The alarm clock woke him at precisely 7:30 am. It took him only a few seconds to realize that it was Christmas morning. He rubbed his eyes, took a sip of soda from the nightstand and lit a cigarette. Yes, it was definitely Christmas morning. He distinctly recalled putting out the presents and hanging his stocking the night before. His parent’s had developed a number of Christmas traditions over the years and when he and Susan had gotten married and had children many of those traditions were followed and some new ones were added.
His parents had always decorated the house a few weeks before the big holiday and he and Susan followed suit. But his parents had always waited until Christmas Eve to put up the tree. That tradition was followed until the four kids were pretty old. They then switched to artificial trees, which were also put up several weeks in advance.
Bill and Susan had had four children: Bob, Karen, Frank and Barbara --- in that order. Each was approximately two years apart in age. So when Bob was 18, Barbara was 12. “A nice spread”, Bill thought. Also, there were never more than two kids in college at the same time. That helped.
Christmas Eve had its own traditions. It started off with submarine sandwiches for dinner. Then the stockings were hung “by the chimney with care”. The oldest person hung their stocking first and the youngest was last. Everyone cheered as each stocking was hung and pictures were taken. Then they watched a Christmas movie that Bill would buy or rent. Thereafter, cookies and sodas were served while the adults partook of an alcoholic beverage. For many years Uncle Harry would be visiting for the holidays and after Bill’s father passed away his Mom would partake in the Christmas activities, too.
After these Christmas Eve traditions the kids would be sent upstairs --- to go to bed when they were younger --- and to watch TV when they were older. Then Mr. & Mrs. Clause would go into action. First, the stockings would be filled. Then the presents would be brought into the den and distributed around the tree and outwards from the tree. About 75% of the floor space would be covered with brightly wrapped gifts. Grandmom would be taken home and Uncle Harry would usually go upstairs to retire. Then --- and only then --- would Bill and Susan sit down to relax. They were now ready for Christmas. They would talk about who was getting what the next morning --- and how they hoped everyone would like their gifts.
On Christmas Morning the traditions were as follows: Everyone had to be ready to go downstairs at precisely 8 am. Bill would pick up his mother in the years between his father’s death and her death ---- a period of twenty years as it turned out. The youngest would lead the group down the stairs with the oldest in the rear. On the way down Bill would say in a loud voice, “It looks like the Man was here!” The parade would then enter the den where the tree would be lit --- the little village on the mantle would be lit --- Christmas music would be playing --- and there would be gifts as far as the eye could see! Everyone would find a spot to sit and Karen --- their oldest daughter --- usually took it upon herself to pass out the gifts one by one. After one gift was opened and everyone saw it --- a second gift would be passed out --- and so on. After a short time individuals would drift into the kitchen for juice, Danish and/or coffee. Opening the gifts took over two hours. Then the stockings were opened --- again one by one.
In the afternoon guests would visit from 2 to 5 and Susan would prepare a large buffet table. Some years there would be a family dinner that night, too. Yes, all these things were traditions that Bill fondly recalled. There were even silly things. One year Susan was wrapping so many gifts so quickly that she accidentally wrapped an empty box. A daughter unwrapped the gift and was quite puzzled that the box was empty. Everybody got a good laugh. For several years afterwards Susan would purposely wrap an empty box and give it to one of the kids --- and it always got a laugh. One time Bill received a statue of a boy from his brother which was about ten inches tall. It turned out that when you pulled down the boy’s pants, water shot out of his pee-pee. But when Bill first did that, the pee-pee went right into Grandmom’s face. That got a very big laugh. It did not, however, become a tradition to squirt fake pee-pee in Grandmom’s face.
Over the years things changed. Not the tradition as much as the cast. The kids began to move away one at a time --- then Uncle Harry died --- then the kids started to get married and have children --- then Grandmom died. Some years it would just be Bill, Susan and one daughter or son for Christmas. But the traditions carried on. Always the traditions. Finally there came a Christmas when none of the kids came home. It was just Bill and Susan. But instead of being sad the couple agreed to just be happy that they had gotten to share Christmas with the kids, Uncle Harry and Grandmom for so many years.
Son Bob now lived in Michigan with his wife and three children. Karen lived in California with her husband and four children. Frank resided in Florida with his wife and two children. And Barbara, the baby, lived in Texas with her husband and three children. In short, the kids were now spread across the country. They were all doing well and they had given Bill and Susan an even dozen good-looking grandchildren. (All grandchildren are good-looking!)
Bill put out his cigarette and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and a few other things. It was almost 8 am --- the traditional time to go downstairs. Exiting from the bathroom he stopped at the foot of the king-sized bed and he stared at Susan’s empty pillow. Susan had passed away last summer and it was the worst thing that had ever happened to him in his entire life. It had taken Bill months before he even wanted to be with other people. Susan had been the love of his life --- and she still was. Bill pulled a tissue from the box of Kleenex on the nightstand and dabbed both his eyes. It was now time to go downstairs for Christmas Morning --- for the first time by himself. He would pour a cup of coffee and put a couple mini-Danish on a plate --- and then go into the den to light the tree and open the many gifts that his kids and grandchildren had sent from all those far away places.
Bill walked slowly down the stairs and walked into the kitchen. As he approached the coffee-maker, he thought he heard a sound from the den. He slowly turned and walked to the open den door. In the den he saw one of the greatest sights he had seen in his entire life. His four children, their spouses and all twelve grandchildren were sitting and standing around the den smiling but being very quiet. As he walked into the den they all shouted, “Merry Christmas, Dad!” For the next five minutes he could not even see who was who as the tears --- the tears of pure joy --- ran down his wrinkled face. But he did manage to say in a loud voice, “It looks like the Man was here!”
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