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The First Year (Without My Father)
















The First Year

Without My Father












By Gretchen Lindsay





Dedicated To



Everyone’s memories of their childhoods.












Copyright 2016, 2017 Thomas Lee Ltd. www.ThomasLeeSheets.com


Published by The Idea People, Inc. 1023 W Morehead St., STE 150 Charlotte, NC 28208 USA







Author’s Note



Tragedy and loss, while painful and unsettling, tend to be catalysts for remembering and appreciating the beauty of life and memories. These human emotions are what inspired The First Year Without My Father. The First Year Without My Father captures the innocence of childhood, the power of a family’s love and the joy of living. It was written to evoke a sense of nostalgia with every reader and to

demonstrate how powerful memories of the past can be.


Prepare to journey back to a time where genuine happiness and delight were found through people and simple pleasures. Let The First Year Without My Father inspire you to recall your own memories of childhood, family and life. After all, a lot of joy can be found by remembering the people, places and events that shaped your life.




















Shoelaces, Flashlights & Steaks




















M Prologue


the beginning of the worst two weeks of my life. I received a phone call at 5:30 in the morning. The
p(((((((((())))))))))<>{color:#000;}. phone’s shrill ring jolted me out of a deep sleep and I was filled with dread. Phone calls before 8:00 AM are never a good sign.


I swung my legs over the side of the bed to hurriedly answer the phone. It was my mom and I could immediately tell she had been crying. She was calling to tell me that my dad had passed away in his sleep. I

exhaled slowly and was overcome with emotion. I began silently sobbing and my wife was awakened. She hurried out of bed and came to sit next to me. She gently took the phone from my hands and began speaking to my mom. All I could do was sit there and let the realization that my dad was gone wash over me. Not a great 60th birthday.









My wife and I traveled to my dad’s hometown for his funeral. The funeral itself was beautiful and I was touched by everyone who made an appearance. Dad was known for his fun loving and gregarious nature so it was no surprise that it seemed like the entire town showed up.


After the graveside service, I lingered behind as the guests and family members left. Seeing dad’s fresh grave physically pained me. I needed to distract myself but I wasn’t quite ready to leave dad yet. I slowly walked to the left side of the family plot where my paternal grandparents were buried.


Addie and Sam, or more affectionately known as Gran and Pop Pop, were buried next to each other. Their tombstones were weathered but their graves were freshly adorned with white lilies. I felt a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth as a flood of memories came rushing back. Isn’t it ironic how a tragedy such as my dad passing could remind me of some of my favorite memories from my childhood? Strangely enough, I was comforted by these thoughts.





Shoelaces, Flashlights & Steaks



p(((((((((())))<>{color:#331D17;}. summertime. There’s nothing quite like being freed for three glorious months from the confines of the classroom. We especially loved the last

two weeks in July. Jack and I spent those two weeks at our grandparent’s house. Gran and Pop Pop lived three hours away and the car ride to their house was the start of the best two weeks of the summer.


Dad always drove us to Gran and Pop Pop’s house. We would pile into his teal 1958 Chevy Bel Air and he’d immediately roll the windows down. He would chain smoke his Pall Mall cigarettes and Patsy Cline would be on the radio. I would close my eyes and inhale the smell of Dad’s cigarette smoke. The smell of freshly lit cigarettes smells so good to me, even to this day. I guess you could say it’s a guilty pleasure. It always reminds me of dad, even though I never smoked.








We would travel through the winding country roads and the summer breeze smelled like gardenias. As we neared our grandparent’s house, the roads would narrow and the Spanish moss would lazily hang from the looming oak trees. The Spanish moss always gave me an eerie feeling but at the same time, I couldn’t help but love it since it represented summers spent at Gran and Pop Pop’s.


Pulling into their driveway was a big affair. My brother and I would start bouncing in our seats and Dad would honk the horn as he barreled down the gravel driveway that curved around to the back of the house. Dad would purposefully push down on the gas pedal a little more than he should’ve but it was tradition to cause a spectacle whenever we arrived. I would cover my ears to mask the noise of the gravel crunching furiously under the tires. That sound always takes me back in time. You know exactly what I’m talking about.


By the time we parked in the carport next to Pop Pop’s faded red Ford truck, the dust from the gravel was settling and we could hear Gran’s peals of excited laughter. Gran and Pop Pop would be waiting on the back porch with big smiles on their faces. We’d



















jump out of the Bel Air and leap into their arms for hugs. Gran always smelled like lavender and Windex. It was a strange combination but I relished in the scent.


After we arrived, Gran would usher us inside to the kitchen while poor dad was left lugging our suitcases as he puffed away on his Pall Mall.


I loved walking into Gran’s kitchen. The tile floor felt cool on my bare feet and you could smell the lingering scent of Lysol in the air. As long as Gran could walk, she was a firm believer in getting on her hands and knees every Wednesday and scrubbing the kitchen floor herself. Her kitchen was her pride and joy and it was the hub of activity in the home. Gran spent most of her time in the kitchen. Whether it was cooking dinner, shelling peas, or doing her crossword puzzle in the breakfast nook, you knew you could find Gran in the kitchen.


Without fail, Gran would have lunch on the table waiting for us. My brother and I would wash our hands and find our spots at the table. Once the adults joined us, we



















would dig in. Every summer, our first lunch at Gran and Pop Pop’s house was chicken salad sandwiches with a side of green beans.


I always savored the first bite of that sandwich. No one made chicken salad the way Gran did. She used Dijon mustard and mixed in crunchy purple grapes. The only time I ever ate purple grapes as a kid was when they were in Gran’s chicken salad. Even though it was probably my favorite meal from the two weeks we were there, my brother and I would eat as fast as we could so we could begin our summer adventures.


As soon as we ate the last bite, we would excuse ourselves from the table and place our dishes in the sink. We would give dad a hug goodbye and he would give us a brief lecture about being on our best behavior while we visited. Jack and I would nod our heads and say, “Yes, sir,” and give him one more hug before we left. Dad would always take a nap after lunch and then he’d say goodbye to Gran and Pop Pop, hop in his Bel Air and turn around for the three-hour drive back home.





Adventures Around the Cul-De-Sac



p<>{color:#000;}. the neighborhood kids that lived on the same cul-de-sac as Gran and Pop Pop. The Flynn kids lived on the opposite end of the cul-de-sac and

we would pick them up first. Mary and Charlie Flynn were the same age as my brother and I and the four of us got along famously. I can remember sprinting to their house. The scorching heat caused the pavement to smell like burnt rubber. I would rub my nose furiously as I ran to try and get the burnt smell out. Once we picked up Mary and Charlie, we got Billy Driscoll and Eileen Johnson. Then, the six of us would venture off into the woods and let our imaginations run wild.


I was the oldest out of the six kids so I typically led the way into the woods. During the summer, the walking path through the woods was overgrown. As we trudged our way through the dense foliage, we would push low hanging tree branches out of our way. The path eventually led to the bank of Finn creek and that’s where we set up camp








for the day. We would carve makeshift fishing poles out of fallen branches and our shoelaces. We would stand ankle-deep in the shallow waters of Finn Creek, named after Huckleberry Finn from Tom Sawyer, and pretend we were fishing for mammoth sharks and swordfish. Eileen was the youngest and she didn’t like to stand in the creek with us. She was scared of the minnows and if one swam over her feet, she would shriek and go running. To this day, I can still hear her high pitched squeals.


After we tired of fishing, we would gather sticks and tie our shoelaces together to make two long ropes. We would then use our shoelaces to tie together the sticks to make a miniature raft. We would place the raft in the creek, give it a little push and we would then run along the bank, chasing the raft as it bobbed its way down the creek. At one point, the creek widened and got quite a bit deeper. Before the raft reached that point, Billy would jump in and snatch the raft.


One time, Billy had stumbled and wasn’t able to retrieve the raft in time. It whisked around the bend and we all stared at each other with wide eyes. If we returned home without our shoelaces, we would most definitely be in trouble.









Charlie panicked and yelled, “Billy, the raft! We have to get the raft!” Billy jumped in the water and waded in until it was deep enough where he could actually swim. I started sprinting alongside the creek and tried to keep up with the raft that was already disappearing from sight.


