My father was sick when I got out of the Army. His illness was the reason I had been stationed thirty miles from home for my last year. That Father’s Day, my sister and I bought him a room air conditioner to help him breathe during the hot, humid summer. Father’s Day was just before I was discharged, so I didn’t have the money to pay half, so I bargained with my sister. She paid 80 percent of the price. I said I would give her enough money to make up the balance of my share before she went back to college. When the time came, I renegotiated the deal. I told her she could have the money I promised her, or if she waited until Christmas, I’d give her a TV instead. The TV cost more than twice as much as the money I owed her.
My dad, the retired cop, was a school bus driver. But when school opened, he was too sick to work. He was 61 years old and he was dying. He was basically bedridden so I bought a TV set he could watch in his room, where the air conditioner was running to help him breathe. He did die, in October, four days after his 62nd birthday.
I didn’t want to, nor did I, forget my dad, but I changed a lot of things so remembering him and being without him wouldn’t be quite as painful. Among them I bought a new car, repainted the inside of our house, changing the color of every room, and instead of Christmas dinner at home, I took my mother, my sister and my girlfriend to dinner in a fancy restaurant on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, I went to my girlfriend’s family home, got down on one knee in her living room and asked her to marry me. She said yes.
Since it happened at her family home, her family knew about it right away. She and I went to Midnight Mass where she held her diamond ring up to the lights to watch it sparkle and I enjoyed watching her sparkle. I’d say I enjoyed her reaction as much or more than anything else I’ve enjoyed, ever. We shared our good news with a few friends we saw at mass, but I didn’t tell my mom and my sister until the big Christmas Dinner.
My father’s slightly used TV became the one I promised my sister. I’m not sure if it was because the TV was used, but I also bought her a record player. Added to the stuff she normally carried back and forth to college in Chicago, she couldn’t carry a TV and a record player too. So, I put her, her luggage and her Christmas presents in my little car, picked up my fiancé and all three of us drove off to the windy city.
From October to December, the end of my Dad’s life to the beginning of my lifelong commitment to my wife, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through more changes in a shorter period of time before or since. But all of that is why it was my most memorable Christmas.