My favorite Christmas was the year my father returned. We sat where we always sat in the living room, leaning from our chairs, poised to start tearing at the flimsy paper, my sisters smiling and pointing at the orange seat covers on the furniture our mother still protected for posterity or out of stubborn habit. We saw his face in the small rectangular cut outs in the front door, which led directly to the living room of our small oddly designed house. There he was, the one for whom we’d waited, and not just that morning in the way children desperate to attack their share of the bounty keep vigil until their parents rise. Years had passed since he told us of his need for space, time to think, and began packing his things. This was no surprise. We knew he was coming. He’d phoned when he left his apartment. Those years had left us little no longer, children who’d given up childish things, like letters begging Santa for a ten speed or a radio control plane, a father who's regained his senses.
I’d begun my senior year in college. Even my youngest sister had moved out. We thought we'd become worldly, seen everything. But that Christmas left us shaking our heads and chuckling, amazed at our good fortune, like kids donning and then doffing grown up clothes, like grown ups who travel back in time, Scrooge the old cynic himself. It was we who’d returned to Christmas past, to that tree with its familiar ornaments, including the stupid ones we made in first grade, to one room of presents instead of two. My father still had his own place, of course, the final reentry into my mother’s life still months off, the retaking of the vows, the movers carrying his stuff back into the house. But we were together for Christmas as we hadn’t been since his blue Ford pulled out.
All those nights we’d wept and secretly prayed for hokey, and then given up and grown up? Well the answer had finally arrived like light from a burned out star. Even the lawn filled with a flurrying white touch. Here my father stepped, brushing snow off the way Jimmy Stuart’s war hero brother Harry does at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, except my father wasn’t coming back from the Big One, just a big mistake. And here stood my mother laughing and crying at the same time, just like Donna Reed, only my mother still had plenty of anger and recriminations left. Her tears brimmed with true salt, ancient and corrosive, and plenty of the impossible in love had already melted away like that half inch of dust soon would. She and my father needed more than a few dollars thrown in a bowl to make trust solvent, to reintegrate two lives irrevocably broken by divorce, remarriage, divorce, and then this. They had plenty of fight left in them and it would take years before they finally figured out how to live with each other. Even then it would be shaky, and I would have long since moved on with my own life.
So when I tell you I'm a believer in miracles, I'll also tell you they happen the troubled way things actually happen, the way gifts are never quite as shiny or precious when you hold them in your hands. But this one had a little magic in it anyhow, still does after all this time.