Mary, Jack, Charlie and Eileen started running behind me and tried to keep up. I was silently praying that Billy or I would get to the raft in time because the lazy creek eventually emptied into the roaring Savannah river. I somehow managed to summon a burst of energy and caught up to the raft. I clumsily leaped into the water and caught the raft then triumphantly pumped my fist in the air as the gang cheered. Billy, who was probably thirty feet behind me, stood up in the water and let out a victorious whistle. Nobody could whistle as loud as Billy.


I clambered out of the creek and began untying the shoelaces. Once the shoelaces were returned to the appropriate shoes, we decided we had had enough adventure for the day and were ready to head home.



















The only rule we had during those two weeks was to be home when the street lights came on. When we noticed the sun getting lower through the trees we would head back to the Highland Circle cul-de-sac.


When we got back to Gran and Pop Pop’s, we would eat dinner and take quick showers. Then, Pop Pop and I would play checkers. We would set up the checkers on a table that sat in front of the bay window in the den. The bay window overlooked the front yard. A street lamp cast a dim, orange light on the front of the house. I can still see Pop Pop’s face, tinged with the orange glow from the streetlamp. I always used the black checkers since the player who had the black checkers got to go first. I loved playing checkers with Pop Pop because he didn’t let me win. If I won, I knew it was because I deserved to win, and I loved that.


As Pop Pop and I played checkers, Jack would play Go Fish with Gran. The TV was usually turned on to CBS News and Walter Cronkite would be delivering the news of the day. We spent most nights like this and I loved the calm ending to the frenetic day.
















After our games of Checkers and Go Fish were over, Jack and I would brush our teeth and shuffle our way into the guest bedroom. There were two twin beds that were pushed against walls on opposite sides of the room. Gran would come in and tuck us in each night. It was so hot every summer that she only had top sheets on the bed. She would pull the crisp, cotton sheets up to our chins, kiss our foreheads and then we would all say a goodnight prayer together. The goodnight prayer went like this:


You promise to take care of your sheep So please protect me while I sleep Forgive me for my sins tonight Always help me shine your light Thank you for the blessings you give Teach me how you want me to live Thank you for my family and friends Bless them to the very end

In Jesus’ name Amen.




Gran would then blow us a kiss, turn off the light and shut the door. The twin beds were the beds our dad and uncle slept in growing up. They creaked and groaned every time you moved. I can remember always worrying that one night, the bed was just going to cave in on me. Almost like it was giving up after decades of use. Even with the creaking and groaning, the beds were comfortable and I liked knowing that they were the ones used by my dad and uncle when they were my age. I loved falling asleep as I watched the curtains flutter in the gentle night breeze. To this day, the best sleep of my life was during the two weeks each summer at Gran and Pop Pop’s. It was some combination of their sheets, the summer breeze and the comfort of love and family.


Every day was filled with a different kind of adventure. Sometimes the gang and I would see who could ride their bike the fastest to the swimming hole. The wind would whip our hair off our faces and the unforgiving sun would burn our cheeks until they turned bright red. We never wore helmets and sometimes I think it’s a miracle we all survived.



When we would get to the swimming hole, we would see who could jump the farthest by using the rope that hung from a sturdy, old oak tree. I remember how I would cling to the rope as tightly as I could and how the coarse material would scratch my hands. I could jump pretty far but Mary beat all of us every time.


If we weren’t at the swimming hole, one of the places you could find us was riding our bikes in the small downtown of Gran and Pop Pop’s town. The two streets that made up the downtown were lined with restaurants, a grocery store, a soda shoppe and a gas station. Across from the gas station was a movie theatre. On the rare day when it rained, we would head to the movie theatre, pay for our tickets using nickels and would get lost in the latest Western or musical that was playing.


Billy, Charlie, Jack and I loved going to westerns. John Wayne was the quintessential cowboy and there’s nothing like the wild, wild west. The girls preferred musicals and they would get lost in a world of singing and dancing while the fellas were pretending to be in the shootout at the O.K. Corral.























Trouble at Mr. Ziegler’s House



p<>{color:#000;}. much trouble. However, each summer we somehow managed to stir up some mischief and it usually involved Gran and Pop Pop’s neighbor,

Bartholomew Ziegler.


Mr. Ziegler had immigrated from Germany fifteen years prior and he didn’t speak much English. He always had a scowl on his face and he did not like children. Mr. Ziegler’s house was the last one on the left side of the cul-de-sac. It was a little bungalow and the shades were always drawn. His house was scary and unwelcoming and stood out like a sore thumb in what was, overall, a cozy and welcoming neighborhood.


However, he had a sprawling backyard that was perfect for catching lightning bugs or playing flashlight tag. Even though we knew his house was forbidden, we couldn’t resist to spend at least one night playing in his backyard and doing our best not to get caught.


















One night in particular stands out in my mind. We had decided to play flashlight tag and everyone had found a flashlight. We tried playing in Gran and Pop Pop’s backyard but the streetlamp from the front yard managed to cast some light into the back. Frustrated, we all decided to sneak into Mr. Ziegler’s backyard. As the oldest, I was appointed once again as the leader.


We tiptoed to Mr. Ziegler’s house and as we approached the gate that led into the backyard, I can remember my heart hammering inside my chest. I unlatched the gate and slowly pushed it open all the while silently willing that the gate would not make a sound. Luckily, it didn’t. I held the gate open as the rest of the gang hurried in. The metal flashlight felt heavy in my hand and adrenaline was bursting through my veins.


Once everyone was in the backyard, we scurried to the corner that was the farthest away from the house. Once we were a safe distance away, we began to play. At one point, when Billy was caught and became “it,” he let out a loud, “Oh mannnnn!” We all stopped dead in our tracks and dropped to the ground. Blades of grass tickled my nose and I resisted the urge to sneeze. We all waited, bug eyed and scared. After at












least five minutes, we resumed our game.


Not even thirty seconds after we started playing again, the back porch light flicked on and Mr. Ziegler came barreling out of his back door. He pounded his cane on the floor and started yelling at us in German. Eileen started crying and we all darted as fast as we could to the very back of the yard where there was a chain link fence. We scrambled over the fence and began to run to our respective houses.


I had probably run at least two yards when I heard the familiar shrill of Eileen’s screams. Her skirt had gotten caught and she was stuck straddling the fence. I ran back to get her. Her knuckles were white from holding on so tight. She had dropped her flashlight and the impact caused the battery to fall out. My heart sank as I saw tears streaming down her face. Mr. Ziegler had made his way down the porch steps and was hobbling toward us, still squawking in German. I managed to get Eileen unstuck, I lifted her off the fence and set her down. She took off to the safety of her home. I scooped up her flashlight and sprinted to Gran and Pop Pop’s house and swore to myself I would never come close to Mr. Ziegler’s house again.




The next morning, at breakfast, it was unusually quiet. Gran poured cream in her coffee and stirred it without making eye contact with anyone. Pop Pop hid behind the newspaper instead of spreading it out on the table like he normally did. When the realization that Gran and Pop Pop were ignoring us hit me, my heart sank. If Jack and I received the silent treatment from our grandparents, it meant we were in trouble. Mr. Ziegler must have called Gran and Pop Pop earlier this morning to relay our late night transgression. I suddenly lost my appetite and began to push my scrambled eggs around on my plate. I rested my chin in my hand and glanced over at Jack. His wide- eyed gaze meant he also came to the realization that we were in trouble.


After another ten minutes of awkward silence, Pop Pop suddenly shook out the paper, folded it briskly and set it down. He sternly looked at me and Jack, which made us both nervously squirm in our seats. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Gran was staring very intently at her hands in her lap. She hated watching us get scolded. “I was woken up this morning with some very unfortunate news,” Pop Pop said. “Mr. Ziegler called me at an ungodly hour and he was extremely upset. Would you boys like


to explain what happened last night?” I gulped and frantically looked at Jack. I could see that his eyes were watering so I took that as a sign that I needed to speak for the both of us.


I took a deep breath before I began to stammer out a pathetic explanation.


“Well, um, you see, the gang and I wanted to play flashlight tag. And we tried playing here last night, honest,” I said as I wrung my hands together nervously. “But the light from the streetlamp made it impossible to play so we thought we’d have better luck in Mr. Ziegler’s backyard. We didn’t mean to make him mad, Pop Pop!”


My grandfather wearily looked back and forth between me and Jack before lecturing us on respecting Mr. Ziegler’s privacy and property. He then told us to go outside and find a switch. The second the word switch was mentioned, two fat tears fell from Jack’s eyes. Without any protest, we pushed our chairs back and trudged outside.


