Summary: A man’s life and the things that matter most are revealed in a series of Christmas Eve vignettes. (Mind you, this is not a Bonanza story. It is a piece of original fiction featuring a character born many years ago in a Bonanza World journal—an actor named Jack Richards, not-so-loosely based on Pernell Roberts. If that intrigues you, or if you’re just in the mood for an easy read in keeping with the season, you may enjoy this. I hope so.)
Rating: T (11,074 words)
Author’s Note: This might appear to be a holiday story, which it is in the sense that Bonanza is a western. In essence, it is the story of a man, one John Patrick Richards (better known as Jack), a retrospective of his life over a span of nearly thirty years—moments of wonder, elation, pride, frustration, helplessness, grief, loneliness, hope and gratitude—pieced together by a common thread of love and viewed through the lens of Christmas. And in that sense, it is a story for all seasons.
THERE IS A SEASON
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
Preamble: This story actually began the day Jack met his future wife Liz during a publicity photo shoot for a television western in which he had a small role. She was the photographer’s assistant. He noticed her right away, but after a friendly conversation she politely told him she did not date actors. It took him a while to convince her to go out with him, which is another story altogether. The rest, as they say, is history.
1957 — The Blue Velvet Box
Leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest, Jack waited with bridled impatience for Liz to finish the phone call that had interrupted them.
“Yes, Mother, we’ll be there in plenty of time for Christmas dinner.” She paused. “I’m sure Jack likes cornbread dressing and sweet potatoes. He’s from Georgia, remember?”
He nodded in answer to her questioning glance, grinning as she rolled her eyes in exasperated endurance of her mother’s soliloquy on the other end. Unable to resist the opportunity, he moved behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, delivering a slow kiss to the back of her neck. Feeling her shiver, his arms went around her and he pulled her closer to nuzzle her ear.
“Please hang up,” he whispered so that only she could hear.
“Mother, I’ve got to go. We’ll see you tomorrow.” She put down the phone and turned to receive the full force of his kiss. “You’ve got to stop doing that,” she chided him afterwards.
“Why? Don’t you like it?”
“That’s the problem. I like it a little too much. You make it very hard to concentrate.”
He smiled, relishing her softness as he kissed her again, more tenderly this time. “The only thing you need to concentrate on right now is me.” Taking her hand, he led her to the couch. “Sit down; I want to give you your Christmas present.”
“But you already gave me the pearls, Jack.”
“That was just to throw you off.”
The surprise in her face assured him he had been successful. Reaching into his jacket, he retrieved the item that had been burning a hole in his pocket all evening. Suddenly he felt very nervous. All his hopes for all his future Christmases lay in this tiny blue velvet box. He placed it in her hand with a silent prayer.
She stared at it for a moment before opening it, and then she closed her eyes and started to cry.
“Oh, Jack. I didn’t want to fall in love with you because I was sure you would never fall in love with me.”
“But it happened anyway, didn’t it?” he murmured, smiling, his confidence restored. “Oh, ye of little faith—if you only knew how hard I fell that very first day.” Taking the ring from the box in her hand, he dropped one knee to the floor in front of her. “You can be sure of one thing. I have never loved anyone the way I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life showing you just how much. Do you think you can stop crying long enough to say yes?”
She nodded, sniffling.
He slipped the ring onto the third finger of her left hand. “Elizabeth Kelley, will you please marry me?”
At her breath of a yes he took her in his arms and kissed away every tear, and she was his from that moment.
1959 — Waiting for a Miracle
It was a quiet night before Christmas, their third one together, not at all like the first two. Jack smiled, recalling their celebration the evening of their engagement and last year’s holiday in Vermont. Liz had longed for snow, and they spent the week at an inn straight out of Currier and Ives, braving the cold outdoors during the day and warming one another indoors at night. There would be none of that this year though. No champagne either.
Liz nestled herself against him as he joined her on the couch. He knew she was disappointed that her due date had nearly passed with their child yet to make an appearance, and to be honest, so was he. The prospect of becoming a father thrilled him in a way he never imagined. He stroked his wife’s bulging belly, delighting in the kick that responded to his gentle touch.
She winced. “I think your son is either going to be a football player or a boxer.”
“You seem a pretty confident that this baby is going to be a boy. What if he turns out to be a she?”
“I don’t know. I just can’t picture anything other than a Jack, Jr.”
“Now you know how I feel about that.”
“I know, I’m just kidding. But we need to come up with something, and soon.”
“Well, at least we’ve decided on a girl’s name.” Liz had been very gracious about his wish to name her after his mother, Kathleen, whom everyone called Kate. If they couldn’t use it this time, they could save it for the next one. After growing up as an only child, he wanted at least three.
“You really wouldn’t be disappointed if it’s a girl?”
