Four days until Christmas. Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year. It hardly feels like a time for celebrating. It's hard enough to will myself to get out of bed and make coffee at noon on my day off. I spent all day in the chair, under my blanket, alternating between watching Gilmore Girls (until I got to the Season 7 Slump) & listening to a mix of top 40 hits from when I was in high school and the stuff I locked myself in my bedroom to listen to and forced my parents to hear me sing in the shower. (Sorry, mom.)
I went through my dad's duffel bag again today. It hit me that it's four days until The First Christmas Without My Dad. Last Christmas, our last Christmas, we played phone tag all weekend. His girlfriend's son was staying with him and he didn't want me to meet him and he put off seeing me. I drove all the way out to his apartment only to have to turn around because the town hall was on fire—right across the street from his apartment. I yelled at him because he didn't call to tell me the town hall was on fire. I felt like he was replacing me by spending time with his girlfriend's son and refusing to see me.
I hate that that is the last Christmas memory I have of my dad.
But I also remember that one day, I will get to tell my kids that their grandpa was a hero. And they will get to hear the story from Christmas Eve 1997, when the house next door to us caught on fire. My dad ran to the garage for the extension ladder and helped our neighbor Stan off the roof. My dad saved his life that night. Before they made us evacuate for safety reasons, I remember Stan sitting on the stool my mom always sat at for dinner. He was blackened, covered in soot, and wet from snow. I thought he looked like Switchblade Sam from the Dennis the Menace movie.
The rest of that night was somewhat of a blur. We went to the other neighbor's house until they got the fire out out and declared it safe for us to go back home and go to bed. I remember walking in the front door and seeing a myriad of Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals that Santa had left while the fire was happening. It was the stuff Christmas miracles are made of.
Someday I will tell that story to my children. And I will cry and feel that little spot in my heart shine the brightest with the pride a daughter holds for her father. Miss you, dad. I promise we'll still leave a beer for Santa, in your honor.