I’ll be home for Christmas

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 22, 2003

On rare occasions did she spend Christmas Day at home alone with her three children. Relatives made it a point to visit. When they didn’t, friends did.

We all know why this woman decided to accompany outside distractions with Christmas. We’ve read the quotes from plenty of psychologists.

And they must have been for this woman. Money, when there was any, didn’t allow for bicycles, basketball goals and Barbie houses. Instead, she had to keep the lights on, pay the phone bill, keep the gas gauge on the beat-up Chevet above the quarter-tank line.

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Her children were three, five and seven years old. Her husband of almost 20 years finally lost a 12-round bout with cancer, and for the first time in two decades, she had to figure out a way to play Santa.

The next year, the same thing.

The next year, the same thing.

Christmas wasn’t even the hardest part. Every single day, she got the kids to school, kept their stomachs full, and tried to dress them like the kids at school. And every single day, she was an angel disguised as a widow with the weight of three lifetimes on her shoulders.

On Christmas Day, when she used the occasion to teach her children another lesson on the life of Christ, she had to feel that weight a little more.

Then it happened &045;&045; no tree in the den; no multi-colored light strand on the lamp post. It wasn’t even Christmas.

This woman, who had spent the past three years typing legal documents at night just to get a small check from an attorney’s office, received maybe the second greatest Christmas present ever.

A couple of months before Christmas, the widowed angel accepted a man’s marriage proposal.

Those three children &045;&045; now six, eight and 10 &045;&045; could have cared less. They, like most other kids in the same plight, had grown attached to their mother. They had learned to survive with her. They craved her uninterrupted attention.

Normal childish reactions didn’t stop the marriage. One day, those children would learn to love and appreciate this man as their father, the mother explained.

With a January wedding date planned, the Christmas of 1982 actually marked the first holiday the children spent with a man who would soon become their father.

For all the wonderful Christmas stories we hear each year, I’d like to tell mine.

You could see the look on Mom’s face the night before Christmas 1982. For that matter, we had seen the look on her face for the past couple of months.

I was eight, my brother, Paul, was 10, and with all the normalness of single-parent children, we feared the man who would become our new father. But I must admit even Paul and I began to smile before this Christmas.

Douglas &045;&045; the soon-to-be-dad &045;&045; took Paul and me to his office the day before Christmas. The simple instructions were to stay quiet because Elizabeth &045;&045; our 6-year-old sister &045;&045; could not find out about "this."

Well, "this" was an enormous doll house one of Douglas’ friends had constructed. Barbie could have fit 500 Kens on steroids in this place. Our cat, Fluffy, could &045;&045; and actually did &045;&045; sleep in the upstairs portion, though she was much too fat to take the stairs.

When Paul and I helped Douglas load that house into his truck, you can guess what raced through our feeble minds.

With the doll house secured and out of sister’s sight, our Christmas Eve meal was followed by an early bedtime. Believe it or not, there wasn’t a kid in that room who put up a fight, even though the chance of us falling asleep was as probable as a white Christmas in Alabama.

On Christmas morning &045;&045; after a good hour’s worth of protest and "family time" &045;&045; Mom and Douglas finally let us in the gift room.

I can’t remember if Paul, Elizabeth or I cried. I’ve got a good bet Mom did.

Along the back wall was a drum set for Paul, and this wasn’t your knock-off plastic set. It was black. It was shiny. And man was it loud.

To the left was that doll house, sprinkled with clothes, jewelry and what seemed like a thousand other gifts for Elizabeth.

And straight in front of me was an electric guitar, a microphone (complete with stand), an amplifier and a 4-port mixing board for the neighborhood band.

I don’t know if there’s a person out there who can imagine the emotion that went through my siblings and me that Christmas.

I don’t know if there’s a single mother who can understand the burning warmth in my mother’s stomach that morning. If you can, then you understand why I can still see that room today. In fact, there’s a good chance you can see that room with me.

It’s been 21 years since that Christmas, and while I still remember how the strings felt on that electric guitar, I’ve learned something a lot more important today.

The best present in that room on Dec. 25, 1982, was standing behind all of us, watching his new children.

It wasn’t the value of the presents, though that surely made a difference back then. No, the value came from a loving man who fulfilled our wants, all the while becoming our need.

To everyone in Demopolis, I wish you an early Merry Christmas. As for me, I can’t wait to get home.