In 2006, I was both excited for and dreading Christmas. It had been a crazy year up to that point and Christmas would mark the end of a major part in my life. During that year I would get married, have my truck almost totaled, go on a honeymoon in Disney World and lose my father.
My dad and I had a little tradition that had gone on for quite a few years. It started with him getting me a small Radio Flyer wagon for Christmas. It was in honor of a red Radio Flyer wagon I had as a small child that was borrowed by an aunt and never returned. He knew that for years it bothered me to not have the wagon anymore. By this point I was an adult and had moved out on my own. It had been years since but thought of that wagon but he didn’t forget. After that every year we would each get the other a small wagon or some other Radio Flyer item. I still have all of them around the house and my mom holds onto everything I gave him. I have a small tricycle, several small wagons, a Radio Flyer wheelbarrow among other things. On a Thursday in the middle of October, a week or so before my father passed away him and I had a long phone conversation. We talked about everything. Though we would talk a few more times after this call it really was the call where we could talk about what was happening and how we both felt. Everything after that call was just a quick “how are you doing and I hope you feel better.” I spent most of the call in tears. At one point I asked “how could I have Christmas without him getting me a new wagon?” He told me that he had already bought something.
I’m not sure when he bought it, but I know it was before he found out he was dying. It was hidden away in my parents house and my mom knew where it was kept. Within the next week or so my father passed away. I made the long drive home and spent the week with my family while we arranged his funeral. I took a day or two driving around trying to find a small wagon to get him – eventually I succeeded. He was buried with a small wagon along with some other toys representing my new family. I wrote a note on the bottom of a rubber duck, for years a toy that represented myself, wishing him a merry Christmas. He would be buried with this wagon, the last one I would buy for him.
My mom asked me several times if I wanted my Christmas present early and I said, “No.” It was hard not knowing what it was and I know my mom had a hard time keeping it secret for the next two months but I couldn’t let it end yet. The wagons were a highlight each year. I enjoyed both searching for one for him and receiving one. Even four years later I still find myself looking for another wagon for him, though it’s rare for me to buy one.
Eventually, Christmas Eve came around. My family gathered around for Christmas like we did every year – minus one person. Presents were passed out and we each took our turns. One present had a tag for me from my dad. It was my mom’s handwriting but I’m glad she was able to do it. It was the last thing I opened. Opening it would mean the end of a tradition that had lasted for quite a few years. I did bring myself to open it. Tearing the paper off revealed a plain brown box. Opening the box revealed a small red Radio Flyer sled carefully packed in newspaper. As simple as it was it will remain one of my favorite presents that I have ever received. My mom worked hard to make sure that my dads wishes were kept and for that I’m thankful.
I still have a hard time looking at it without feeling sad, but, as sad as it makes me I’m happy that I did get that last present from my dad. It will remain my most memorable Christmas. It marked the last gift from my dad and I will cherish it forever along with the other previous wagons and what not. I’m glad that my dad and I had a chance to connect on such a simple innocent item. I will always think of him when I see a red wagon or as I pull my kids in their red wagon. I hope I can have a tradition as strong with my kids and they will feel the same warmth as I do when I think of my toy wagons.