Once the story books were read, squeals of delight were heard far and wide as it was announced that it was time for the children to open packages. They came running from every direction. The bigger boys were the first to assemble front and center by the tree. They has already scoped out their packages and had them sorted from the others for easy access. Next were the bigger girls, also eager but less frantic than the boys. Lastly, the wee one who was oblivious to what was about to happen, was still meandering about contentedly admiring a stray bow she had found. Goose called her over to sit on his lap. She climbed up and perched herself on grandpa’s knee, and snuggled her head into his shoulder. I could smell her still baby-soft blonde hair as it fell all ruffled against Goose’s shirt. I was missing my own son in this moment. I could picture the same events happening where he is celebrating tonight with my ex-relatives. I knew the menu and the conversations that occurred each holiday. I hoped he wasn’t missing me. I hoped he was busy being excited for Santa to come. I made myself remember that he’d be with me tomorrow. Then my thoughts were interrupted by the package distribution.
Finally when each child had a package and each parent had a camera, Goose’s oldest son boosted the anticipation levels by shouting “Reaaady – Seeet- GO!” They certainly unwrapped with vigor! Ribbons were flying and colored paper was ripping and crumbling everywhere. The little one on Goose’s lap just watched in astonishment as she held her package tightly. She was content with the package. She didn’t know or care that there was something fun inside of it. She watched the big kids as they worked their way through package after package. Not even looking long enough to see what the gift was that they had just opened. There would be time later for inspecting each gift and then playing with it. But now was the time for unwrapping!
Goose tried telling her to peak in the corner of the package.. that there was a present inside. She looked at him like he was crazy. Suddenly it occurred to her that Grandpa just might be right. She took an edge of the paper and pulled it.. and when it tore, she looked for Grandpa’s approval. (Apparently tearing paper was on the “no-no list.) I smiled as her eyes grew round with excitement.. there was a baby doll inside with a pacifier, just like hers. Her little angel face beamed with love for ‘her baby.’ As the big kids were now busy playing with their new toys, she finally got the hang of tearing paper. By next year, she’ll be a pro. Down in the crowd with the big kids ripping away.
When the packages were done and the cookie trays had been passed around one more time and the children were finally wearing down, that’s when Goose went out to warm up the car. It’s Christmas Eve in Minnesota, with several inches of snow and cold temperatures in the teens. Even a car needs a little encouragement. I thanked everyone for including me in the evening… I said good night to the children as Goose brought my coat. Hugs ensued and we headed out into the crisp still night,
It wasn’t far to the church, but I enjoyed the quiet in the car as I watched the sparkle of Christmas lights shining on the houses we passed. Goose reached over and took my hand. I gave his a squeeze as he pointed out a particularly spectacular light display on one house. He slowed down as we drove by so we could appreciate all of it. One last turn and we drove into the church parking lot. A few other cars had already arrived. Goose came around the car to hold onto me as we walked into the building. The parking lot was a carpet of compacted snow. Quite slippery under the heels of the shoes I’m wearing.
As we entered the brightly lit entrance of the church, Goose led me to the coat racks. He took my coat and greeted a few people he knew as they passed by. One couple approached him and he introduced me as his girlfriend. My heart smiled. He took my hand and lead me into the sanctuary. Candles and poinsettias decorated the altar along with a Christmas Tree in one corner. Christmas carols were being played softly on a piano. Goose stopped at the end of a pew and motioned for me to be seated. He slid in next to me. That’s when he made a confession,
“This is the first time I’ve been in the church since my wife died. The lady pastor on the altar preparing for the service is the one who did her funeral.”
I took his hand, and I looked into his sad blue eyes. An usher came around and passed out a program to follow for the service. Goose busied himself scanning through it.
The church began filling with people. The ushers passed out candles to everyone for later in the service. Goose would occasionally point out someone he knew and they’d exchange nods. I’d smile in the general direction he had pointed. Then as the lights dimmed, the music became festive and the pastor greeted the gathering.
I love the feel of connection I have at church. As if I’ve come in to fellowship and kindred spirits after being tossed about in the world. Sitting here next to Goose I feel a special connection between us in sharing this with him. And after his earlier confession, I feel honored and proud to be with him here tonight. We sang carols and listened to the pastor’s message. Then as we began singing Silent Night, the sanctuary is only lit with a single candle being held by the pastor. She slowly steps forward to share her ‘Light.” Then one by one each candle is lit until the room is filled with the Joy of Christmas.
I turned toward Goose, and with the candle light glowing on his face, I whispered, “Merry Christmas… I love you.”