I hadn’t been hit with a switch since I was Jack’s age and I cringed at the thought of


the punishment that was looming ahead of us. Jack had worked himself up into such hysterics that he was overcome with a bad case of the hiccups.


I heard the back door slam and saw Pop Pop make his way down the back porch steps. He stood at the foot of them and I could tell he was expectantly waiting for us to return with our switches. With Pop Pop’s appearance, we hurriedly selected two switches and made our way to the back porch steps. It was silently understood that you didn’t keep Pop Pop waiting.


We handed our switches to Pop Pop and he instructed us to turn around so we were facing away from him. We each received two lashes. I closed my eyes and kept my clenched fists at my side. The sting of the switch caused me to tear up but I refused to cry. Jack wasn’t as brave and he let out a cry with each lash.


After we received our punishment, Pop Pop tossed the switches to the side. He instructed us to make our way to Mr. Ziegler’s and apologize. Jack and I mumbled, “Yes, sir,” and walked down to the driveway of Mr. Ziegler’s foreboding home.


Before we walked up the front path to Mr. Ziegler’s house, I looked down at Jack. He looked absolutely pitiful with his tear stained face and rosy cheeks. I offered a small, and what I hoped was an encouraging smile, as we approached the house.


I rang the doorbell and after about 20 seconds, Mr. Ziegler opened the front door. He stood behind the screen door and made no effort to come out any farther. I was grateful for the partition that the screen door created.

“Mr. Ziegler, my brother Jack and I would like to apologize for trespassing onto your property last night. We were wrong and assure you it will never happen again.”


Mr. Ziegler grunted and said in his heavy German accent, “If I catch any of you children on my property again, I will call the police!” With that, he slammed the front door and we scampered away as quickly as we could.






E Bert’s Famous Ice Cream Sundaes


surrounding the night at Mr. Ziegler’s was unpleasant, it didn’t deter us from enjoying the rest of our time at Gran and Pop Pop’s. One of the

highlights of the visit was going to downtown for dinner our last night there. Gran and Pop Pop’s town was small and even venturing into downtown was a rather lackluster affair.


However, there was one little restaurant nestled between the dime store and a flower shop called “The Flower Box.” The restaurant, “Bert’s,” was a pretty fancy place for a sleepy downtown. It was owned by Bert Hadley who lived two streets over from Gran and Pop Pop. Bert’s was the only place in town where you could get a decent steak and the best ice cream sundaes. Bert had been an investment banker in Atlanta and decided when he retired, he wanted to retreat to small town life. I don’t think Bert was quite prepared for the lack of menu options in town, so with the newfound free time on his hands, he opened up Bert’s.









We had to wear our formal attire when we went to Bert’s. Gran pressed and starched our collared white shirts. We both wore red ties. I was very proud of the fact that I could tie my own tie. Jack struggled with tying ties so he was stuck with a clip on. We would shrug on our navy blazers and buckle our belts over our khakis. We’d slip on our loafers and would then fight for the spot in front of the bathroom mirror so where we would style our hair with Brylcreem. Gran made sure Brylcreem was always in the medicine cabinet because she thought Pop Pop looked dapper, like Cary Grant, when he used it on his hair.


After our hair was styled to our liking, we would hustle into the kitchen to wait for Gran and Pop Pop. When Gran and Pop Pop came into the kitchen, Gran would make sure our hair was neatly combed and parted. Once we passed inspection, we would head out to Pop Pop’s trusty old truck.


When you walked into Bert’s, soft piano music was accompanied by the faint clinking of ice in cocktail glasses. It was dimly lit so you had to give your eyes a few moments








to adjust to the cozy ambience. Pop Pop would give our last name to the maître-d’ who would in turn usher us to Gran and Pop Pop’s favorite table in the corner. Once we were settled in our cushy seats, Jack and I would get very serious about reviewing the menu and acting as if going to a fancy restaurant was a normal occurrence for us.


Pop Pop and Gran both enjoyed the extra-dry martinis and they would order root beer in the bottle for me and Jack. I remember how Jack and I would mischievously smile at each other as we pretended that we were drinking actual beer.


Every dinner at Bert’s was the same. Pop Pop would order shrimp cocktails for everyone as an appetizer. One summer, as I was eating my shrimp cocktail, cocktail sauce spilled all down the front of my freshly pressed white shirt. I can still remember how Gran’s face blanched at the site of red cocktail sauce smeared all over my shirt. Ever since that occurrence, I would tuck my napkin into the front of my shirt as I ate my shrimp cocktail. I still do it today, and so do my kids.





After we finished our shrimp cocktails, Gran and Pop Pop would ask us what our favorite memory was from that summer’s visit. We would proceed to excitedly regale them with our most memorable tales until our dinners were served.


This yearly tradition was a special time for Gran and Pop Pop to not only splurge on me and Jack, but themselves, too. Gran and Pop Pop came from a generation that often did without extravagance and frills. So, each year, dinner at Bert’s was a momentous night for the four of us. Pop Pop would order a ribeye with a double serving of garlic mashed potatoes. He wasn’t fond of vegetables unless they were cooked in bacon grease. Gran preferred the lobster with a Caesar salad. Jack and I ordered filets with










baked potatoes. Dinner at Bert’s was the only time Gran didn’t make us eat vegetables with our meal.


After dinner, we were allowed to order dessert. Gran and Pop Pop would have a cup of coffee with crème brulee while Jack and I ordered ice cream sundaes piled high with whipped cream and hot fudge. It was all so delicious that I couldn’t help but eat every bite even though I was so full I thought I would burst. After we would finish eating, Jack and I patiently waited for Gran and Pop Pop to finish their coffee. Once Gran and Pop Pop placed their coffee cups on the porcelain saucers, Pop Pop would say, “Shall we?” and we would all push our chairs back, place our napkins on the table and file out of Bert’s.












When we arrived at the house, Gran would accompany us into the guest bedroom that Jack and I had called home for the past two weeks. She instructed us to go into the bathroom, brush our teeth and change into our pajamas.

After we got ready for bed, she would help us pack

up our bags and remind us to take a look under the beds to make sure we weren’t forgetting a stray sock. After we did a clean sweep of the room, she would place our
p(((((((((()))))<>{color:#000;}. bags on top of the dresser. She tucked us in and we said our goodnight prayer one last time before turning off the light and shutting the door.






B Coming Home


bittersweet affair. We were sad to leave Gran and Pop Pop’s but we were excited to see dad and to return home to mom. Gran wanted to make

sure that we had a big breakfast before our road trip home so she would fill our plates with sausage links, scrambled eggs and grits.


“Gran?” I asked between mouthfuls of eggs. “Yes, dear?” “Are you going to miss us when we leave?” As she smiled down at me, wrinkles appeared at the corner of her bright blue eyes. She placed a warm hand over mine and said, “Of course I will miss you and your brother when you all leave. Having you here brings life back into this old house. Pop Pop and I feel sad when you have to go.”


I returned Gran’s smile as Jack piped up and said, “But Gran, we always come back!” Gran tousled Jack’s hair and let out a cheery laugh.
















After breakfast was over, Jack and I would clear the table and head outside. Pop Pop would be waiting under the towering pecan tree with a catcher’s mitt and baseball. As we waited for dad to arrive, we would take turns catching fastballs from Pop Pop. For an old man, Pop Pop could throw a mean fastball. I can still remember how my hand would sting from the sheer force of the ball when I would catch it.


It wasn’t long before we heard dad whip the Bel Air into the driveway. As usual, his arrival drummed up a frenetic cloud of dust and he blared his horn until he put the car in park. Jack and I would excitedly rush to greet dad. I loved hugging him and smelling the familiar, lingering scent of his Pall Malls and aftershave. Old Spice still makes me think of those days.


Dad would give Pop Pop a hug and we’d all head inside so Gran could visit with Dad for a bit. Dad would always ask our grandparents about Jack and my behavior. Jack and I guiltily looked at Gran and Pop Pop as we waited for them to mention our ill-fated flashlight tag game at Mr. Ziegler’s.













Gran glanced at Pop Pop before taking one last look at us. She turned to my dad and said, “Your boys were splendid company as always. They didn’t give us a lick of trouble.” Jack and I looked at each other in surprise and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. Dad beamed at us proudly before he asked Gran if she had something he could snack on before we headed back out.


