98. The Pages of Our Lives

98. The Pages of Our Lives

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

The Pages of Our Lives

A book is a gift you can open again and again.

~Garrison Keillor

Thirty-two years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn child, my husband placed a book under the tree in our tiny apartment. ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement C.

Moore, was the first gift for our little boy who would still not be joining us for six more months. On that Christmas Eve I lay on the sofa while Daddy read to his baby boy growing safely inside my tummy. It was such a sweet and intimate moment for us and one that was the beginning of a tradition that would see many Kodak moments over the years.

Every Christmas Eve since then, my husband sits in front of the tree and reads that story aloud to all of us. First it was just the three of us sharing a moment in our new home; then before long we welcomed three more little boys. Mommy (me), Jason, Brian, Christopher and Kevin would sit quietly listening to Daddy read. We had heard the story many times, but each time Al read the story it was as though we were hearing it for the first time.

One year I remember Al reading to my cousin’s baby, her one and only Christmas as she passed away a few months later. Not only did he get to share that special moment with this sweet angel, but he also gave her parents a cherished memory of their baby girl. I recall my aging parents sitting on the sofa with their grandchildren around them, loving every moment of this quiet “peace” with only the lights from the tree illuminating the room as they listened quietly.

As the boys grew so did the audience. Their friends, big and small, would lie on the living room floor and listen as my husband read to them as if they were little boys. Even the teenagers would sit still, taking in every word, and then grab the car keys and head out the door.

The year that my father lay in a hospital bed on life-support, his nurse held the phone to his ear so he too could listen in. The boys were too young to bring the story to Pop Pop, so instead, they sat in their pajamas, all ready for bed, snuggled up next to Nanny. She was surrounded by the love of four little boys. She knew in her heart that this would be her husband’s last Christmas but I think it gave her comfort knowing that he was with us, listening to his son-in-law read him a bedtime story. He passed away two weeks later.

Years later, when Jason was in the Army, we sat patiently waiting for the phone to ring on Christmas Eve. “We can’t start without him,” his brothers said. So in the freezing cold, dressed in uniform, Jason called us from a phone booth outside his barracks at Fort Riley, Kansas. I imagined him standing at attention as his father read to him. I missed having my “baby” home for Christmas, but I was so happy he was “here” to share that tradition, as he was the one for whom it started nineteen years before. His father read to him before he was born and on this night he read to him as he was preparing to head off to war in the Middle East. It was a bittersweet moment and I longed for that time when he was an infant, safe in my arms.

Our family has multiplied over the years. Every chair is taken and the sofa and love seat are packed with bodies when Al takes his place in front of our tree. Our little boys are all grown up. We have “daughters” now, as three of our sons have married. Extended family, in-laws and numerous friends now join us on the 24th of December to celebrate the festivities. We have three precious grandsons — Luke, Beckett and Nathan — who help us continue the tradition of story time on Christmas Eve. They sit with Al, or Pop Pop as they call him, as he turns each page carefully. The cover is held in place with thick tape and the corners of many of the pages are worn. There are sticky fingerprints on the faded cover but I cannot bring myself to wipe it clean. Each fingerprint or tear represents a moment in time when my boys were babies, when my father was alive, when my mother was here on our sofa.

I can’t help but look around the room as Al begins: “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and all through the house…” Adults and children are quiet, staring and listening as if they had never heard this story before. Occasionally the sound of a sweet babble or coo will echo in the room and everyone smiles at the baby who broke the sounds of silence. Some of us look stoic, some of us have eyes filled with tears, but all of us marvel as we witness a simple tradition that has nothing to do with fancy packages or big red bows.

When the last page is read and the book is closed for another year, the babies get ready to head off to bed. Santa will be arriving soon. The lights are slowly turned up again and the party continues for the adults. I look around the room and think back to how so much has changed, yet how so much has remained the same.

For thirty-two years this husband, father and, now, grandfather has read to those he loves the most in this world and I have been blessed to be witness to it all. He reads the words and we all listen. All in all, he is reading a story of simple words, a story of make believe, a tale of a sleigh that can fly through the night and deliver presents all over the world. But it really is so much more.

There will come a day when the book that was placed so lovingly under our tree many years before will be passed on to a new generation. Someone else will be sitting in front of the tree. Someone else will have the attention. But those faded and sticky pages will carry on a tradition that belongs to our family and those we love. Someone else will read the words, but the echo of Al’s voice will be in the room, and the love that we all share today will remain forever in the hearts of those we left behind.

~Trish Bonsall

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