“Wrap the extension cord around the gutter and tie a knot!” My father cups his hands and hollers into the wind. “Be careful! Don’t drop the bulbs! They’re expensive!”
I inch toward the icy edge of the roof and think for moment. “What about me? Am I expensive?”
I lower a rope to him on the lawn and he ties a knot around another string of ancient multi-colored Christmas lights. As I pull the rope up, I notice my hands are shaking.
My best memories of my father all seem to happen in the freezing cold. Driving his eighteen-wheeler through the snow, our legs shivering so much at a gas station that we can’t stop laughing; hanging Christmas wreaths atop telephone polls in my hometown. When we stop to warm up at the Poop Deck, a long gone local pub, we’re offered a free drink. My dad gets a whiskey, of course. I order a Grand Marnier Orange Liqueur. He baulks, “A grand what?” He and the bartender burst out laughing.
When we finish the lights, I have to admit they look great. The creaky old house, so full of childhood memories, feels most alive at Christmas.
We stumble through the front door, rubbing our hands and laughing. Something about the freezing cold must be funny to us. In my memories, my father is always bigger than me. In fact, everything about him is big: his hands, his sneeze, and his voice, especially on the phone. My mother would say, “Why bother with the phone, honey? Just open the window.”
One of my favorite memories is when he came early to pick me up from kindergarten (again, in the winter). He knocks on the classroom door and enters like a giant – huge work boots, rope hanging from his belt, a beat-up old hat and a thick brown jumpsuit. He looks like he has been rolling around in mud, which is probably exactly what he was doing, forever repairing the foundation under the house. My teacher thinks he’s a maintenance man who’s come to fix the leaky radiator in our classroom.
“It’s over there,” she says pointing toward the windows. “It’s been dripping all day.”
My dad looks confused until I jump out of my seat and run to him.
“Hey everyone, this is my dad! This is my dad!”
I may be exaggerating, but I swear that there was a gasp. Did everyone think my dad was Indiana Jones?
We put on hot water and open the cabinets in search of snacks. The kitchen always seems painfully empty without my mother; we’re lost in the kitchen without her.
We find some stale pretzels and I put on music to ease the awkwardness between us. It’s an old album I found in the attic that I can’t stop listening to.
“Hey, is that Tony Bennett? You know, he’s playing in town tonight. I saw it in the paper.”
“Let’s go. Come on.” And with that, he puts on his coat. Just like him, no discussion, no plan.
I hem and haw, and transform into a teenager. “It’s after six o’clock, I’m sure it’s sold out, and it’s too far away. “ I have a million excuses. I forget that telling my dad that something is impossible is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
The next thing I recall is speeding up the block, my father grinning at the wheel of his old Suburban. The clock on the dashboard counts down the time before show time…7:20…7:40…7:50. It’s 8:05 when we finally arrive at the theater, grab our tickets, and dash into the auditorium. The moment we enter, we are welcomed with: “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MISTER TONY BENNETT!”
We find our seats in the back. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe my dad pulled it off!
After intermission, at his urging of course, we sneak down to empty seats in the third row. We stick out among the swooning middle-aged Italian women. And when Tony comes out again, I swear, he notices us and he smiles.
On the way home, we go on and on about the show. The car is freezing; we can see our breath as we talk.
“That was awesome!”
“Tony is the best.”
As we drive back to the old house, I catch my dad’s reflection in the speckled windshield of the truck and smile. I feel happy. Not because it’s Christmas, not because we saw Tony Bennett, but because I feel oddly proud; proud to have a father like him.
In an instant, the old tensions between us vanish, and for a brief magical moment, as we drive through the cold winter night, I remember a little boy in kindergarten, jumping out of his seat and running into his father’s arms, and proudly announcing, “Hey everyone, this is my dad! This is my dad!”