As Gran made an egg salad sandwich for dad, she instructed me and Jack to collect our bags and take them out to the car. We scurried off to the guest room to gather our belongings. By the time we returned to the kitchen, dad was finishing his sandwich, which was our cue to say our goodbyes.


We gave Gran and Pop Pop big hugs and thanked them repeatedly for taking care of us and letting us stay with them. Gran would give us one last kiss and Pop Pop would clap us on our backs as we made our way to the Bel Air. Jack and I would climb into our respective seats and Dad would light up a cigarette, turn on Patsy Cline and slowly reverse out of the spot next to Pop Pop’s faithful Ford.





We waved goodbye to Gran and Pop Pop and almost immediately began chatting away about the past two weeks.


“Dad, you should see all the callouses on my hands from the rope swing. There’s more this year than ever before!”


“Dad, I beat Gran at Go Fish five times this summer!”


“Guess what, dad? Gran and Pop Pop ordered root beer from a bottle for us last night. An actual bottle! Like real beer!”


Dad was a great sport and listened patiently to our summer adventures. Once our enthusiasm waned, Jack and I would settle back and look out the windows as we watched the small town we loved so much pass us by.





Jack usually fell asleep within the first hour of the trip. To this day, I can’t sleep in the car. So I spent the trip home listening to dad hum along to the radio while I reflected on the last two weeks. I would lean my head against the window and would will myself to not get sad that the best two weeks of the summer had ended. I would close my eyes and start thinking about the adventures next summer had in store for me and Jack. My mind would wander as I imagined all of the escapades that could be had in a year’s time. The only thing that snapped me out of my reverie was dad slowly turning the car into the driveway where mom would be anxiously waiting.


It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s nothing like coming home to your mom’s waiting embrace. As Jack and I leapt out of the car and into mom’s arms, the feeling and comfort of being home overwhelmed me and I would think to myself, “I love going away and visiting Gran and Pop Pop, but at this moment, there’s no place I would rather be.”







p<>{color:#000;}. gently slip into the crook of my elbow. I looked to my right and my wife’s hazel eyes met my gaze. She offered a small smile and rested her head

against my shoulder. I put my arm around her and thanked her for the unwavering support she had offered me over the last few days. Eileen knew how to be there for me while giving me the space I needed to grieve. I bit my bottom lip to suppress a grin as I thought that it was her way of repaying me for all the times I had to “save” her during our childhood.


We started slowly walking toward our SUV. After the funeral, the guests had assembled at my in-laws, the Johnson’s, for lunch. Even though the reason we were all gathered together caused me a lot of pain, I was looking forward to catching up with my family and childhood friends. Death certainly creates a newfound appreciation for life and reminds you to cherish the people who are close to you.











After we climbed into the car, I momentarily stared at my dad’s fresh grave. I closed my eyes and silently said goodbye to the man who I always considered my hero. I let out a sigh and reached for Eileen’s hand. She gave it a slight squeeze as she quietly slipped a CD into the CD player.

I smiled as I heard the familiar notes of “Crazy” fill the car. I miss my dad. And I miss my grandparents. But I find a lot of comfort knowing that I can relive their memories every time I visit this old cemetery.


I know whenever I smell a freshly lit cigarette, hear a Patsy Cline song, or see kids playing, I will think of my dad. I can only imagine what the rest of the first year without him will bring.




















Snowballs, Sledding & First Kisses







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I Prologue


night of sleep, I was ready to get up. The hardwood floors were cold beneath my feet and I quickly shuffled to the closet to slip on my L.L. Bean house shoes

and robe. I quietly left our room, not wanting to disturb my sleeping wife. Eileen was a light sleeper and the smallest noise could easily awaken her.


Once I was a safe distance away from my room, I began whistling “White Christmas.” I couldn’t contain my excitement for the day ahead. It was tradition that on the first Saturday of December, my wife and I would pick up our two grandsons, Henry and Will, and we would set out to find the perfect Christmas tree to cut down.


I turned 60 this year and Eileen was worried that I was getting too old for this tradition. I quelled her worries with a defiant look and told her that as long as I could walk, this was a tradition that was to be upheld. I smiled as I recalled the way she lifted her hands in mock surrender.

























As I brewed a pot of coffee, I thought back to my dad, who had passed away over the summer. My dad was a larger-than-life character and he loved the holidays. He found tremendous joy in creating traditions and making the most out of each day leading up to Christmas. I inherited his enthusiasm for Christmas and the traditions surrounding it. I ran my fingers through my hair and let out sigh. This year would be tough since it was the first one without him. But I was determined to carry on his love of Christmas cheer.


Thinking of dad brought back a surge of memories. I grew up near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and our little town during Christmas was incredibly picturesque. The wave of nostalgia that hit me was unrelenting so I poured myself a steaming cup of coffee, sat down in the rocking chair that overlooked our deck and decided to get lost in my childhood memories as I waited for Eileen to wake up.

























































Snowballs, Sledding & First Kisses



p<>{color:#000;}. My younger brother’s eyes slowly fluttered open as he registered what I was saying. Once the realization hit him, a huge smile lit up his face and he hopped

out of bed with a resounding, “Hooray!”


We sprinted down the hallway and turned the corner so we could race into the formal living room. We weren’t allowed to rough house, or really even be, in that room but there was a big picture window that overlooked the front yard. Whenever school was cancelled, it was customary for me and Jack to run into the formal living room and look out the window to see how much snow had fallen overnight.


We hollered excitedly because the front yard and driveway were blanketed in white, fluffy snow. It looked like the kind of snow that would make the perfect snowball. We excitedly looked at each other, shared a grin and ran into the kitchen. Mom had















already started on breakfast so we went ahead and sat at our places at the table and began chattering about what kind of activities we were going to get into that day.


Mom set down plates full of pancakes and bacon in front of me and Jack. It was tradition that on mornings when school was cancelled, we ate pancakes and bacon instead of our usual grits and scrambled eggs. She poured herself a cup of coffee and joined us at the table. It wasn’t too long before dad came bounding into the kitchen.


The streets weren’t safe to drive so dad’s boss had called earlier and ordered him to stay at home. You would think, with the look of glee on dad’s face, that he was a kid himself learning that school had been cancelled. He fixed his own plate, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at the head of the table.


“Alright, boys. What are we doing first today? Building a snowman? Having a snowball fight? Sledding down Hamilton Hill?” Jack exclaimed, “Sledding!” before I had a




chance to answer. I didn’t mind though; starting the day sledding didn’t seem like a bad idea.


Dad beamed and encouraged us to eat our breakfast so we would have enough energy for the day ahead. I watched my parents share a smile as my mom laughingly shook her head at dad’s childlike fervor. It made me feel safe.


After breakfast, Jack and I dumped our plates in the sink and went into our room to bundle up. My snow suit was navy blue while Jack’s was bright red; you could see him from half a mile away. Once our suits were zipped up, we dug into the depths of our closet to retrieve our snow boots. Then, we stampeded down the hall to the front door where mom was waiting with the box that was filled with scarves, gloves and winter hats. After we were bundled up to mom’s approval, we were free to escape.


The second I opened the front door, I was hit with an arctic gust of wind. The drastic




change from being inside a warm home to stepping out into the freezing air caused my cheeks to sting and I instinctively narrowed my eyes. Despite the slight discomfort, I was filled with excitement. Jack and I hurried down the front steps and trudged our way into the front yard, leaving deep footprints in the freshly fallen snow. There must have been 8 inches of snow.


Typically, dad would be patiently waiting for us in the front yard by the time we made it outside. But that particular day, he was nowhere to be found. Jack shot me a puzzled look and I shrugged my shoulders in response. I scanned the front yard and our street for any indication of where dad could be. I finally assumed that he was taking longer than normal to get ready and it would be best for me and Jack to wait for him.


Out of nowhere, Jack and I were pelted by a shower of snowballs. It took a good ten seconds for us to recover from the shock of the sudden attack to realize that dad had snuck out the back door, crept his way along the side of our house and made a temporary

















fortress behind the shrubs that lined the front of the house. He had accumulated a massive pile of snowballs by the time Jack and I had made our way outside. We were helpless against his onslaught and didn’t have enough time to retaliate with our own snowballs. So, we had no other option but to storm his fortress and attack him with his own. Once the stockpile of snowballs had been depleted, dad threw his head back in laughter and then clapped us on our backs. “You boys didn’t even see me coming!” he exclaimed. “But by golly, you sure did turn the tables on your old man. Well done!” My heart swelled with pride at his praise and Jack and I beamed at each other.


