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In our family, Dad was biggest kid of all

During the Christmas season, children's eyes are brighter, cheeks rosier, smiles larger, giggles more frequent and energy unbounded. For them, the world becomes a magical, hopefully white wonderland that includes Frosty, Santa, Rudolph, stockings hung from the mantle and presents under the tree. Giving is expected and getting is anticipated with exuberant patience: "I've been good all year, Santa!"

When I was a child, Christmas was a special time in our family. Dad selected our Christmas tree, fitted it into the stand and made sure the prettiest side faced forward. After he distributed the electric lights throughout its branches, all of us joined in to attach the brightly colored ornaments.

As we finished bejeweling the tree with silver strands of tinsel, Dad lifted the angel to the very top and wrapped a red and green cover over the tree holder at the bottom. A spontaneous intake of breath always accompanied Dad's flip of the light switches to darken the room and turn on the tree lights that first time. He tuned the radio to Christmas music, and we sat back to admire the tree, nibble on Mom's Christmas cut-out cookies and wash them down with mugs of hot chocolate.

Dad did most of the gift wrapping, which he'd learned as a young department store clerk. He worked on the card table with the bedroom door closed so we couldn't peek. Once they were wrapped, Mom hid the presents from Santa high on the closet shelves so we couldn't find them. Dad placed the others under the tree. Each day, excited and impatient for Christmas, he rearranged them and added new ones.

At Dad's request, we ate oyster stew Christmas Eve. A big grin on his face, he danced around singing, "Here Comes Santa Claus," and reciting, " 'Twas the Night before Christmas," while Mom washed the turkey. He helped us lay out Santa's snack, and after we were tucked in, I could hear him whispering to Mom in the living room as they finished some of the final preparations.

"Gloria, Jerry, wake up! Santa's been here," Dad would exclaim. I'd open my eyes to darkness. Unable to wait for daylight, Dad woke us each Christmas morning around 4 a.m. We'd stagger into the living room in our pajamas and look wide-eyed at the lighted tree and all the presents under it.

With eager hands, we "unstuffed" our stockings to find an apple, an orange, a variety of nuts, a candy cane and a toy for which we'd been yearning. Then we turned our attention to the presents under the tree. Sitting on the floor, brother Jerry and I fidgeted as we waited for Mom to join us from the kitchen. Ho, ho, hoing and handing out gifts, Dad played Santa. The seat of his La-Z-Boy rocker served as a nest for packages bearing his name. After each of us had several presents to open, he'd open one or two of his own and ooooh and ahhhh with the rest of us.

Once we'd opened all the presents, Mom fixed breakfast, after which Jerry and I went back to bed. Dad, too excited to sleep, helped Mom stuff the turkey and start it roasting in the oven. He'd take out the trash bags filled with the wrapping paper from our presents. Finally, he'd have another cup of coffee, look through his gifts, and anticipate the turkey and dressing that would come later.

If you listened carefully, you could hear him "pa rum pum pum pumming" under his breath. When it came to Christmas, Dad was the biggest kid of all.

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