It seems, in my mind, that it was always cold and slushy and snowy. My brother and I would pile on our winter coats, hats, scarves, mittens, and boots and let our dad buckle us into his car.
I don’t remember when this started nor can I remember when it ended. I can’t ever remember my littlest brother going with us, so by the time there were 3 of us, dad must have decided that taking us individually was a better idea.
Anyway, there was a time when Chris and I always went with dad to choose our Christmas gifts for our mom.
Like I said, it seems that we were always traveling through driving snow and sloshing our boots through the wet slush as we traipsed through the parking lot and sidewalks.
One year in particular I can vividly remember being downtown in our small town with my dad wandering from shop to shop. We eventually ended up in a tiny store, which isn’t there anymore, that was filled with knickknacks and paddywacks galore. If you wanted a frame or a sconce or a glass lion to set on your end table? This was your store.
I can still remember feeling the warmth as we walked in as the bell on the door jangled. The smell of cinnamon and potpourri filled my small nose and head.
In my memory my brother has already found his gift for our mom. It was all up to me. My lack of decision-making abilities was what was between us and home. But this is where I would find mom’s gift. It was so lovely in here.
I remember looking everything over, and asking my dad what he thought.
In typical dad-style, he turned the question back on me, “but what do YOU think?”
I would pick up a trinket and he would unconvincingly shrug and say, “If you think that is what she would want…”
It drove me crazy even at that age. I just wanted an opinion. He wasn’t trying to be difficult; he wanted me to pick for myself.
Finally I walked up to a small artificial Christmas tree that had lots of ornaments on it. I looked each over carefully and came up on this:
In my young mind this was the perfect gift for my mom. She would be delighted as she pulled it from the box on Christmas morning and held it up for all to see by the thin, gold loop. She would place it high on the tree.
“What do you think, dad? Isn’t this perfect?”
“I don’t know, Kate. Is there another one? This one has a broken wheel and the glue is showing all over the place.”
I searched the tree. Many of the ornaments had twins and triplets scattered about, but not the little bear. He was one of a kind.
“This is the only one.”
“Why don’t you pick a different one. One that is a little nicer.”
“No, dad. This is what I am getting mom.”
I brought the small trinket up to the counter, and my dad said, “well if you think she’ll like it,” as he pulled out the crisp dollar bills from his soft wallet.
After getting it home and wrapped and pushed under my bed, I worried. What if mom didn’t like it? What if dad was right?
Christmas morning came. Mom opened her gifts. She ooo-ed and ahh-ed at my little choice. I was so pleased.
My dad announced that I had chosen it all on my own. Mom was impressed.
At some point my brother stopped coming along to shop for my mom for Christmas. But I always went with my dad. Even when I was in college, he and I would climb into his truck and head out to pick the perfect gifts for my mother.
Each item that I would find he would say, “if you think that is what she will like.” I would assure him it is on the list, and that yes, she will love it.
Each time we would find our way to the register and he would remove his soft wallet from his back pocket and finger the crisp dollar bills he got from the bank being sure not to give the cashier two that were stuck together.
He would gather up the bags and we would head to our next stop.
Last year my dad didn’t ask me to help him shop for my mom. Admittedly I would put up a stink about it each year and give him some grief for not being able to shop for his wife on his own, but I would always go.
When I asked him last year when he wanted to go, he responded, “I’m done. I already went.”
“Why didn’t you ask me to come along?”
“You always say I need to do it myself. Besides, you have your own family now.”
I was taken aback, and sort of sad that our father-daughter tradition had ended. Just like that.
This past weekend I asked my dad if he had his shopping done yet. He laughed and said he hadn’t started.
“Well, I have next week off you know, dad. If you need any help.”
“Really? I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.
I hope he does.