A little long for a blog post, but it’s a Christmas story I can’t help but repeat every year.
My most cherished Christmas memory has to do with a Christmas during the Korean War and a photograph of my parents.
Dad had been recalled to active duty for the conflict, but he wrangled some Christmas leave because his ship was in port. He got home Christmas Eve and found that Mom had the tree decorated except for the angel on the top.
We lived on a quiet street with small houses except for the Keeters’ house. They lived three houses down on the corner in a large, two-story house. Mr. Keeter had one of the few televisions in the neighborhood and an endless supply of beer. We spent many Friday nights at his house while he and Dad watched the Friday Night Fights and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
The day Dad came home on leave, he greeted all of us, kissed and hugged my Mom. When he didn’t find any beer in the refrigerator, he announced, “I’m going down to Dick’s for a few minutes.”
Dad returned before supper was ready, and Mom didn’t slow her pace in the kitchen. She greeted him with, “You’ve got time to put up the angel on the tree before we eat.”
Still in his uniform, Dad found our rickety stepladder and set it up next to the tree.
My brother, Mom and I gathered and watched Dad proceed up the ladder, angel in hand. The ladder rocked and creaked with each step. Whether the rocking was from the age and accumulated wear of the ladder or the accumulated Pabst, none of us ever knew.
Near the top, Dad stopped, grasped one side of the ladder, and with his free hand reached over to place the angel in position. But the movement of his arm and his shifting weight caused the ladder to give way, and it collapsed toward the tree.
Dad grabbed both sides of the ladder and leaned back. The ladder stopped its forward motion, teetered, then moved past the center of gravity and fell back. He over-compensated for the backward motion, thrust himself forward, a bit too far.
The spectacle kept Mom from returning to the kitchen. “Oh dear,” she uttered, helpless but amused.
As the ladder passed the point of no return forward, Dad reached out with both hands and hugged the tree. He and the stepladder, now a part of the tree, became victims of gravity.
Mom managed another “Oh dear.”
Man, ladder, tree, and angel crashed to earth. You cannot defy gravity.
“Umph.” Dad and tree bounced once.
“Oh dear.” Mom was stuck on that phrase.
But, Dad, ladder, and tree had been “touched by an angel” because nothing broke, not even a branch. Pride? Well, that was another matter.
Dad clambered out of the tree and brushed tinsel off his dark blue uniform. Normally not at a loss for words, having learned his higher and more colorful vocabulary as a young sailor, he remained quiet. This time a model of decorum before his children.
He righted the tree, found the angel, and once again setup the stepladder.
And, once again he came crashing down, holding on to the tree, a puzzled look on his face. By this time my brother and I wanted to laugh out loud but were afraid to. Tears welled up in Mom’s eyes, and she managed another “Oh dear.”
Before Dad tried it the third time, my uncle paid us an unexpected visit. He had the good sense to steady the ladder for the final attempt at installing the angel.
It was my uncle took this snapshot of my parents, who by then had begun to enjoy the humor of the moment.