“It’s snowing Daddy, it’s snowing!”
“I told you we’d have a white Christmas Son,” the father explained as he made his third circulation through the packed parking lot alerted to any red tail lights that promised a desired parking space. Ahead an elderly woman loaded her packages into her car. The father waited impatiently surveying, in his rear-view mirror, the growing line of vehicles steered by stark occupants. Had he not been programed by a senseless authority that placed duty ahead of consideration the father might have wondered if any of the awaiting motorists had their spirit singed by the flame of expectation. He too was oblivious to that interruption as well. The woman only took a few moments to close the trunk of her car, amble to the driver’s seat and situate herself in the Buick before starting the engine and cautiously backing out of her enviable parking space. The father could not suppress the echoing agitation from the intruding tide within that silently cursed the elderly woman for her delay. When had Christmas changed; when had the bitter transformation occurred that altered the sweet palate of his youth?
When the father was young, growing up in the same area, holidays were great celebrations where the consumption of seemingly endless trays of food and the visits with family were orchestrated under the guiding hand of prayer. Christmas, naturally, was the height of excitement. The father came from a large family, everyone it seemed did, with four older brothers and a younger sister. Christmas morning in his household resembled a mismanaged zoo where all the animals are let out of their cages at once. The opening of gifts accentuated the portrait of chaotic festivity. An amazing union of order and calamity was forged much like a bellowing wind choosing fire as a dance partner. He recalled that the jubilation was amazingly contained despite the wild activity that was conducted according to a baton that ebbed and flowed from the hand of a deaf conductor.
As the father parked the car he paused transfixed by an adjustment of memory. He recalled that he often envied his older brothers because of the extravagant gifts that they received on those expired holidays. He was aware, for the first time, that he was happy for them even though he was unable to return to that setting to express his joy for them. He gazed at his son positioned in his car seat in the back passenger seat as his thoughts returned to the present. The father was guided by a compass that was fixated on a desire to bestow upon his child the same tradition that marked his youth.
The shoppers preceded like fallen leaves in cold autumn streams converging into a river whose current determines the journey of its willing, yet helpless travelers. The store in its magnificent holiday attire engulfed father and son along with the countless other shoppers. The father held his son’s small hand, smiling at his child as the youngster’s splendid chocolate eyes were captivated by the expertly arranged displays adorned with New England holiday themes. The son regarded a gigantic moose head. The colossal antlers spread far beyond the width of any man’s shoulders. The mounted figure was on the wall ahead of them. The little boy redirected, as best he could, his father’s direction fearful of walking beneath the creature. The son feared that the animal would overwhelm any child who crossed his domain.
As they climbed the stairs the son and father spotted other stuffed wildlife: a black bear searching for food, a brilliantly marked pheasant, a bobcat ready-to-pounce from an en-cove, and a fisher whose razor teeth appeared, to the boy, to be knowingly grinning at him. “What’s that animal Daddy?” the boy questioned squeezing his father’s hand.
“That’s a fisher son.”
The boy paused in thought,“Mrs. Tomkins said that Noah’s cat was eaten by a fisher. Is that true Daddy?”
The father hesitated in order to conceal his disapproval of Betsy Tomkin’s indiscretion,”Could be, but we don’t have to worry about them where we live.”
“Because they won’t get Smoky, right Daddy?”
“That’s right Son, Smoky is safe and sound.”
Father and son reached the children’s section where a swarm of parents had assembled. Despite the relentless effort by the courteous staff decked in forest green company shirts. The trail that these shoppers left behind resembled a path worn by a migrating herd of bison. Sweaters were flung aside without consideration, books were discarded as one publication laid desecrated on the floor by an unassuming woman who peered over her bifocals scanning the picture books on the upper-most shelf. Her damp designer boots ruined the cover of Robert McCloskey’s classic Make Way for Ducklings insensibly underfoot.
The father scanned the mayhem spying the area where the winter coats were displayed and forcibly led his son by the hand as the air, a cauldron of ill-mannered desire, boiled above infecting the shoppers like a toxic potpourri. The son’s anticipation, by now, had been conquered by an obstinate tide that grew deeper with the realization that despite the immensity of this empire of products there was little to interest a four year old hoping to find mutant action figures, Star Wars Legos, or a remote control jeep to greet his anticipation. The father instantly read the disappointment on his son’s face and glared disapprovingly into the boy’s dark eyes, another ill-tempered ingredient added to the stewing cauldron.
