DADDY IMMIGRATED TO THE UNITED STATES from Sweden as a grown man. When I was three, he left Texas, tenant farming, and us to work "Up North." He planned to earn enough money to send for us. First, he worked in the shipyards in Portland, Oregon, then in an auto factory in Detroit. During the four years we were separated, I forgot what he looked like. What turned out to be worse, I forgot what he sounded like.
When we got off the train in Detroit, Mama hugged and kissed Daddy and then introduced us girls. He didn't need to be reminded of his son's name--his namesake. He spoke to me first, and held out his arms. I started to cry and held tight to Mama's hand.
My young ears had learned to understand a Texas drawl with a slight Swedish accent--my mother and her family are also Swedish. Daddy's thicker accent had taken on a completely foreign Yankee twang. I didn't understand him. None of us did, except Mama, and his frustration was intense. For weeks, Mama spoke to him in Swedish and then told us in English what he'd said. It was almost Christmas before I could understand him quickly enough to keep him from yelling for Mama whenever he tried to say anything to me.
A few days after Thanksgiving, Daddy was included in a layoff. We were eating breakfast, getting ready for school, when Mama sat down next to me--something she'd never done. My heart fell into my stomach, and I couldn't take another bite of cocoa and toast. I had a feeling something awful was coming.
"There won't be much Christmas this year," she said slowly
"I'm being good, Mama," Eric said.
"Yes, you are, but Daddy lost his job for a little while. It's so the auto company won't have to give him holiday pay. They'll hire him back after New Year's, but right now, it'll take all our money to buy groceries, pay the rent, and keep coal in the furnace."
"That's okay," I said through my tears. "We'll have a big one next year."
I didn't know it at the time, but back then, Detroit had an old newsboy organization called The Goodfellows. Daddy swallowed his pride and put our names on their "Needy Kids" list. Goodfellows gave Eric a toy car. Phyllis, Sonja, and I got dolls, each one different. It was the only doll I ever got for Christmas. Because the gift hadn't come from my parents, I almost felt disloyal when I held her in my arms. I still remember her silky, blonde hair and ruffled, blue dress, and how perfect she looked.
On Christmas morning, I woke to the sound of music I remembered hearing when I was little. Daddy was in the kitchen, listening to a radio station that played Swedish music. I slipped out of bed and peeked around the door. He began to sing in Swedish while he stirred a pot of oatmeal, then he twirled and danced a schottische around the kitchen. I was overflowing with happiness at the familiar sounds and sights. Watching Daddy dancing alone made me giggle out loud.
"God Jul, litet dotter," he said and swept me up in his thick arms.
"Merry Christmas, Daddy!" I responded happily.
I held tight to his neck and laughed while he sang, as we spun around the kitchen floor. I smelled his spicy aftershave and rested my cheek against the coarseness of a beard he could never completely shave off.
It no longer mattered that the snow wasn't white, that the day was cold and gray, or even that the beautiful doll was a gift from strangers. It was Christmas morning, and I was dancing with the Daddy I remembered.
As my father would have said: Gott Nytt År till er alla . . .
Happy New Year to you-all guys. I pray that 2015 will bring you health, happiness, and success
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