Christmas in my family was never small. Every
year my parents went all out to make sure their kids got the best Christmas their money could buy. The result of these grand
annual events was my father screaming about the Christmas lights.
Every year mom would drag dad to the tree lot
next to Wal-Mart and pick the tallest, fattest tree. One year it was actually too fat to fit through the front door, so they
had to bring it through the patio door in the kitchen. Another year—before they started using the real thing—my
dad got so angry with the lights on the Christmas tree that he tossed the whole fake tree to the curb, lights and all.
Most of these events, I assume, happen in nearly
every house during the holidays.
When it came time to decorate, the whole family
was together. Mom would put in her usual mix of Christmas cd's and we would all work together filling the tree. Once it was
complete a marathon of Christmas movies would begin, accompanied by a glass of egg nogg. I cherish those years.
The holiday season of 1990 started like all others.
It was early November. The family drew names for special Christmas exchanges, wrote out their wish list, and went about their
business. I have always been a bigger fan of Thanksgiving, so I procrastinated. Why taint Thanksgiving with Christmas? It's
a sin to put out decorations before Black Friday.
I don't recall exactly when the call came, or
how my parents told my older brother, sister, and I. What I do remember is having
a Thanksgiving-Christmas to be truly thankful for.
Dad was in the Navy Reserves, and Desert Storm
was in swing. His reserve unit was called into war. Since he was to leave right after Thanksgiving my family decided we would
have Christmas on Thanksgiving.
Since there was no time to buy a tree, mom got
creative. She tended a potted tree in our living room that only seemed able to grow already dead leaves. The tree only stood
about three feet tall and always appeared dead. We tossed some tinsel on—which the cat ate and threw back up all over
the house—and hung as many ornaments as we dared weigh the tree down with. When we stepped back to marvel at our success,
I had to fight off a giggle. Our sad, little, leafless tree reminded me of the tree in Charlie Brown Christmas. Except ours
was a little taller.
On Thanksgiving-Christmas morning we woke, ate
breakfast together, then turned on the holiday music and began handing out our meager supply of gifts. It was the best Christmas
ever. It was the smallest Christmas on record.
The only other memory I can recall of that strange
holiday was the gift I received from my dad.
For months I begged my dad to buy a stuffed tiger
for me and he refused. Yet that day, under our Charlie Brown tree, my dad extracted a not so cleverly hidden large black trash
bag. Yes, a ten year old girl was excited about a trash bag.
When he handed me the gift I nearly jumped up
and down with glee. I had yet to open the bag and knew what was inside. My three foot tiger. More excited than ever before,
I tore at the bag and hugged the tiger close.
All the months my dad was in Saudi that tiger
helped me sleep at night. It made me feel like my dad was right there beside me. It was the most precious item I had. The
most fragile. As long as it was unharmed, he would be too.
Shortly before Christmas mom received a call
from dad saying he was not to be shipped out from North Carolina until after Christmas. So across the Skyway Bridge with a mother terrified of heights, through
an Indiana ice storm that froze our car doors shut, and through the Smokey Mountains my mother drove her children
to see their father... to see her husband.
Though I have very fond memories of a surprisingly
wonderful Christmas in North Carolina, it's the memories
of that Thanksgiving-Christmas that stand out to me. I still have that tiger seventeen years later. She's watching, reminding
me of how much our family has to be grateful for.
All of the Zipse kids are married with kids of
our own, and the Christmas's are only bigger. My parents new house has a lofted ceiling in the living room, so you can picture
the trees they get now.
But no Christmas will ever take the place in
my heart that belongs to the Christmas of 1990.