By Mark Poe
Most folks gush over Christmas presents from the standpoint of size or cost and some people understand the concept of giving and receiving and the idea of the love that is attached like the ribbons and the bows that adorn them. The greatest comes from the heart and those are the most treasured. That explains the ones I have received that are stuck in my memories like past friends or the thoughts that clear the fog from long-ago days that keep them in the present and have the ability to push the sands of time upward through the hourglass. One of those treasures came in the form of two cigars.
It was Christmas Adam, as my daughters love to call it. The day before Christmas Eve. We would gather as a family for our time to eat, open gifts and, most important in my heart and mind, enjoy each other’s company with no interruptions or distractions of the outside world that always seem to wiggle its way in and steal possible memories from the present. The table was adorned with the Christmas tablecloth and the settings for the seven that would be sharing this hallowed time. The house was warm with the smell of all the fixings that melded together to create an atmosphere that is so often associated with a Rockwell painting. The tree was sitting like a statue in our den with many gifts deposited at its feet. The lights reflecting off the many-colored ornaments creating the glow of all the rainbows ever imagined in a child’s mind. The headlights through the front window signaled the arrival and the beginning. The beginning of that most special time for me. Christmas has always been my favorite of all holidays. Sometimes I think all the stores start early with the displays for my enjoyment. It opens the box to childhood dreams that I have stored year upon year and renews my spirit and hope for my eternity through the precious birth that is oftentimes overlooked. My wife, Christina, was hurrying herself to finish the last details of wrapping and creasing each corner sharp enough to slice the bird that has now been carried in by my son, Ethan. He was closely followed by his wife, Sarah and her father, Les, who had become my dearest of friends. My daughters Emma and Eden and myself were wishing all the greetings of the day and passing out the Christmas hugs, which should be thought of as the best of the gifts to exchange. With plates full, we all gathered around and held hands as we offered thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us for this year. The clanging of the forks on the dinnerware was battling for attention against the din of the voices of those telling of the excitement of the company. Full plates and full hearts playing the music of symphonies being written around the table. With each plate being scraped clean from the desert of the banana pudding, my sweet mother’s own recipe, which had been passed down to my wife and just earlier today passed on to my own daughter signaled for the move to the den for the passing out of the gifts. The excitement and anticipation of all was at a fevered pitch as the first name was read from the color wrapped gifts from the heart. Once the floor surrounding the tree became clear the tearing and slinging of all the dressings were flying like leaves in the fall wind. Small yelps of glee as the content of each package were announced to the group. The smiles being unwrapped with each one. I then opened one of my own that had been stacked neatly around me so I could enjoy the heart-warming looks of the special ones around the room. This was another of the favorite things not mentioned in the song. The everyday world finds some small way to steal the happiness from us, but in this setting, for a small moment in time, all is well. Not through the commercial side but from the love of the hearts of giving and receiving. It was my turn to begin. I opened each gift with the thought of how undeserving I was for someone to take from their allotment of time to make this effort for me. It is both humbling and joyous when we really consider that fact. I came to one that felt light. What could it be? Socks? A tie? I broke the tape and peered inside the box. There was a touch of confusion about its contents. Two cigars. The explanation of the gift made the actual contents take life and opened one of those precious memories that I guard so fervently.
“I’ve always heard you tell stories about how you and Pop used to share a cigar every year. I thought maybe this year we could start our own tradition.” My son explained.
Very few times in my life have I been truly speechless about anything. My daughter had given me a combination journal and sketchbook the year before with the inscription “go write your world”. I cried. The thoughts of those precious times with my father came to the forefront of my mind and all I could do was sit there and think through a conscious stream of conversations we had enjoyed together. I thought of how my own Father had taught me direction for my life through the skyward wafting smoke. The aimless stream giving way to wise words that would give me knowledge on being a man. In an instance, I was transported back to my seat on the couch and I looked into the dark brown eyes of my offspring. I failed miserably to convey to him the part of my soul he had touched. He had gifted to me the promise of at least one time a year that we could connect in an almost spiritual manner between father and son through two cigars.
Ethan and I had never had any major fights or rifts that have torn many bonds apart. We were always able to discuss any situation despite not always being on the same side but I had always given him the same my Father gave to me. The respect to listen without passing judgment or always trying to over-correct him to make him believe my way. I know that in this corrupt and twisted world he would need to see things through his own eyes and weigh them within his own conscience. I had always tried to show him right from wrong so I know he is prepared to make those decisions. I also know that there was enough respect for his Father that if he ever came upon one that especially vexing, he could come to me openly and freely. He had proven through this act that it was true. It had created the avenue for this to be an open option. The only downfall of our relationship was the inability to connect in a special bond over our everyday life. I was an outdoorsman and a sports fanatic. Ethan was more into the performing arts. He was gifted the ability to pull music from any and every instrument he picked up as well as conform to any part of a script and give them life and voice. I had the ability to throw a baseball. It really doesn’t compare in the grand scheme of life. He has the ability to bring tears to the eyes of those watching him perform and I have the ability to need a rub down after throwing rocks at a growling stray dog. I have watched him grow into a man. I have watched him make, what I considered mistakes at the time, and turn them into freedom in life that most only dream of. He married a beautiful young lady from a well-respected family that loves those around them without making them feel anything but special. They love and accept him as much as me. Can a Father really ask for anything more? He has performed on stage, he has written songs that touch the pulse of long ago misgivings. He is beyond his years but grounded enough in today’s world to fit into any conversation regardless of the depth of the subject or the belief of those around him. He is absolute about his own beliefs and will not bend to the loud provinces of others. In a world of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, he prefers to ask why the wheel squeaks and will grease really help.
Anyone who has read my ramblings knows that my Father was a grounding rod for the storms of my life. Dad was my example of building a family from nothing and bonding that family together like the foundation to never be shaken by the world. He set the bar high for me and I have spent much of my energy trying to match that love. On that special Christmas Adam, 2017, he gifted to me the therapy of dealing with the loss of my Father and the empty space inside by filling it with new. He took the pain of all my yesterdays since Dad has been gone and changed them into the hope of many tomorrows of happiness with Ethan. He has taught me through this simple gift that I can never be my Father but I can be a Father. That lets me know the most precious of all gifts is the heritage that was created, not the legend. Only a true visionary can create hope for the future. Only the true love of a son for a Father can do that through a gift of two cigars.
About Mark Poe
Mark Poe is a lover of short story writing inspired by a country farm life upbringing as well as addressing the darkness of small-town life. He has been published online by Southern Gothic Creations and Gravel: A Literary Journal. He is currently working on a collection of short stories to be published as well as a new novella series. Mr. Poe currently resides in Black Oak, AR with his wife and two daughters.