Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Christmas Gift That Took Me Decades to Appreciate

When I was a boy, my father gave me a gift every Christmas morning. Funny thing is, I didn't think it was a gift at the time--in fact, quite the opposite.

C.W. Martin was a professional photographer. Every Christmas morning, he would insist that my sisters and I remain at the top of the stairs while he and our mother went downstairs and prepared. He would take what seemed to be 20 years, beginning with slipping on his bathrobe and freshening up, then mozying downstairs, setting up his camera equipment, making a pot of coffee, and then drinking his coffee. I think my mother even made him toast, for crying out loud. He may as well have taken a stroll down to South Carolina, too; it took him for-ev-er to finish all his preparations.

A photo my father took of my sisters and me (in the box)
Meanwhile, my sisters and I chomped at the bit, like race horses awaiting the start of the Kentucky Derby. Our excitement and anticipation was almost unbearable. I would get downright annoyed at my father. Would it have been so difficult to do a little prep work the night before, to spare us this needless torture? And how long did it take to get a camera ready to shoot pictures? You made sure there was film in the camera (remember film?), you turned on the camera, and boom, you're ready to go. Why the big production?

Many years later, I came to understand what my father was really doing. He was teaching his children patience, something in shockingly short supply among children most of the time and especially on December 25th.

This excruciating wait every year also helped me appreciate, eventually, the sweetness of anticipation at all times of the year. The waiting for something good can be nearly as rewarding as the thing itself (and sometimes, even more so). Anticipation can last for weeks, months, years, while the thing you're waiting for comes and goes all too quickly.

C.W. Martin (1911-1993)
The anticipation of something gives it special event status. I'll give you an example from the movies. When I was growing up, The Wizard of Oz was shown on TV once a year. I would look forward to it every year and get really excited as the TV broadcast neared. Now, of course, Dorothy and her pals are digits on a server somewhere, ready to be streamed into your living room any time you want. While instant gratification can be rewarding itself, it is the enemy of anticipation.

We all need something to look forward to; to appreciate while we have it; and to have fond memories of when it's gone. Life is pretty flat otherwise, and my father understood that delayed gratification helped enrich each of those experiences. Through his annual Christmas morning dawdle, he gave me a gift that I was only able to appreciate decades later. It was worth waiting for.

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8 comments:

  1. Lovely post, eloquently written, but I would expect nothing else from you. I think the whole world needs this lesson. What a wise father you had. The picture is priceless.

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  2. Your Dad was no dummy! Good blog today.

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  3. So wonderfully written. I truly enjoyed reading this post!

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  4. Your post is so true! I too can remember waiting for The Wizard of Oz movie which ran only once a year. It made it all that much more special that we had to wait for it.

    I think that's why kids of today are constantly bored. When I read the stream on my facebook from all my various young nieces/nephews/cousins the one constant is "I'm bored hmu" They are so used to instant gratification that they don't even know how to entertain themselves.

    We used to read, ride our bikes, play school, do jigsaw puzzles with my mom.

    I never remember being bored.

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  5. Love this, and great picture!!

    I, too, remember waiting for "Wizard of Oz" to come on TV or when our family friend finally had it on BETA.

    On a completely different subject, but worthy of mentioning to you, I found CHEERWINE in bottle form here in lil ol' Texas. The Cracker Barrel chain sells it. I looked for you, but unfortunately there is no Cracker Barrel in California. :( I put the bottle in the fridge days ago and have been patiently waiting for the right time or the right snack to try it out with. I've yet to come up with what that might be, and I'll gladly take suggestions.

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  6. I remember your father's name and his photographs well, Jim. Now I get a picture of what he was like behind the lens. Wonderful story.

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  7. Ah, yes! Sweet anticipation! You wait all year hoping for an awesome gift and on the Christmas of your 12th birthday you get socks and a pack of handkerchiefs AND they tell you Santa doesn't exist.

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