Once our laughter calmed down, we made our way to the shed in the backyard that housed our sleds. I delighted in the sound of our boots crunching through the snow and giggled at Jack who was dramatically attempting to whistle so he could see his breath form little clouds in the air. Dad unlocked the shed, doled out the sleds and then we made our way to Hamilton Hill.
















































H Sledding on Hamilton Hill


our house and overlooked the elementary school. It was the perfect place to go sledding in the winter. And in the summer, the kids would race to

see who could roll down it the fastest. When we arrived, the Callahan kids, Pat and Debbie, along with Mike and Winnie Collins, were already there. When the foursome saw dad, Jack and me approaching, they began to wave enthusiastically. Dad was loved dearly by the neighborhood kids and was always met with a warm reception.


I eagerly greeted Pat and Mike. The three of us were in the same grade and had known each other since we were toddlers. We had the reputation of being a rambunctious, but respectful, trio. I can’t help but smile whenever I think about the mischief the three of us drummed up throughout our childhoods.


Dad led all of us kids up the hill so we could take turns racing down it in pairs. Dad let us kids race in pairs first, and then each of us would get a chance to race him.












Since Jack and Winnie were the youngest, we let them go first. Winnie was rail thin so dad gave give her a hearty push which sent her and her sled flying down the hill. Despite dad’s gallant effort to help Winnie, Jack still beat her. Mike and Debbie raced next and Debbie beat him. Debbie was a notorious tomboy and could beat any boy at any sport or game. Mike half-heartedly tried to disguise his disappointment in losing to a girl.


Pat and I were the last pair to race. I settled onto my sled and took a deep breath. I was naturally competitive but I especially wanted to win the race because dad was there. I quickly glanced at Pat. He seemed to be oblivious to my nerves. He sat on his sled in a relaxed nature as he waited for dad to say, “On your mark, get set, GO!”


I immediately sat up straight and then leaned forward as I heard dad yell, “On your mark, get set…” As soon as he said go, I pushed off and zoomed down the hill. The brisk, winter air whipped my hair off of my forehead and I couldn’t resist letting out an excited, “Woohoo!” I quickly glanced behind me and saw that Pat was right on my tail. When I saw how close he was, I lunged my body forward to gain a little more speed.






My added effort paid off because I reached the bottom of the hill five seconds before Pat did.


I felt a surge of pride bubble up inside of me but I kept it to myself. Pat and I got off of our sleds, shook our legs, which had become somewhat cramped, and began our treacherous ascent back up the hill. Then, each kid took a turn racing dad. No matter how hard we tried, dad beat all of us. We didn’t care though. Having dad there, the only adult who ever expressed interest in sledding down Hamilton Hill, was all that mattered.


After we each had a turn sledding with dad, we decided that it was time to make our way back to our respective homes. It was lunch time and we could all tell by our grumbling stomachs.






A Warming Up


off our wet snowsuits, we washed our hands and sat down at the table.

Mom had steaming bowls of tomato soup and grilled cheeses waiting for us. Mom and dad joined us at the table and the four of us ate as Jack and I regaled mom with our sledding adventure.


Once we had eaten and satisfied our grumbling stomachs, dad bundled up again and made his way outside. He kept a generous stockpile of firewood in the backyard shed and it was customary for him to start a fire in our den’s fireplace after lunch on snow days. He retrieved an armful of firewood and made his way back to the house. He kicked his boots off at the back door and mom gave him an approving smile. All of us, even dad, knew better than to walk through the house with snowy shoes.


Jack and I gathered around the fireplace, eager to help dad with whatever task he assigned us.














































The den fireplace was a special spot in our house. It was made out of red brick and had a sturdy wooden beam as the mantle. The mantle was decorated with pictures of our extended family, and, of course, during Christmastime, our stockings hung from it.


Every night after dinner, dad would turn on a Patsy Cline record and go relax in his plush, wingback chair that sat in front of the fireplace. He would smoke a cigarette and it was my and Jack’s time to talk to him about our day. So many of my memories of dad were created around that fireplace.


As dad set down the firewood, he looked over his shoulder and said, “Say, Jack. Why don’t you go find some newspaper for your old man?” Jack jumped up and began his search for an old newspaper. Meanwhile, dad started placing the logs onto the grate. Dad was a fan of building an “upside down” fire. I observed closely, noticing how he put the larger logs on the bottom. He then stacked smaller logs and a layer of kindling on top. He whistled “White Christmas” as he built the fire. Dad was a really good whistler but I could never pick up that trait of his.

















Jack returned just as dad was finishing up. Dad instructed me and Jack to begin crumpling some sheets of newspaper into balls. We tossed the crumpled newspaper into the fireplace so they landed on top of the layer of kindling. Dad reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small box of matches. Dad was a chain smoker so he always had a box of matches handy. He struck a match against the side of the box and we watched in amazement as a bright flame appeared. It didn’t matter how many times we had seen dad strike a match; when you’re a kid, there’s something so entrancing about fire.


Dad got the fire started and made sure the fire grate was securely in place before he sat down in his chair and lit a cigarette. Mom walked in with our snowsuits and a drying rack from the laundry room. Our suits were still damp so she draped them over the rack in front of the fire so they would dry faster. She knew it would only be a matter of time before we were ready to get back out in the snow to build a snowman.






Jack and I sat on the floor with our legs stretched out in front of us and our backs against the little brick ledge of the fireplace. Jack was rolling a matchbox car along his leg and was humming softly to himself. Jack always had a penchant for music, and as he grew up, he learned how to play any instrument he could get his hands on. Nowadays, he’s the lead cantor at his church and he plays the trumpet in his town’s local orchestra. I never inherited any musical talent!


As I sat in front of the fire, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the heat, radiating from the roaring fire, on my back. The sound of the crackling and popping firewood filled me with excitement. This cozy fire on our snow day signaled the start of the Christmas season and I could hardly contain my excitement as I thought of all the fun that was to be had in the coming weeks. Dad made Christmastime special, and for that, I’ll forever be grateful.






I The Pinckney Farm Christmas Tree


Christmas tree. Jack was a baby and mom had him bundled up so thoroughly, you could hardly see his little face. Dad decided cutting down our own tree

would be a fun way to get me and Jack in the Christmas spirit each year. So, it became a tradition on the first Saturday of December to drive to Pinckney Farms and search for the perfect Christmas tree. My dad was really good at starting family traditions.


This year, the first Saturday in December fell right after our snow day. Jack and I couldn’t believe our luck; we had an unexpected day off from school and now we were piling into dad’s teal 1958 Chevy Bel Air to head to Pinckney Farms. The Christmas season was starting strong.


As we made our way to the farm, mom starting singing “O’ Christmas Tree.” Mom had a lovely, delicate soprano voice. She was always singing or humming and I’m certain that Jack inherited his own musical ability from her.











As mom sang the first verse, I closed my eyes and reveled in the sound of her voice. Some of my earliest memories of her are when she would sing me to sleep with a Lullaby or a hymn. I’ve always found a lot of comfort in mom’s singing.


Even though dad couldn’t sing half as well as mom, he absolutely loved to. In fact, by the time mom had started singing the chorus, dad had joined in, singing loudly and hopelessly off-key. I watched mom’s shoulders gently shake in laughter. She genuinely loved his unabashed enthusiasm. I couldn’t help but smile and roll my eyes at dad.


When we arrived at Pinckney Farms, Jack and I hopped out of the car and hurried to the trunk. Dad opened the trunk and pulled out a wooden sled with red metal runners, a pair of heavy duty gloves and a bow saw. “Okay family. You know the drill,” dad stated. “Stick close together and whoever picks out the tree we take home, gets to place the star on top later tonight.” Mom, Jack and I solemnly nodded in response.

Scattered snow flurries whirled around us as we began the trek up the foothills that were speckled with beautiful, snow laden Christmas trees. Eventually, our excitement




bubbled over and Jack and I ran ahead. The fragrant trees loomed over us and our options seemed limitless.


