted the candle on my mother and father’s grave my stepmother said, “It’s his first Christmas in Heaven.”
I thought about that for a long time. Wasn’t Daddy’s Christmas far grander and more glorious that anything I could imagine? Wasn’t he singing with the angel choir as all of Heaven celebrated the birth of our Lord?
I looked at that candle, and for the first time since March I felt something other than loss. I felt grateful for having had such a wonderful parent, and even though we're parted for a while, one day we’ll meet again. When we do, I intend to tell him how much I enjoyed that last fruitcake.
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