For an instant the father took his attention from his son to check his list for the description and size of the jacket that preoccupied his attention. He checked his information with the displayed stock of parkas. According to the menu of his dismay the desired common size was out-of-stock and the rising flame of frustration continued to expand. The taunting chorus played in his head with increasing urgency, Find the boy the gift, find the boy the gift, find the boy–
Instinctively the father returned his awareness to the child. Instead of seeing the disappointed boy, he was staring at woolen leggings adorned with holiday ornaments. His eyes ran up to the countenance of the woman who was outfitted in the stockings while she greeted his delirious gaze with a forced smile. He looked beyond the perplexed woman only to spot another mother and child. Commanded by a reflex, the father knelt to gain the vantage point of his son, overwhelmed with what he saw–shelves stuffed with clothing and slow heavy overcoats meandering to some imaginary waltz as their inhabitants laconically gazed at the merchandise with their dangling tags. The father searched around the surrounding cubicles hoping that his son was playing a sinister game of hide-and-seek. When his attention returned to his previous location only a few feet away, the woman looked at him discerningly as the father’s face bared an anguish expression recognizable only by another parent who is so tortured.
A maddening reflex commanded the father to recall the recent heinous details of an unspeakable crime in a neighboring state where a young boy had been kidnapped, tortured and killed by two malefactors who drove to Maine to dump his broken body in the Piscataqua River. The father naturally attempted to extinguish the inferno of misery rising within by affirming the probability that his son had simply strayed off a short distance, distracted by one of the decorative displays. The distressed father’s faith, however, was breaking apart like a winter’s icepack scalded by the heightening flames of desperation.
The father, failed in his attempt to conceal his anxiety from the woman, “If my son returns–he’s four years old and has blond hair with brown eyes– He’s wearing a navy blue parka with a green and red knitted hat–Keep him here and I’ll be quick to return,” Before the startled woman could acknowledge the frantic command the father took off sprinting to the main entrance determined to reach the security desk before anyone could leave with his child!
The father could not avoid bumping shoulders with an elderly man who had stepped back into the walk-way to regard a half-torso manikin sporting a charcoal cashmere sweater. While the jostled man awaited for an apology, the father darted on in the direction of the expansive staircase. He reached the stairs pausing momentarily to survey the procession of shoppers headed in the direction of the entrance. He skipped stairs in his stride and in a blur he landed on the polished granite floor and headed to the security desk. The father’s frantic pursuit suddenly halted.
The compass of a parent’s love directed the father’s attention to the trout pond, a man-made attraction that wrapped around the staircase. His son sat on a large flat stone staring into the tranquil water, mesmerized by the cautious movement of a fish whose speckled markings precisely applied by the patient brush of evolution had stolen his sense of judgement while polishing the jewel of innocence. From the agonized abyss of his soul the father sighed and in the flickering realm of consideration his despair was extinguished. He prepared to ascend upon his unsuspecting son to reveal a measured part of the torment that the child’s disobedience had stirred. The laughter of his own childhood restrained him as he studied his son’s visage. He was thankful, “Oh God, oh dear, dear God.”
The boy’s curiosity was a portrait of beauty. The child’s remoteness and wonder affirmed for the father, all in life that is divine. The child’s worries were distant as incomprehensible as the innumerable planets that occupy the universe. In that moment the father envied his son just as he understood that he loved him once again.
The son’s fascination could not remain impervious to the responsibility that stalked his boundless freedom. His father, the captivated spectator, witnessed the boy’s discomfort by an agitated tic of awareness. The son was no longer secured in his cloak of serenity. He inherently raised his bowed head alerted by an intuitive alarm. The son’s instantly moist eyes withheld a sheet of tears as he clung onto his yoke of hope. The boy searched the parameter of the pond until his expanding anguish, sprouted from the heedless law of inhumanity. He was on the precipice of ignominy as if the gargantuan bull moose had dislodged himself from his suspension on the wall of the store, discovered where the vulnerable child was and prepared to trample him. For now his torment was spared. The child met his father’s stare with a syrupy shame that dripped over his naked innocence. The father, however, had found the gift. He smiled at his son. As he walked to the stone he redirected his son’s focus to the life within the pond. He climbed on the inviting cool granite platform next to his son and they sat admiring the pond as the father would have years before. He held his son, perhaps forever, in that hour and they were content to follow the movement of the trout as the oblivious band of shoppers hurried about them.