After 30 minutes or so, my excitement was waning and I started to get frustrated. I was surrounded by beautiful trees but I hadn’t found the right one yet. I wanted a tree that was special and stood apart from the others.


Right when I was about to give up, I reached a little clearing. My eyes widened as I took in the sight before me. A solitary Christmas tree appeared and as I crept toward it, my jaw dropped in awe. It was probably close to seven feet tall with beautiful dark green needles.


There was a soft breeze that was blowing which caused the snow on the tree’s branches to lazily flutter to the ground. I decided right then and there that it was the most majestic thing I had ever seen. I had found our tree.



I shook myself out of my reverie and exclaimed, “Dad! Mom! Jack! I found it! I found our tree!”


My family approached the clearing and I watched proudly as my mom experienced a similar awe to mine. She walked over to me and put her arm around my shoulders and pulled me close.


“You’re absolutely right, darling,” She whispered. “This is our tree. I want you to remember this moment when you take your kids tree hunting one day.”


Dad and Jack were in agreeance so dad pulled on his heavy duty gloves. He produced the bow saw and instructed all of us to stand back. He knelt down and began sawing. He used strong and steady strokes and right before the tree collapsed onto the snowy hillside, dad jokingly yelled, “Timber!”


Jack and I hurried over to dad and helped him pick up the tree so we could place it on



the sled. Jack and I lifted the tree from the bottom of the trunk while dad picked it up around the middle. Once the tree was properly secured on the sled we made our way back to the car.


After dad had tied the tree to the top of the car, we made our way to the cabin that was situated at the end of the parking lot. The cabin had a wraparound porch where several rocking chairs sat. An oversized Christmas wreath hung from the front door and cream colored candles were placed in every window.


The cabin is where the Pinckney’s served hot chocolate and ginger snap cookies to their patrons. It was a welcomed treat after spending an hour or two searching for a Christmas tree.


We trudged up the front steps and made our way inside the cabin. Upon opening the front door, we were greeted with a cozy scene. Several other customers were gathered around tables, enjoying Mrs. Pinckney’s homemade ginger snaps. There was a roaring


fire in the stone fireplace and the mantle was festooned with strands of garland. Christmas carols were softly playing and you could smell cinnamon and pine in the air.


Mom led us to a four-top table that was nestled in the corner. The table was covered in a dark red tablecloth and was adorned with a small poinsettia centerpiece.


It wasn’t long after the four of us had settled into our sturdy wooden chairs that Mrs. Pinckney approached our table holding a tray laden with a plate full of ginger snaps and four mugs of hot chocolate. I peeked at the tray and was delighted to see a little ramekin filled with marshmallows. Whenever kids were at a table, the Pinckney’s made sure to serve marshmallows with the hot chocolate.


Once the cookies and hot chocolate had been served, Mrs. Pinckney smiled warmly at us and asked how we had been doing and if we were pleased with the Christmas tree selection. Mom and dad engaged in conversation with her as Jack and I started eating.


I had known Mrs. Pinckney for as long as I can remember. Aside from owning Pinckney



Farms with her husband, she was also the children’s choir director at our church. She was tall and very thin and she had dark hair that was streaked with gray. She wore it twisted in a bun and she always had her glasses hanging from a chain around her neck. Her green eyes were speckled with brown flecks. She was a prominent figure from my childhood and I associate her with many fond memories.


Jack took a big sip of his hot chocolate and then put his mug down on the table. I glanced over at him and immediately burst into a fit of laughter. He had a massive hot chocolate mustache and the tip of his nose was coated in melted marshmallow fluff. He looked at me with an inquisitive gaze which made me laugh harder. I handed him a napkin as I tried to quell my laughter. Jack started snickering too once he realized why I handed him a napkin.


Our laughter was noticed by the adults and Mrs. Pinckney exclaimed, “I see someone’s enjoying their hot chocolate!” She beamed at us brightly, tousled Jack’s hair and wished our family a Merry Christmas before walking away to tend to the other patrons.



Dad glanced at all of us around the table before letting his gaze fall onto my mom. He looked at her with almost a shy smile. “Well Maria, shall we head home?” My mom had her left forearm lying on the table and her chin was resting in her right hand. She held his gaze and nodded with a smile. In that moment, they looked like two teenagers in puppy love.


The four of us pushed our chairs back and stood up from the table. We made sure our chairs were tucked back in and then filed out of the cozy cabin. The sun had set while we were inside and the parking lot was dimly lit by a few lampposts. We climbed into the car where Jack and I proceeded to nod off and mom and dad quietly sang along to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the radio.


The feel of the car pulling into the driveway jolted me awake. I reached over and nudged Jack until he opened his eyes. Dad parked the car and mom, with her hands shoved in her coat pockets and her head cast downwards, briskly made her way inside. She was not a fan of cold weather.




Jack and I watched as dad cut the strings that had secured the tree to the car, firmly grip the tree, pick it up and place it on the snow dusted driveway. He retrieved the gloves and bow saw from the trunk and proceeded to saw off about two feet from the top of the tree. Our ceilings weren’t that high so some adjustments needed to be made.


Dad instructed Jack to run ahead and hold the front door open for him. Then, in one seemingly easy swoop, he picked up the tree and marched up the driveway to the front door. While we were getting the tree ready, mom had assembled the Christmas tree stand and placed it in front of the big picture window in the formal living room. Dad made his way through the front door, into the living room and placed the tree in the stand. Once it was secure, mom walked over holding a pitcher of water. She filled the stand with water and then placed the tree skirt around it. Our tree skirt was decorated with an image of a jolly Santa Claus with a shiny red nose. When I was Jack’s age, I remember being scared of the Santa on the tree skirt and honestly, even as I got older, I never grew to be too fond of it.


Mom put on a record of Bing Crosby Christmas carols and we all began decorating the tree. Dad was in charge of stringing the lights and mom followed with strands of cranberry garlands. Jack and I took care of the ornaments. Admittedly, the bottom half of the tree was decorated with far more ornaments than the top half.


After the tree was sufficiently decorated, dad reached into our Christmas decorations box and pulled out the star. He walked over and said with a smile, “Son, I believe this is your responsibility this year.” I took the star from him and he lifted me up so I could reach the top of the tree. I slightly struggled with finding a branch to place it on since we had cut off the top of the tree. But, I managed to fasten the star and dad set me down.


Mom turned off the living room lights and we all smiled as the lit Christmas tree took center stage. It was just as majestic in our living room as it had been in the clearing at Pinckney Farms. I took a moment to glance at my family and was immediately filled with an immense surge of love for each of them. That feeling, of unadulterated joy and love, is what I cherish most about the Christmas season.





Decked Halls & Boughs of Holly



p(((((((((())))<>{color:#331D17;}. as completely and utterly magical. Dad’s perpetual Christmas spirit rubbed off on the entire family and the house seemed to hum with

yuletide cheer. Mom had transformed the inside of our home into a winter wonderland. She hung wreaths from every door, the mantle was dressed with fragrant garlands and sleigh bells dangled from the backdoor doorknob.


She placed an Advent wreath at the center of our kitchen table, and in our front foyer, on top of our great grandmother’s credenza, was a nativity scene. My mom had inherited a set of Christmas figurines from her mother, or as we called her, Nana. There were carolers, an elderly couple bundled up in a sleigh, a family ice skating and a young couple walking arm-in-arm. Each Christmas, my mom placed these figurines on top of our upright piano that sat in the formal living room.










The dining room table was outfitted with a beautiful red and gold table runner and my mom’s Christmas china had been placed at each seat. Mom hung mistletoe in every doorway and dad made sure to take advantage of it every chance he got. Jack and I couldn’t help but giggle at mom whose cheeks would turn pink every time dad stopped her under the mistletoe.


While the inside of our home was festive and beautifully decorated, dad had done a pretty good job decorating the outside of our house. He had placed wreaths on the outside of the windows and big red bows on the front porch lights. He placed another red bow on our mailbox. Whenever there was enough snow on the ground, he made a snowman that was dressed in a black top hat, a red and green tartan scarf and, of course, a corncob pipe.


Every day when Jack and I would walk up the driveway after school, a huge smile would break out on my face. I loved how our house looked so inviting and Christmassy.