“Of course not.” He caressed her cheek. “All I want is for you and the baby to be healthy. By the way, this is for you,” he said, retrieving a small box from underneath the newspaper on the coffee table. “Sorry it’s not wrapped.”
A frown furrowed her brow. “But we’ve already exchanged gifts.”
“Well, you know me.”
She gasped when she opened the box. “Jack, they’re beautiful!”
“They should be. They’re for the ears of the most beautiful woman in the world.” He was ready with the tissue for the tears that followed. For some reason, diamonds always seemed to make her cry.
“But it’s not fair,” she sniffed. “I don’t have anything else for you.”
“Sweetheart, you’ve already given me everything I’ve ever wanted, even if you are a little late with the delivery.” He grinned and drew her into his embrace, consoling her with a gentle kiss that became something more until she pulled away reluctantly.
“I really don’t think you should kiss me that way, Jack, not now.”
He smiled. “Sorry.” The flush in her cheeks was quite beguiling, but starting something they couldn’t finish wasn’t fair to either of them. He leaned over her stomach with a hand to his mouth. “You need to hurry up and get out here, you know that?”
She laughed, snuggling next to him as the clock struck midnight, announcing Christmas Day. Patting the place where her lap used to be, he closed his eyes and smiled at the new life rippling beneath his fingers, more content than he could ever remember.
And when his gift finally arrived five days later in the tiny pink personage of Sara Kathleen Richards, Sara Kate for short, it was Christmas morning all over again.
1963 — A Stocking Half-Empty, A Stocking Half-Full
“More higher, Daddy. I can’t reach.” Perched on her father’s shoulders, Sara patted his balding head with one hand as she strained for the top of the Christmas tree with a star in the other.
“Sara Kate, that’s about as far as I can go without a ladder, but maybe if you stand up you can reach…hold on….” Jack gripped her waist firmly as he lifted her higher above his head until she planted her bare feet squarely on his shoulders.
“Jack, don’t you dare drop that child!”
“Relax, Liz. I’ve got everything under control. Have you got it yet, honey?”
The tree branches were making his nose itch, and there was no way for him to scratch it. “Hurry up, okay?”
Jack stepped back and sneezed, swaying her on his shoulders, and though he would have never let her fall, he knew Liz would have a different interpretation.
Sara giggled. “Bless you, Daddy. Do it again.”
“No, I think we’re in enough trouble already.” He eased her to the floor, plucking a strand of tinsel from her hair. “Ask Mommy how she likes the tree.”
“Do you like it, Mommy?”
Liz scooped Sara into her arms. “I love it. Let’s take a closer look.”
“You really shouldn’t be picking her up like that, not for at least a couple of weeks. You know what the doctor said.”
“Don’t worry, Jack.” She sent him a cool glance over her shoulder. “I’ve got everything under control.”
He frowned and bit his tongue because he knew whatever he said would be the wrong thing. On days like this the tension between them was as thick as San Francisco fog. It had been this way ever since Thanksgiving, and if anything, things had gotten worse over the past month instead of better.
Jack listened from the couch as a proud Sara showed off their decorating efforts, and he couldn’t help but smile. Just shy of her fourth birthday though a little on the small side, she had a better vocabulary than some kids twice her age, and adults were often surprised and delighted to find themselves engaged in conversation with this lively slip of a girl. Jack doubted there was a smarter or more beautiful child anywhere in the world, his own bias notwithstanding.
Wriggling from her mother’s arms, Sara fingered a picture ornament on a low branch. “Look, Mommy, here’s you and me and Daddy.”
“I see. And here you are with Santa. Remember when you sat on his lap last year?”
Sara ignored her question, directing her attention to another ornament higher on the tree. “Who’s that baby?”
“That’s you,” said Liz softly, stroking her hair. “That’s how you looked when you first came to live with us.”
“I’m a big girl now.” She looked up at her and smiled.
“You certainly are.” Her mother’s smile was wistful.
“Mommy, can Santa Claus bring us a baby for Christmas?”
“No, sweetie. Santa Claus doesn’t bring babies.”
Jack’s heart clenched, watching his wife’s pained expression. Mercifully, the phone rang, and she excused herself to answer it.
Sara climbed onto couch next to him. “Daddy, can you get us a baby?”
He pulled her into his lap. “No, angel, I’m afraid that’s something Daddy can’t do either.”
“Babies aren’t like toys, Sara Kate. You can’t buy them. They have to be born. And it takes a long time.”
“Why does it take a long time?”
“Because they start out so tiny you can’t even see them, and then they have to grow.”
“Was I that tiny?”
She looked skeptical. “Then how could you find me if you couldn’t see me?”
He smiled at her. “Well, the doctor told Mommy where you were, and then you grew, and then you were born.”
“Oh.” She leaned back against him, quiet for a moment. “Daddy?”
“Where did I grow before I was born?”
