Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Martha Effect

When my dad got a little older and had more time, he got very involved in the Christmas decorating.  He would go down into the crawl space and whack his head a couple dozen times getting the boxes up and unpacked.  Of special importance was the full Nativity scene we had that was lovingly wrapped in paper towels.  It was very lifelike and plastic and mom still puts it out every year.  Dad would arrange everything like a respectable stable scene and then we would go into the living room and rearrange the Jesus and his posse into all kinds of configurations on the coffee table.  Sometimes baby sister, Ann, would ring up the sheep and donkeys on her cash register.

One year he decided to make the Nativity scene the star of the show, and so he built little shelves and attached them to the wall for each of the main players.  Then he cut evergreens from the back yard to make it look even more authentic. 

During those years when Dad was getting his Martha on, we would all hightail it out of the house.  There was a lot of conflict and aggravation that went on during Decorating Day and it was in your best interest to get out of Dodge Bethlehem.  Mom would plead with us to help, but help meant getting yelled at all day by someone who didn't give a hoot about the reason for the season until nightfall when he and mom sat down with a glass of wine to admire the tree.

The girl who came from generations of perfectionists married a man whose motto is "Good from far.  Far from good."

He hops on his bike in the cold and rides to nowhere as soon as he sees that look in my eye.  The glassy-eyed look with the hedge clippers in one hand and ribbon in the other with a plan to cut me some boxwood for the toilet paper holder.

"It will be Christmas everywhere," I say with my holiday grimace.  Except in my hardened, brittle heart.

We went and picked out the tree the other night and I promised myself I wouldn't be the joyless pain-in-the-ass that I usually am when it came to getting ready for the holidays.  We found a frasier fir we both agreed on and The Big Daddy, who collects bungee cords like they are fine antiques, came prepared and strapped it onto the roof like a pro.

"Done and done," he said to me to me as he got into the car.  "Smell my finger."

"What?  No.  Smell your finger?  Really, Mark?"

"Yeah. It's balsamy."

"Oh, I was going somewhere completely different with that line."

We came home and the good tidings of joy on the tree lot went out the window when I couldn't get all the plastic netting off and it kept getting caught in the screws of the tree stand while Mark tried to wrestle that balsamy bear into its proper place.

The year my dad built the little shelves for Mary, Joseph, The Three Wise Men and Baby Jesus, Mark backed into it after we had come home from midnight mass and knocked the whole thing off the wall.

Everybody gasped and looked at Dad, who was sporting the seasonal family grimace, but he calmly said, "Don't worry.  Just leave it and I'll put it back up later."

And nobody knew what had happened that Dad didn't completely lose his holiday shit, except that unto us a Savior had been born and he had just saved my future husband's ass.