Ice Skating on Walton Pond



p(((((((((())))<>{color:#331D17;}. Christmas, we spent a lot of time after school skating on Walton Pond with the neighborhood kids. That year, while skating on the pond, was

the first time I ever held hands with a girl. Eleanor Parker was relatively new in town. She had moved to our town from St. Louis. She was tall and lanky with long blonde hair and striking blue eyes. I had harbored a crush on her since she walked into my classroom back in September.


I will never forget that it was a Wednesday. My teacher, Mrs. Holden, had made our class participate in a spelling bee that day. Eleanor and I ended up being the final two students remaining and I was incredibly nervous. I had shoved my hands in my pockets and anxiously rocked back and forth on my heels. Eleanor, on the other hand, was calmly looking ahead with her hands clasped in front of her.




Mrs. Holden asked me to spell the word “tournament.” I bit my lip and glanced at Eleanor. I was taken aback when she met my gaze. Even though she appeared a lot calmer than I, her blue eyes were opened wide and I noticed her knuckles were white from holding her hands together so tightly. She was a lot more nervous than she was letting on.


I knew how to spell the word “tournament” but the second I saw Eleanor’s confident façade falter, I decided that I was going to bow out of the spelling bee by intentionally messing up. When I misspelled the word, Mrs. Holden shook her head and said, “I’m afraid that is incorrect. Eleanor, go ahead and spell “tournament.”


I watched Eleanor nod at Mrs. Holden and she proceeded to spell tournament perfectly. Mrs. Holden congratulated her and presented her with a blue ribbon. Eleanor beamed as she pinned the blue ribbon to the front of her sweater. As we walked back to our seats, she flashed me a brief smile.





Later that day, while I was skating on Walton Pond with Jack, Pat and Mike, Eleanor approached us with a shy smile. I quickly glanced at the fellas and gave them a look that told them to scram. They snickered as they skated away.


She had on a powder blue hat with a white pom pom at the top. She had a matching scarf and mittens. Her coat was white and was cinched at the waist with a belt. Her blonde hair against the white coat made her look like an angel.


My heart was pounding furiously in my chest. I somehow managed to stammer a “Hey, Eleanor.” She nodded and said, “I just wanted to tell you that I think you did a fine job today.” I flashed her a bashful grin and returned the compliment. She proceeded to tell me that my “scholarly abilities” reminded her of the tutor John Brooke, from Little Women. I quickly realized that Little Women was her favorite book and John Brooke, in her mind, was the perfect man.



Since I somehow reminded her of John Brooke, I quickly became the object of her affection. She asked me if I wanted to skate with her and I nodded in agreement. We skated around the pond a few times before she reached over and grasped my hand with hers. I let out an audible gasp when I felt her hand in mine and she looked down at the ground with a big smile. I slowly felt a smile creep upon my face and we continued to skate in a contented silence.


After a few more laps around the pond, Eleanor said she needed to head back home for dinner. I escorted her off of the pond and I sat down on a bench next to her while she removed her skates. Once she had laced up her snow boots, she stood up and clutched her skates in her left hand. She offered a small wave before she turned around and made her way to her house.


As I watched her walk away, Mike and Pat skated up to me and started making kissing noises. They relentlessly heckled me until Jack and I decided that we, too, should head home for dinner.









T A Christmas Miracle


vacation was spent in a dress rehearsal for the annual Christmas pageant.

Jack and I had on freshly pressed, white collared button down shirts that were tucked into black slacks. We had matching black suit jackets and shiny black loafers that mom had just shined earlier that morning. I had on a red tie and Jack’s was green. Our hair was parted and combed.


My class was performing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while Jack’s was singing “Jingle Bells.” I didn’t care for singing or performing before crowds and I didn’t like being stuck in stuffy church clothes all day. However, I did like that Mrs. Holden had placed Eleanor to my left for the performance.


Around 6 o’clock, all the parents started filing into the gymnasium. Mrs. Flynn, the art teacher, had taken our dingy gymnasium and turned it into a winter wonderland. The basketball court was lined with rows of hunter green chairs that faced the stage.




The walls of the gym were decorated with Christmas themed pictures that had been drawn by students in her in art class. There was a line of robust poinsettias in front of the stage and the backdrop for our pageant was a magnificent painting of Santa placing gifts around a Christmas tree.


The pageant started at 6:30 PM and the performances were staggered by grade level. It was around 7:15 when my class started walking onto the stage. As I was walking in the wings, I felt something tug at my hand. I looked over my left shoulder and saw Eleanor grasping my hand with both of hers. Her blue eyes were gleaming. A mischievous smile lit up her face and she quickly leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my cheek.


My eyes widened and my mouth formed a perfect “O” as I realized what she had just done. I stared at her without moving for what felt like forever. She giggled and said, “Walk, silly! You’re holding up the line.” I shook my head to shake myself out of the spell she had cast upon me and I somehow managed to move my feet forward.





A deep blush crept its way up my neck to my cheeks as I walked onto the brightly lit stage. I tried to focus on the many verses of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” but all I could think about was that I could still feel Eleanor’s chaste kiss on my cheek. I slightly turned my head to the left so I could glance at Eleanor. She was smiling proudly as she belted out the verse about ten lords a leaping. I couldn’t help but smile at her exuberance and I finally was able to collect myself so I could sing along with the rest of my class for the last couple of verses.


After our performance was over, we were quickly ushered off the stage by Mrs. Holden so the next class could come on. Backstage was a frenzy and students of all grade levels were milling around. I looked around me and realized my classmates, or most importantly, Eleanor, had dispersed in various directions. Emboldened by Eleanor’s kiss, I decided I wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas since that night was the last time I would see her until the New Year.








I stood on my tiptoes and scanned backstage until I spotted her long, shiny blonde hair. She was standing with Debbie Callahan and Emily Turner. I quickly made my way over to the trio and said, “Eleanor? Can I talk to you for a minute?”


She turned around, smiled at me expectantly and clasped her hands behind her back. Debbie and Emily linked arms and giggled as they walked away.


My heart was pounding and I took a big gulp before I stammered, “I, well, uh you see, I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” I noticed her cheeks were tinged pink and she shifted her gaze downwards until she was staring at her black patent leather Mary Janes.




I could tell she was biting her lip in an attempt to hold back a smile. She finally lifted her head and met my gaze again. She said, “I hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too. I also hope you get the bicycle you asked for.”


I grinned broadly at the fact that she remembered I had asked Santa for a new bicycle. Earlier that week, Mrs. Holden had asked all of us what was one thing we had asked for Christmas. I had said a new red bicycle with silver chrome fenders, a banana seat and a silver bell.


I nodded in response to her and she said, “Well, I better go find the girls and say goodbye to them. See you next year.” She smiled at me one more time before tucking a blonde lock of hair behind her ear and walking away. As I watched her retreating figure, I couldn’t contain my giddiness. My train of thought was interrupted by Jack who had found me. The pageant had ended and we made our way to our parents so we could head home and officially begin our Christmas vacation.






D Christmas Eve


much as he loved Christmas day. After breakfast, we made our way to the front yard and tossed the football around with him. He taught us how to

throw a perfect spiral and how to catch the football without fumbling it. He even let Jack and me tackle him as we tried to pry the ball from his hands. It was great fun and a Christmas Eve tradition that I continued with my own children.


After a few hours of playing outside in the brisk, winter weather, we bustled inside with ruddy cheeks and red noses. The house smelled absolutely alive with Christmas. Mom had been hard at work all morning cooking up her legendary Christmas Eve dinner. Every year, we ate dinner at 3 and then made our way to the 5 o’clock Christmas Eve service at First Methodist Church.


Dad walked over to the stove where mom was standing, inhaled deeply and solemnly stated, “Maria, your Christmas Eve dinner is my favorite meal of the year.” She cast a



sideways glance his way as she wiped her brow with her forearm. Jack and I echoed our agreeance and she laughed as she instructed us to wash up and get dressed for church.


Once Jack, dad and I were dressed in our Sunday best, mom disappeared into her room to change. She left dad in charge of manning the stove where all the mouthwatering dishes were simmering. The three of us stood in front of the stove, hands shoved in our pockets and gazed longingly at our dinner. Somehow we managed to exhibit exemplary restraint and didn’t even sneak one taste.


