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The Good News

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

(Listen Here)

Dad was one of a kind, and no one can argue that because it's a fact. If I'm being honest, I suppose we all are unique but maybe what I'm attempting to say is that our actions reflect how folks remember us. If you didn't know my Dad, Hank, well, you'd probably think he was crazy, and many did. My father's story is extraordinary, with a sprinkle of insanity thrown in, I guess. He loved people, he loved Christmas, and he especially loved my mother. Maybe it's not about who or what we love, but how strongly we love life.

Most days, he'd come home from working long shifts at Trane, where he was proud to say he played a hand in making America's best air conditioners. Dad would tell you that Mom wasn't much of a cook, so he'd heat up a couple of TV dinners for the both of them. He loved those Salisbury steaks and mashed potatoes. They'd watch Dallas and constantly debate over who shot J.R. Many nights; they'd stay up late and tune in to their favorite, Carson. He'd often let the phone ring and ring because no one was allowed to interrupt those special evenings they'd listen to old Sinatra albums and dance in the middle of the living room.

In December, Dad came home with some exceptional news to share with Mom after his important appointment.

"Evie! Just wait until you read this letter," he told my mother.

"The words on this paper change everything. I don't want to be greedy, though, you know what I mean?" Evie shook her head and waited for him to continue.

"I believe it's time for me to quit work and do a few things I should have done a long time ago. Christmas is coming up, and I'm sure you know what I'm getting at. Life is just too darn short, and we are blessed, so I think this is an opportunity to spread some Christmas joy. Not having the time or money has always been the excuse, but now we don't have to worry about those things, Evie! What do you think?" The two of them spoke for hours and into the night.

You can imagine how surprised I was to see Dad at my door early the next day on Saturday. He handed me the letter, and we cried over the good news. He and mom came up with quite a to-do list, and in his words, "It's all code red, so let's get to work." Dad explained that Mom realized he had to do this alone, so she stayed home. Then I was ordered to break my plans for the weekend and assist him on the grand adventure. So I did.

Our first stop of all places was the party supply store. My father purchased the 'best Santa suit money could buy.' At least that's what the sales assistant told him. I think the old guy ended up spending about forty bucks on it, but it's the best one they had to offer. He came out of the dressing room with the fake beard swinging a solid inch from his chin. The hat was too large for his head, and his belt was clearly stitched into the cheap costume.

"How does Santa look?" My father asked.

"Santa looks spectacular," I told him and meant it.

"Alright! Let's get a move on; it's already after ten, and we have a lot to do, son."

On the way to our next location, Dad told me a story, "I don't remember much about elementary school except for a girl named Regina. She wore these thick Coke-bottle glasses and had a reputation for hugging the daylight out of everyone if she caught you on the playground. Like every other kid, my daily mission was to outrun 'Regina the retard,' because no one wanted to catch whatever it was she had. We were dumb, and I want to fix it."

"Um, Dad, how are you going to fix it?" I asked as politely as I could.

"I'm going to give her a hug, son, for Christmas."

"Dad, Regina probably doesn't even live in the same house anymore. Besides, how's it going to look when a strange Santa shows up trying to hug someone he hasn't seen in sixty years?

"I'll do the worrying, and you do the driving. That's the deal," he mumbled before telling me where to turn.

Dad told me to wait in the car, but I followed behind him anyway in case I needed to save his life or something. He pulled up his britches and knocked on the door. We heard cartoons on the television inside as we waited. A woman about my fathers' age answered and seemed a bit surprised.

"Can I help you?" she asked with the door half-open.

"I'm here to see Regina. Ask her if she remembers Hank from the playground."

"Well, Hank, that could be a problem because my sister passed away more than ten years ago."

Dad told her the story, and she mentioned how Regina did indeed like to hug the daylight out of folks. Once the lovely woman warmed up to us, she invited Santa and me in to sit a spell. They spent about an hour talking about his friend from long ago and how cruel kids can be. Regina's sister spoke on and on about how she was known all over Clarkstown for embracing perfect strangers. Many came to know her as an angel on earth in the neighborhood because of her kind heart.

"Well, Santa Hank, I'm not Regina, but I would like to hug you for my sister.

Dad wrapped his arms around the stranger and softly stated, "I'm sorry for all of the mean things I said, Regina."

"Hank, there is nothing to forgive. If there's one thing about Gina, she never held a grudge. She loved everybody. You two have a good day now. I have to tend to the grandkids."

We left after I hugged her myself and thanked her. Santa Hank taught me that it is never too late to tell someone you're sorry. The stupid things he did as a kid haunted him, and he was finally free of that 'demon,' as he called it. It's funny, but my father's face appeared to lose a few wrinkles after the encounter that morning. After taking a few moments to digest what had happened, he told me time was wasting and encouraged me to keep driving.

We stopped for lunch at a small diner downtown. Dad was probably the only person who kept them in business. He ate there or picked up food on the way home almost every day and insisted they served the best meatloaf in the state of Tennessee. I'd tried it myself once and considered it too bland for my taste, but he swore on it. The sweet tea was pleasant, though. We struck up a conversation.

"You know why I enjoy this place so much, little man?"

"Dad, I'll be forty-one next month."

"The food is pretty terrible, but it was delightful before Joann's husband died back in 74' I think it was. She's been struggling to keep the place afloat since then."

"So you were friends with her husband?"

"Nah, he was an asshole, but I owed it to Joann. You see, she asked me to dance with her at our homecoming, and I said no. It wouldn't have killed me to give her one song, but I was shy and concerned about what everyone would think. I'm here today to ask her to dance. Don't you worry, I've worked it out with your mother, and she understands."

I sat there and watched that small barren diner become a high school dance floor. Santa Hank slid a quarter into the jukebox and played Earth Angel. I'd like to think he chose that tune for Regina as well as Joann. I'm not sure how the old man did it, but within moments he was dancing with the girl he'd turned down years ago. Her greasy apron hung over one of the bar stools while they whirled around and left the world behind. Mom wasn't with us that day, but I knew she would have approved.

My father and I spent the rest of the day and Sunday correcting as many wrongs as possible. He had me drive fifty miles to repay an old debt to a gentleman he hadn't heard from in twenty years. Santa Hank gave the man a ten and said, "That's the five I owed you with interest. Merry Christmas." We stopped and spoke to an army buddy he'd fought in the war with who supposedly saved Dad's life one time. All I know is the guy seemed down in the dumps before my father wrote a check. Later, Dad told me that he could do whatever he wanted with his savings.

So today, I don't feel like I'm speaking at my dad's funeral. Instead, we are celebrating his deep love of life. He'd tell you that he didn't always feel that way, but circumstances changed his heart. Maybe it was the war, or perhaps it was guilt eating away at his soul. Whether or not you believe he was missing a few screws isn't the point. My mother passed a year before he did, but her essence was alive and well in his heart. He may have been dancing alone in the living room and watching Carson by himself, but I believe she never left him. The good news he bragged about to Mom's ghost while he stared at her photo would have been tragic for anyone but Dad. Finding out his days were numbered from the doc that afternoon only meant he'd see his Evie soon.

The final Christmas he spent with my family is one I'll never forget. It's because he brought Mom along one more time, and we got to spend the day together. It doesn't matter what anyone says because I saw her too with my own eyes through Dad's, and she was as beautiful as ever. I know it's January, but Santa Hank wanted to make sure I wished y'all a Merry Christmas.

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