We mark all sorts of things in our lives. How long we date, years of service at our jobs, the last time the Flyers won a Stanley Cup. It’s human nature. It’s something that puts time and distance between us and the things that occur in our lifetime.
On Dec. 16, 1973 at the tender age of 16 – well, maybe not that tender – I lost my dad to a heart attack. His age was a ripe old 46. Way too young to cash it in for sure. And I remember that day as if it was yesterday because despite the 40 years that have passed since he died, it does seem like yesterday. And each year around this time I get these tortured feelings in my head. I call it getting all cramped up. Around Thanksgiving and into the New Year my brain just starts whirring around like one of those spinning tops you get moving by moving the center piece up and down and up and down.
It takes until about the third or fourth football game of the first week of January before things start to clear out. It’s like the feeling you get when you take down the Christmas tree, put away the lights and get back to normalcy. Now it’s not that I hate the holidays. On the contrary, I like getting together with family and friends. It’s a fun time for the most part. But there is still that weird feeling of what if, as in what if my dad had not passed away that snowy Sunday in December.
That day started like most Sundays. My dad without even thinking about it would sit in his chair in his boxers and T-shirt, read the paper and sip some awful coffee my mom made in the old metal coffee percolator. We called it rocket fuel for any number of reasons you can imagine.
I had been at church with one of my longtime friends. We were the new, young and upcoming generation of that church so we were doing things like the weekly offering collection, stuff like that. I remember coming home from church, doing some random stuff and then going upstairs to my bedroom. It was after a while that I heard the strangest noise I can ever remember. It was later that I learned from an older aunt that the sound was what some people called the death rattle.
I remember shouting down to my dad to quit messing around with the nasty toy terrier we had at the time. The Eagles game was going to start soon and of course I was getting ready to sit down and enjoy the Eagles. When I ran downstairs I was horrified to find him on the floor, almost convulsing. I knew it was bad, really bad. And at that time there was no calling 911. It wasn’t that easy getting emergency people to our house but I managed to make the call. Meanwhile I was running back to my dad performing CPR. It was the only thing I knew how to do and I kept doing it for what seemed like an eternity until the ambulance folks arrived.
When they got there they worked on him for a bit and rushed him to Delaware County Hospital where he died. I don’t really remember how I got there or who took me although I think it was one of the neighbors. I remember walking into the hospital entrance and seeing what I thought was a body on a gurney thinking it was my dad. Turns out it was nothing but I was still freaking out.
The hours and days after that are just a blur. I remember eating a lot of cake, bad casseroles from visitors and the taste of French Onion dip will forever be in my brain. I remember going with my sister to stores to return Christmas gifts we had bought him. I kept a cheap set of Old Spice aftershave I had bought him. I remember my mom being a mess and she was never the same.
And I remember the Christmas lights. This is the part that just really cramps my brain. I don’t know why but the Christmas lights – not the new ones with the tiny little LED lights but the old fashioned big bulbs of blue, green, red, yellow and orange. It’s like anytime I saw or even now when I see them, it’s like I just want to sit down and cry like a baby. I don’t know why. I really, really don’t know why. My brain gets numb, I get foggy and I get a dazed feeling. I remember those lights in our house, on the tree with the bad, silver tinsel. Maybe it’s because when I was little I would sneak down the steps to see what Santa had left me. And those lights just shone so bright, reflecting off the tinsel sending out an aura of holiday love, spirit and peace.
But it’s 40 years later since he died and even more years from when I first recognized those lights. I would see them hung on the outside of our house and all of the houses on Fairfax Road where I grew up. Perhaps it’s the happy memories of being a little kid with gifts like toy trucks, or the oranges and Lifesavers in my stocking. Despite all the fighting my parents did making growing up a bit dicey at times, overall I liked my childhood.
But then I see the lights. Not that many people have those old school lights. They’re too wrapped up in inflatable crap for their lawns and displays meant for Times Square, missing out on that sense of season that those fat lights send into the air. It’s weird, I understand that but it’s a feeling I just can’t shake. As I write this now I can just feel the same feeling, my brain getting that strange feeling again. It’s a love-hate feeling.
My kids are getting older now. The youngest is 15, the oldest 27. There’s no more kid time in our house. I enjoyed the times we had with them growing up. We bought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys, the Matchbox cars, the American Girl dolls and more video games than I care to remember. And every year I would put up the Christmas decorations. My wife has gone through her themes every year with things like Victorian decorations to all white lights and no tinsel. We fight every year but the kids and I prevail for a real tree.
And in a box in the garage there are two strings of lights that haven’t been used in years. One set belonged to my dad, the other belonged to my wife’s dad. They sit in the bottom of that box never having been hung outside my house. But I just can’t bring myself to toss them into the trash either. They are there, just there, reminding me about the holiday spirit that sort of hangs around for a month or so. And then everything gets put away. But every year I reach into that box and get tempted to replace the old bulbs and hang those babies up. But I don’t. And I am not sure why not. I told you my brain gets cramped. It’s cramped right now. And I still have a few more weeks of this.
But then it will pass and be gone for another year. And then I will watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life while sipping hot cocoa and do it all over again. Not much will change I suppose. The lights will still be there in the box and around the town, my brain will get cramped and I will struggle through it. Like last year. Like this year. Like next year.
– Andy Hachadorian