The windows were filled with the morning’s frost, and the red and green lights twinkled among the 20 year’s worth of handmade, grade school Christmas ornaments which filled our tree. Not a creature was stirring……except my 28 year-old brother.
Well beyond the years when people begin to be jaded, Sean was still filled with Christmas Spirit, and I could always expect to be jostled awake at 5 a.m. to let me know that it was time to see the bounty which awaited us. Or, time to wait until a somewhat reasonable hour to wake our parents.
With everyone moderately conscious, we would begin our Christmas tradition of taking turns opening gifts, my Mom telling us the story of how she got bought each one of those gifts (“I had to push a woman at Venture to get that He-Man figure.”), and my Dad cluelessly saying “You’re welcome” when we thanked him for gifts which he was obviously unaware that my mother had purchased.
Unlike my brother, I was always more than willing to sleep in late, since I had begun the process of finding hidden Christmas presents in Mid-August. A cat and mouse between my mother and I. She, always searching for new and unique ways to hide gifts, and me, always finding new and unique ways to locate them. I went so far as lowering my little sister Megan into the narrow opening of a locked cabinet to retrieve gifts. Things finally reached a tipping point when Mom hid a Nintendo NES in the home of our elderly neighbor, who then died shortly before the holidays. My parents had to convince her next of kin that Ann was not, in fact, a big fan of Duck Hunt.
Sean had led me down the path to become North County’s most prolific Christmas gift spoiler when he fulfilled every big brother’s duty of ruining the mystery of Santa Claus. I can still remember he and Jeff Lewis matter-of-factly letting me know that it was all a big lie as we strolled past the Electronics Department at Target.
With my world shattered, Sean and I began scouring the house for gifts. But he never had the stomach for it. When a previously discovered race car set was a no-show on Christmas morning, Sean caved almost immediately when our Mom simply said, “Looking for something?” He would have never been cut out for a life of crime.
Our Mom always made Christmas special for us, and my Dad always let my Mom make Christmas special for us. She took such joy in making us happy at Christmas, even when we didn’t make it too easy.
Like when my Dad had to hold my Mom back after I almost kicked the tree over because “Stupid Santa” brought me the Bat-Cycle instead of the Bat-Mobile, or when Sean launched a plastic Godzilla hand through a hand-painted Christmas ornament purchased on a trip to Frankenmuth,MI.
After, the wrapping paper had stopped flying, Sean would don whatever Generra sweatshirt or Swatch that my Mom had gotten for him and we would head to St. Martin’s for mass. Our favorite Christmas homily remains Fr. Marty’s “Christmas is about the three F’s. Food, family and fun.” sermon. We really thought one of those F’s was bound to stand for Faith, but he really threw us a curveball.
Then, after a few more hours of enjoying our gifts or possibly napping, we would head to our Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Lou’s house. Even though I now realize that they lived maybe 30 minutes away, it seemed like it was the other side of the planet. We would play, compare Christmas gift notes with our cousins and sit down for a fancy dinner. Or at least my idea of fancy. All of the plates, glasses and silverware matched!
Even though, at 43, I still don’t think I would have graduated from the kid’s table, I miss those days. Falling asleep in the back seat on the way home as my Dad drove, and knowing that everything was right with the world.
This will be our first Christmas without Sean. When I type those words, it still doesn’t feel real.
We all have our own families now, and we have created our own traditions, but the Original Five coming together has always been a part of that.
I take solace in the fact that the Christmas Spirit, which was so alive in Sean, lives in on in his children and all of his nieces and nephews.
I love you Sean. You will always be home for Christmas in my heart.