So Christmas is long past and gone but this story won't quit me. Here we go:
My father and I have never been what is generally called close, but a more accurate description might be to say that we have enacted a pretty decent sham of having a caring relationship whenever he feels that he is not getting the care he deserves from his lovers, friends, or immediate family members. The only reason I do not include co-workers or colleagues in this list is because he either has none (co-workers) or the term is synonymous with another term used previously (colleagues, see: friends.)
My parents are divorced and have been so since I was a toddler. This is not sad. This is not a lifetime movie drama, keep reading. My dad remarried when I was a teenager and they had a son. Pop got the nuclear family he's always wanted: wife, kid, dog; in a little five bedroom house on a hill. The dog has more personality than any of the humans in the house but little brother is working on catching her up, so it would seem. He's young yet and still under the roof of his terribly normal parents. Give him time.
Pop gets a case of the Christmas spirit (guilt and loneliness wrapped up together in a festive jumper) and calls me to wish me a happy holiday and to inquire if he and the lad can visit while they are in my neck of the woods for one of the boy's sports events. (The only time I get to see the lad is when one of the many extra-curricular activities our father has foisted upon him take them near the city where I live. Last time it was a baseball game; this time, hockey. The poor kid is good at everything, so pop can't seem to decide at which activity he would best like to vicariously excel as a substitute for all the trophies he never won in his own youth. So classic it makes you want to gouge your eyes out at a crossroads and fuck your own mother.)
As it happens, that one particular day is the day I was planning on being in my hometown visiting my mum and some old friends. I generally don't mention my travel plans to anyone save my employer and the people I am traveling to visit, so as far as my father can tell it's been nearly a year since I last visited home. Perhaps we can just wave at one another as we pass on the highway? Tedious and socially appropriate conversation follows until a decision can be reached: we will just have to see if there is time for a quick lunch up at the house sometime. I call on the way out of town saying I am leaving early and there really isn't time this trip. Perhaps next time, or a visit to my home on their return trip. No, they have no time for that either. Even Steven, I suppose.
A parcel arrives while I am away from home one day. "Dad wants to know if you got the package." the text from my brother says. Like divorcées ourselves, we are now speaking through his son. "Ah, so that's where that came from." I reply via the poor kid. "The office is closed and I have not picked it up yet - tell him thank you in advance for me please."
I open the box and it contains, in layers: tissue paper covering a brushed chrome canister of natural room spray - rosemary mint scented... I hate mint, I don't chew gum I hate mint so much; a slightly bent calendar entitled "We-moon" sporting a feminist-themed mural in bold blocky color schemes circa 1995 for each month, one of which I swear is an engorged vulva; a pile of broken glass which appears to have once been a double-boiler style teapot if the helpful, but now pointless, instruction manual is any indication; and an apple scented candle with three wicks in the Yankee candle kind of vein. In the bottom are two cards. Now let's just wait a moment. Look over that list again - I certainly did after I'd opened the box. Go ahead, I'll wait here......
One card is from her and has some flowery haiku kind of holiday wish in three languages, the first being English, the other two of which I do not speak; the second card depicts a Rockwellian santa and a penned-in speech bubble in which the jolly old elf proclaims, in my father's epileptic spider writing, "Somebody paid money for this card, HO HO HO!" It is signed by both my father and brother and contains a check drawn on my father and his wife's joint account.
I look at the box. The address on the label is correct up to a point, but the zip code has been crossed out and re-written with a black sharpie in a hand unfamiliar to me - a postal worker, no doubt. The box is battered and had been used before. The original labels can still be seen through someone's attempts to scribble them out with a marker. They are addressed to my father's wife. The logo on the side of the box is an online vitamin weight-loss company. It's a big box. I flop the cardboard flaps back into place and the punchline is staring me right in the face - stamped in bright red, bold print are the words FOURTH CLASS.
It was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. And the apple candle actually smells quite nice.