View our Main Site »

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Family Tradition and a Tale Well Told

The author's father and niece
By Doug Dorda

When I was a young boy, I would stand just beyond the entrance to the living room and listen intently to the stories my parents and their friends shared among themselves at gatherings or parties. I distinctly remember the majesty of the setting: a warm fireplace bathed the room in a soft amber glow, shadows danced along the walls, and I stood as a silent observer with my head peaked around the corner so as not to interrupt the humorous, often entrancing tales that poured so freely from my family and their company. I imagine it was something akin to those classic Norman Rockwell paintings depicting the centuries-old tradition of stories told by those who love one another to one another so that we may come to know each other better.

I count myself lucky that my personal history is inundated with memories such as these, and I find that in their recollection I can immediately be transported to a place and time within my own past that is as vivid as if I were standing in that hallway right now. One such story has always colored my “holiday spirit” and I would like to recount that for you now.

My mother and father stood to the left of the fireplace, and our friends and neighbors sat amongst the couches and other furniture in the room. The fire was reduced to a mild blaze, and embers glowed deeply. The house was rich with the scents of a holiday feast, and every eye turned toward my father as he stepped forward, signaling that he was about to begin.

“I have met Santa Claus,” my father said with a smile and a deep voice that made me certain he was telling the truth. “A few years ago when my son Brandon was born, I was on the roof of the house putting up Christmas lights. Well, I lost my footing and began to slide toward the edge of the roof. I tried desperately to cling to the shingles, I clung to the string of lights, I splayed my feet out, and still I slid.

"The whole world seemed to spin and I knew the ground was cold and hard under the snow. Well, I thought, looks like I will be spending Christmas in the ER this year. Just as I went over the edge, a hand caught hold of mine and pulled me up onto the roof. I was in shock, as you may imagine, because I knew there was no one on the roof with me. I looked around, and a man with a white beard dressed in red overalls stood on the edge of the roof with his hands on his hips. As he looked up from the ground toward me, he said 'Almost decked your halls there, Wally'. 

"I laughed as he helped me to my feet. I thanked him over and over again before asking him who he was, and how the hell he got on my roof. 'I'm Chris,' he said, “I'm your new neighbor, just moved in a few days ago. I saw you up here with the lights and thought I would introduce myself and offer to lend a hand. Seems like I caught you before you took one last sleigh ride. Oh, and I got up here the same way you did. I used the ladder. I guess you forgot about that seeing how you tried to dismount the roof a minute ago.'

"'Welcome to the neighborhood, you jolly S.O.B', I replied with no small amount of sarcasm. I thanked Chris again, and he made good on helping me with the rest of the lights. After a few more hours work he calmly explained that his 'jingle bells' were freezing off and that he had to get going back to work.

"'Thank you again,' I said, "And hey, a word of advice, lay off the holiday puns.' Chris laughed at me as he descended the ladder and said that it was a side effect of his job. 'What is it you do?' I asked. As he sauntered down the street he called back:

"'I make toys, Wall. Maybe I'll bring some for your little boy.' I shouted a thank you, then quickly realized I had never asked him where he lived, or how to get in touch with him. I gingerly took to the ladder and tried to get down and catch him before he was too far off.

"'Merry Christmas, Walley. I'll see you next year.' Chris' voice came from the roof. Now how the hell did he get back up here, I wondered. I looked up and saw eight reindeer, and that pun-making, red-clad, jab-taking 'good Samaritan' parked in a sleigh on my roof. I thought for a moment that I had actually gone off the roof, and was experiencing some sort of hallucination. Santa, as I now knew he was, laughed at my dumb expression and took off into the sky.

"For a few months after that I was convinced that I was insane. I told no one the story until about the next December, not even my wife. Mary thought that I was spending too much time in the cold, and she insisted on helping me with the lights that year so that I didn’t make an ass of myself again. As we worked into that night I turned my eyes to the sky often, and I sighed. Mary was right, I thought, it must have all been a wonderful dream. When we had finished with the lights, and stood as a family in the yard admiring our work, I heard a hearty laugh that seemed to echo down the street. My eyes snapped back toward the road, and there he came, dressed just like the year prior, flying like a bat out of hell down the block. Presents appeared in every home as he passed, and our eyes met only once. Santa winked at me and said, 'See ya next year, Wall.'

"I know it sounds nuts, but every year I hear that laugh, I see his sleigh damn near breaking the sound barrier, and he says 'see ya next year.' Funny thing is, Mary never hears or sees him, but sure enough there are presents under the tree that I didn’t put there when I come inside. I hear him right now!"

With that my father would run outside and make everyone go with him. My brother and I would go out the back door and peek around corners to try and catch a glimpse of the mystical present man. Little did we know that it was our family's intent for us to do so. They knew well that we listened to the story and would run outside for a look. As soon as we left the house, one friend that was left behind would put presents under the tree so that as my father exclaimed, "Ah, you just missed him! There he goes!" and pointed into the sky we would be sure to find Santa's presents under the tree as we came inside.

Year after year it went on the same way. Sure the story changed a little here and there—the language became a little more colorful as my brother and I grew older and older. But the magic of the story and the sense of connection we all felt to it, never lessened. Eventually my brother and I grew too old to be tricked by the story any longer, and one Christmas Eve we wondered if it would be told ever again. However, our young nieces had never heard the story, as we observed, and so the tale is passed to a new generation.

The collaborative telling of and listening to tales is something that I personally view to be of the utmost importance in society. My father and mother felt the same way. Through the animated telling of tales you truly engage a group of people, you put smiles on their faces, but most important, you foster creative magic in those who can not wait to find their own tales to tell. It is my sincere hope that you all find time to come together with family, friends, or both and simply share your stories with one another. You may just find it to be one of the best presents you receive this holiday season.

From all of us at Siciliano's – Happy Holidays!

No comments:

Post a Comment