My parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December. Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart. My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday. Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack. While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.
This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth. Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers. Where does the time go?
The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain. The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room. When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.
But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays. What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles. Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head. Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters. That’s what I will remember this week. The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.
These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers. My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8. I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others. But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.
I do have an idea this year. This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world. I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street. Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me. The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside. I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.
I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories. And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”