I was in the truck with my dad, driving to my uncle's house for Christmas dinner, when we passed by a row of townhouses where we lived when I was around 7 years old. I confessed that the most vivid memory I have of that house was at Christmastime, when I figured out that Santa Claus was all a big fat lie.
With my mom's help, I wrote out some questions for Santa on one of those giant pads of doodle paper. I asked why he wore a red suit, if he had any children of his own, if he had a part-time job in the summer, and a few other things I suppose, and placed it next to his milk and cookies.
On Christmas morning, the cookies were eaten (with a few crumbs left behind for a nice effect), and my letter was answered! But I was no idiot - I knew right away that the reply was in my father's handwriting. He was a draughtsman and architect, and his penmanship reflected his trade -- very neat, tidy, and perfectly aligned, and he only ever used ALL CAPS. Aside from his signature, I've never seen him write anything in script - just block printing. Seven-year old me was shocked and disappointed, but I had a 3 year-old brother to consider, and I also feared that outing dad as Santa would greatly diminish any hopes of future holiday loot. So I kept that little secret to myself until a couple weeks ago.
My dad was laughing about the whole thing, and then he very casually asked me: "Do you remember the explosion?"
The explosion, dad? Oh, do tell.
Well, it was years before that house, he told me, when we lived out at the lake. He reckoned I was just a year old, maybe not even that, and there was a violent lightning storm one night. My mom had been working the late shift at the hospital, and he was worried about her driving the 40-minute commute home in bad weather. Several loud thunder crashes had awakened me in the night, so he was pacing the living room with me in his arms, trying to get me to stop screaming, while silently freaking out about his wife, who was already an hour late getting herself home. He was only 21 years old.
"I managed to settle you down a bit," he recalled, "I was at the big bay window, pointing at the giant apple tree in our front yard -- I guess it was about 30 feet from the house, really tall and wide and full of big white blossoms. I was saying soothing shit like 'look! Look at the pretty flowers! ... it's only rain, and the rain makes the flowers grow' and just as a smile came across your face, this gigantic lighting bolt came outta nowhere and blew that fucking apple tree into a million pieces! The explosion blew out the side windows of the house and the back window of my car. I can't believe the big window in front of us didn't shatter. I'm not exaggerating here - it was a mutherfucking fireball. The noise was deafening... and there was no goddam tree left after that. Completely obliterated."
Wow. I certainly didn't remember any of that. But it did occur to me that I have inherited my father's pottymouth. So how did he handle it?
"We both squealed and shat our pants."