My First Christmas With Dad

my father moved into a first floor apartment
of an old Victorian house at the edge
of the Thames River.

i enjoyed the every other weekend
arrangement of the divorce.
his apartment was so unlike
my home during the other
twenty seven days of the month.

the old, creaky floors provided a soothing comfort.
the whitewashed plaster walls
crumbling in slow motion, however,
barely held the ancient
sinks in place.
my brother and i slept on two inflatable
beach rafts in my father’s cramped bedroom, just off the kitchen.
late night odors would wake me,
when his roommate returned from a night out on the town.
hastily heating frozen pirogi
with a hint of
buttered toast.

my father and his roommate, Charlie
were in strict observance of their
commitment to watch televised games of the
National Football League.
Miller Brewing of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
spent excessively, promoting
their Lite Beer
on those broadcasts.

while staring jealousy at the
inside cover art of the
J. Geil’s Band’s “Full House” live LP,
i overhead my father’s voice
following a particular Lite Beer commercial.

“we can win that contest! i have an idea that
is foolproof!”

the Milwaukee brewer had created
a contest- the best holiday display
integrating their product would win
a year of free beer.
the contestants had to submit
their photographic proof
by the 29th of November.

the two of them decided to appropriate
a shopping cart, on uneven wheels,
from the local grocery store
to house their harvest;
and the possibility
of an entire calendar year of free beer.

the majority of an NFL season
of Lite Beer cans
were meticulously rinsed out,
and placed in the grocery cart
outside the backdoor,
beside the rust ridden aluminum garbage cans.

the weekend after Thanksgiving
was a scheduled stay with my father.
he and Charlie started decorating a small tree
they cut down on the property of a co-worker
who owned land in the quiet corner;
with beer cans from a shopping cart
to compete in a corporate contest.

i watched as the two of them
meticulously bent beer tabs
into the proper position
to hang the can with the same traditional ornament hooks
my mother took care to recycle
after each Christmas celebration.

i could not remember a holiday season
where my father actualized such an
attention to the detail of holiday decoration.
he was fully convinced of the importance of the contest;
at one point he asked Charlie
to adjust the string of lights
to better reflect off of the aluminum cans.

we spent Christmas Eve with a few co-worker friends of my mother;
young girls working at the nursing home
trying to get ahead in their nascent working lives.
their small apartment was fashioned to feel celebratory,
but i simply wanted to be alone
with headphones and a stack of 8 track tapes.
they gifted my brother and me
a dart board set,
which my mother immediately confiscated.

during our way home from that event,
my mother decided to take the long way to Mystic,
circling back through the City of Groton
to scout what may be happening at my father’s apartment
on Christmas Eve.

she was correct; which she consistently reminded us of.
he was throwing a party,
with his roommate,
at the apartment.

as we traversed the icy sidewalk
from the car to the front door,
i was running through the scenarios
i would inevitably have to be in the middle of,
when my father came face to face with my mother
on this night.

“you are hosting a party tonight?” she hissed through closed teeth.

“yeah, why wouldn’t i?”

“because it’s Christmas Eve, and you
should have thought of your kids first.
but you had to think of yourself first, again….”

i could sense the tension throughout the room;
the dissipation of the energy to
have a good time,
and the host who was being confronted
by the mother of his children,
with his kids present.

“nice fucking tree!!!” were my mother’s
last words to him as she escorted
us across the threshold of the back door,
which i always reminded myself
not to trip over
on weekends with my father.

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