On Christmas Day, all the joys of a close family relationship radiated throughout our parents' home. The smells of roasted turkey, Southern?baked ham and homemade bread hung in the air. Tables and chairs were set up everywhere to accommodate toddlers, teenagers, parents and grandparents. Every room was lavishly decorated. No family member had ever missed Christmas Day with our mother and father.
Only this year, things were different. Our father had passed away November 26, and this was our first Christmas without him. Mother was doing her best to be the gracious hostess, but I could tell this was especially hard for her. I felt a catch in my throat, and again I wondered if I should give her my planned Christmas gift, or if it had become inappropriate in my father's absence.
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A few months earlier I had been putting the finishing touches on portraits I had painted of each of my parents. I'd planned to give them as Christmas gifts. This would be a surprise for everyone, as I had not studied art or tried serious painting. There had been an undeniable urge within that pushed me relentlessly to do this. The portraits did look like them, but I was still unsure of my painting techniques.
While painting one day, I was surprised by a doorbell ring. Quickly putting all my painting materials out of sight, I opened the door. To my astonishment, my father ambled in alone, never before having visited me without my mother. Grinning, he said, "I've missed our early morning talks. You know, the ones we had before you decided to leave me for another man!" I hadn't been married long. Also, I was the only girl and the baby of the family.
Immediately I wanted to show him the paintings, but I was reluctant to ruin his Christmas surprise. Yet something urged me to share this moment with him. After swearing him to secrecy, I insisted he keep his eyes closed until I had the portraits set on easels. "Okay, Daddy. Now you can look!"
He appeared dazed but said nothing. Getting up, he walked closer to inspect them. Then he withdrew to eye them at a distance. I tried to control my stomach flip flops. Finally, with a tear esca
Thrilled with his response, I happily volunteered to drop them off the next day at the frame shop. Several weeks passed. Then one night in November the phone rang, and a cold chill numbed my body. I picked up the receiver to hear my husband, a doctor, say, "I'm in the emergency room. Your father has had a stroke. It's bad, but he is still alive."
Daddy lingered in a coma for several days. I went to see him in the hospital the day before he died. I slipped my hand in his and asked, "Do you know who I am, Daddy?"
He surprised everyone when he whispered, "You're my darling daughter." He died the next day, and it seemed all joy was drained from the lives of my mother and me.
I finally remembered to call about the portrait framing and thanked God my father had gotten a chance to see the pictures before he died. I was surprised when the shopkeeper told me my father had visited the shop, paid for the framing and had them gift?wrapped. In all our grief, I had no longer planned to give the portraits to my mother.
Even though we had lost the patriarch of our family, everyone was assembled on Christmas Day-making an effort to be cheerful. As I looked into my mother's sad eyes and unsmiling face, I decided to give her Daddy's and my gift. As she stripped the paper from the box, I saw her heart wasn't in it. There was a small card inside attached to the pictures.
After looking at the portraits and reading the card, her entire demeanor changed. She bounced out of her chair, handed the card to me and commissioned my brothers to hang the paintings facing each other over the fireplace. She stepped back and looked for a long while. With sparkling, tear-filled eyes and a wide smile, she quickly turned and said, "I knew Daddy would be with us on Christmas Day!"
I glanced at the gift card scrawled in my father's handwriting. "Mother-Our daughter reminded me why I am so blessed. I'll be looking at you always-Daddy."
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