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Looking forward this Christmas

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Tom Purcell

GUEST COLUMN

I’m turning into my father.

About this time every year, my father pulls me aside and asks me to tell my five sisters that he doesn’t need any gifts for Christmas - and, “for Godsakes, please tell your sisters I don’t need more sweaters. I can’t wear the sweaters I have now. Use the money to get something nice for your mother!”

Nonetheless, every Christmas my father receives five sweaters (I usually get him things like lug nuts), and we always get something nice for my mother.

At 51, I am beginning to hold similar sentiments about gift-giving. There is nothing I want that I can’t buy myself. And I don’t want others to dig into their funds just to give me a gift.

Truth be told, Christmas makes me a little bit somber as I get older. Sure, I enjoy the large gathering every year at my parents’ house - I enjoy going to church, too - but I can’t help but look back and miss the things and people that are no longer here.

I vividly remember one Saturday in December 1967, when I was 5. It was uncharacteristically warm in Pittsburgh that year. My father was 34 (he’s 80 now) and his hair was black as coal. He stood nearly 6-foot-2, a powerful man. As he lifted our Christmas tree off the roof of our station wagon, I marveled that his biceps and forearms were bigger than Popeye the Sailor Man’s!

My mother was, and still is, extremely cheerful during Christmas. She still whistles while she decorates. She was a master at building up mystery and suspense. And as our family decorated our tree, she took time to explain the meaning behind old family ornaments.

I remember the excitement my family felt when the Charlie Brown Christmas special aired every year - a show that captured half the viewing audience when it first ran on Dec. 9, 1965, and still delivers big ratings. It was an event to gather our family together to watch the show.

I remember our old wooden stereo console that played Christmas albums nonstop during the Christmas season - “Holiday Sing-Along with Mitch Miller,” “Christmas with the Chipmunks,” “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” and Bing Crosby records. Stereo technology has improved significantly over the years, but I still miss the sound of scratched vinyl.

I remember the many family members who are no longer with us. And I know, as we all age, that there will be a time when my mother and father are no longer with us - when we can no longer enjoy large, wonderful gatherings at their home.

I know we should look forward, not backward - particularly at Christmas. We must be grateful for our blessings and, despite our country’s woes, we still enjoy many of those.

Looking forward this Christmas, then, all I want is good health for my family. I want every child to be blessed with parents like mine, whose love and sacrifice implanted so many Christmas memories in me.

Looking forward, here are the gifts I pray for: that our country comes together, solves its problems and thrives again. And, though I know it is trite to say, that we end strife and expand peace.

And I ask that any funds set aside to buy gifts for me be donated instead to the needy - that’s the kind of Christmas gift I really enjoy now.

Like I said, I am turning into my father.

‑ Tom Purcell is author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His columns are nationally syndicated by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. (Purcell@caglecartoons.com).

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