After twenty minutes or so, Mom rushed back into the kitchen as she was fastening the backs of her diamond stud earrings. She looked radiant in a long sleeved scarlet dress that stopped above her ankles. The dress was cinched at her waist with a dainty white belt which caused the skirt of the dress to flare out. She wore black t-strap heels and she had swept her chestnut brown hair into a simple chignon. She smiled at us and instructed Jack and me to sit down at the dining room table. To this day, my mom is still as beautiful and has a great eye for fashion.



As Jack and I made our way into the dining room, I quickly looked over my shoulder. Dad stood in front of mom and gazed at her in awe. “You’re stunning, Maria,” he whispered. She thanked him, placed her hands on his forearms and stood on her tiptoes so she could quickly kiss him before turning her attention back to the stove. I turned back around and walked toward my seat as I thought about how lucky I was to have parents that were genuinely in love.


Mom and dad took turns carrying in the various dishes and placing them on the table. Once everything had been situated in its appropriate place, mom and dad sat down at opposite ends of the table. Before we began eating, dad
p(((((((((())))))))))<>{color:#331D17;}. led us in a short blessing. He bowed his head and said, “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.” We all murmured our “Amens” in response and then dad began dishing out the different courses on our plates.



Mom had outdone herself this year. There was a roasted turkey, a green bean casserole and a hash brown casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread stuffing, yeast rolls and cranberry sauce. Everything was so delicious that we all ate in silence for a while, savoring mom’s cooking. Norman Rockwell could have had our family in mind when he created his masterpieces.

After we ate, we all pitched in to clear the table. Dad helped her put the leftovers in Tupperware containers and mom filled the now empty casserole dishes with warm soapy water so they could soak while we were at church.
p(((((((((())))))))))<>{color:#331D17;}. Once the dining room table, stove and kitchen counters were wiped down, we all put on our winter jackets before heading out to the Bel Air.


The church parking lot was overflowing with parked cars





so we had to park a few streets down. Jack was in the children’s choir so once we approached the doors of the church, he scampered off so he could congregate with Mrs. Pinckney and the rest of the kids in choir.


Dad, mom and I made our way into the sanctuary and somehow found seats in a pew that had a good view of the children’s choir. We discovered that we were sitting next to the Collins family and Mike and I ended up sitting next to each other. Both dad and Mr. Collins gave Mike and me warnings that if we caused any commotion, we would be duly reprimanded. We both offered an earnest “Yes, sir” in acknowledgement to their warnings.


Mike and I chatted amicably until the organ trumpeted the first notes of “O’ Come All Ye Faithful.” The entire congregation stood together in song and the service proceeded with a communal and festive spirit.




Once the service was over, we wished the Collins’ a Merry Christmas as we parted ways. Dad, who seemed to tower over the entire congregation, waved Jack down and then we made our way to the car.


When we got home, mom finished washing the dishes that were in the sink. Dad turned on the record of Christmas carols and lit a cigarette. Jack and I changed into our pajamas and I retrieved our copy of “The Night Before Christmas” from the
p(((((((((())))<>{color:#331D17;}. bookshelf that sat in our bedroom before joining dad in the formal living room. While Jack and I were changing, dad had plugged in the Christmas tree lights and set out Santa’s cookies and milk.


Mom walked in as “Here Comes Santa Claus” started playing and dad took her in his arms





and spun her around the room in an impromptu dance. She threw her head back in laughter and playfully swatted his arm. Dad grinned sheepishly before he turned his attention to Jack and me.


“Well fellas, are you ready to read your book before bed?” We nodded eagerly and both dad and mom joined us on the couch. Jack immediately snuggled up against mom as I rested my cheek against dad’s right arm. Dad had a rich, baritone reading voice, so listening to him read “The Night Before Christmas” was truly magical.


It was so cozy being curled up on the couch with my family as the Christmas tree lights cast a soft glow over us. I felt my eyes grow heavier as dad’s voice lulled me to sleep. He must have carried both Jack and me to our beds, because before I knew it, I was waking up and it was Christmas morning.






I Christmas Day


my bedroom that was basked in early morning light. I looked over at Jack’s sleeping form and noticed his chest peacefully rising and falling. I smiled

excitedly as I realized Christmas morning was finally here.


From my bed, I loudly whispered, “Jack, hey Jack! Wake up, it’s Christmas!” He opened his eyes, blinked a few times, shot out of bed and pumped his fist in the air enthusiastically. I hopped out of bed and we ran into our parents’ room.


Dad let out a teasing groan and told us we could wait in the living room for him and mom. We scurried out of their room and made our way into the living room. Upon entering the living room, Jack and I couldn’t help but to let out a few excited squeals.


There was an abundance of beautifully wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree and a brand new red bicycle was propped up on its kickstand. We sat on the floor and









impatiently bounced our legs up and down as we waited for mom and dad to join us.


Finally, after what seemed like hours, mom and dad sauntered into the living room dressed in their robes and slippers. Dad made us wait a tad longer so he could brew a pot of coffee. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted into the living room and soon dad walked in with two mugs of coffee. He handed one mug to mom before sitting down next to her on the couch.


We were then allowed to begin opening our presents. The next thirty minutes or so was a frenetic flurry of wrapping paper being flung into the air and excited yelps as the contents of wrapped presents were revealed. Jack and I were lucky enough to have gotten new toys, books and clothes. I had my new bike and Jack had received his very first trumpet. We were very happy and appreciative kids.


After Jack and I had opened our presents, mom and dad exchanged the presents they had bought for each other. Mom had purchased a new set of golf clubs for dad and he

















told her that he couldn’t wait to practice his swing in the backyard later that afternoon.


When mom opened her gift from dad, she softly exclaimed, “Oh George, it’s beautiful.” Mom’s favorite flowers were lilies and dad had found a brooch in the shape of a lily at an antique store downtown. She traced it gingerly and then gave dad a big smile. “Thank you, darling,” she whispered. Dad proudly grinned back at her and kissed her cheek.


After we opened our presents, Jack and I helped dad clean up the mess while mom made breakfast. Once breakfast was ready, we sat at the table and each said something we were thankful for while we enjoyed our biscuits and gravy. It was truly a perfect Christmas morning.









The rest of the day was spent playing with our new gifts. After listening to Jack attempt to learn the trumpet for over an hour, I was ready to get outside. I hopped on my bike and contentedly rode around our neighborhood. I inhaled the crisp, winter air and smiled as I thought about how perfect this year had been. I was starting to feel older and more mature but I was still young enough to enjoy the frivolity of being a child.


With that thought, I was overwhelmed with the desire to be with my family. I turned my bike around and headed home where I knew I would be greeted by the people who made me feel incredibly happy, safe and loved. Even as a child, I knew to never take that invaluable gift for granted.






I Epilogue


shaky breath. I stood up from the rocking chair and walked into to the kitchen so I could place my now empty coffee mug into the sink.


As another tear fell down my cheek, Eileen walked into the kitchen. She quickly walked toward me, grabbed my left hand and kissed me on the cheek. She then rested her head against my shoulder and continued to hold my hand in a soothing silence.


This first Christmas without my dad was going to be hard. But having the unwavering support and love of Eileen, our children, grandchildren and my mom, would make it so much better. They were the silver lining and the hope that would help me get through Christmas.


I know in the coming months, I will need to revisit that silver lining for solace and strength as I live through the first year without my father.





























About the Author



Gretchen Lindsay is a professional writer, marketer and author from Charlotte, NC. She received her degree in Communication from East Carolina University. Her passion for building relationships and telling stories blends well with her work for businesses and clients across the country. She is a marketing technology manager with The Idea People in Charlotte. In addition, she is a popular online social influencer and hosts a weekly web video series called “Home.” In her spare time, Gretchen works with the elderly and is an avid reader.







The First Year (Without My Father)

Tragedy and loss, while painful and unsettling, tend to be catalysts for remembering and appreciating the beauty of life and memories. These human emotions are what inspired The First Year Without My Father. The First Year Without My Father captures the innocence of childhood, the power of a family’s love and the joy of living. It was written to evoke a sense of nostalgia with every reader and to demonstrate how powerful memories of the past can be. Prepare to journey back to a time where genuine happiness and delight were found through people and simple pleasures. Let The First Year Without My Father inspire you to recall your own memories of childhood, family and life. After all, a lot of joy can be found by remembering the people, places and events that shaped your life.

  • Author: Gretchen Lindsay
  • Published: 2017-01-17 21:07:33
  • Words: 14849
The First Year (Without My Father) The First Year (Without My Father)