Jack cleared his throat. He should have seen this one coming. “In your Mommy’s tummy.”
She sat up, her dark eyes wide with wonder. “How did I get out?”
“The doctor took you out when you were big enough.”
“Did the doctor put me in there?”
Patting his face into a grin, she poked her fingers in his dimples as she laughed. “Then who?”
He put his arms around her, pausing for only a moment before answering with the truth as he knew it.
“God did, angel. You were a gift from heaven.”
Her face brightened as she smiled. “Then we can just ask God for a baby!”
Liz choked on a sob behind him as he hugged Sara to his chest. A few seconds later he heard the bedroom door close.
Sara sat up, her expression troubled. “Daddy, what’s wrong with Mommy? Why is she sad?”
Jack sighed. It was foolish to think Sara hadn’t noticed that things were amiss, even if she didn’t understand why. “She’s just missing someone right now. Mommy’ll be okay. Everybody gets sad sometimes, and it’s alright to cry.”
“Even you, Daddy?”
“Even me. But not right now, because I think it’s time for a story.” He tweaked her nose. “Why don’t you go in your room and pick out something you can read to me?”
“Like ‘Put Me In The Zoo’?”
“That’s one of my favorites.”
“Mine, too.” She hopped off his lap with a grin.
Watching her prance down the hallway on her tiptoes, he felt the unexpected sting of tears. He rested his head in his hands and closed his eyes to squelch them. This Christmas belonged to Sara, and it seemed left up to him to see that it wasn’t spoiled. He could not afford to indulge in those kinds of feelings.
The first two miscarriages had been early, within the first few weeks, but Liz was nearly five months along with the last one, a boy, lost just before Thanksgiving. And if that wasn’t enough to break their hearts, the surgery that followed dashed any future hopes they might have had. It wasn’t a choice; Jack knew that even as he gave his consent. Alone in the waiting room, reliving the tragic death of a president on television, he mourned the loss of his son and prayed for the life of his wife, while searching for the words to tell her she could have no more babies.
Her grief was understandable, but it also seemed to blind her to everything else they had that was good. She seemed so intent on hanging onto this pain. He didn’t know what it would take to wake her up, but his patience was wearing a little thin.
1968 — Silent Night
“Ho, ho, ho, who’s ready for Christmas?”
“Daddy, you’re home!” Sara launched herself into Jack’s arms, nearly knocking him over in her enthusiasm. “I was afraid you wouldn’t get here in time.”
“I told you on the phone yesterday I’d be here, remember?” he laughed, returning her hug along with a kiss. “Did you miss me as much as I missed you?”
“I missed you more.”
“Oh, I doubt that. Gosh, I could just eat you up — you look so pretty, like a blue angel. Is that a new dress?”
“Yes. Mommy got it for me.”
“Well, your mommy has always had excellent taste,” he said, more to Liz than Sara. “You look very nice. Sorry I’m late.”
Liz ignored the compliment as well as the apology. “Don’t even bother getting out of your coat if you’re coming with us. We’re on our way out the door.”
He longed to kiss her properly but settled for the cheek she offered in the absence of time. Besides, he knew that tone and the look that went with it and decided his best response was compliance. He would let the Christmas Eve service soften her as it always did, and later he could show her how much he missed her, too.
The church was small, the sanctuary mostly filled when they arrived. Jack knew Sara would have preferred to sit closer to the front but she was too excited to complain. A December baby, she was truly a child of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and the thing Jack loved most was seeing it through her eyes.
The choir began. Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains…
He smiled, recalling the first candlelight service they attended just before Sara’s third birthday. She was spellbound by the music, and afterwards he asked her which song was her favorite. “The one about Gloria,” she told him. From then on he could never listen to it without thinking of her.
Gloria in excelsis Deo…
Jack welcomed his daughter’s warmth next to him during the reading of the Christmas story. Fear not. For lo, I bring you good tidings of great joy…. He kissed the top of her head and stretched his arm across the back of the pew to squeeze his wife’s shoulder, thinking how young and lovely she looked in the candle glow. She rewarded him with a small smile.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…
Children’s voices wafted through the air, and the sound swelled as the congregation joined in.
Silent night, holy night…
There were prayers for peace on earth and goodwill toward men, ending in a choral exhortation to joy.
Let heaven and nature sing!
It was nearly midnight by the time they returned home and got Sara into bed.
“Better get to sleep so Santa can get to work,” said Jack, tucking the covers around her. “What do you hope he’s bringing you this year?”
“Daddy, I’m in third grade, and nobody in third grade believes in Santa Claus.”
“Is that a fact? Then who do they think fills their stockings and leaves all those presents under the tree?”
“Parents, of course. That’s why some kids don’t get any presents at all, because their parents are poor and can’t afford to buy them.”
“So you figured it out.” He sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “Kinda stinks when you know the truth, huh? That’s why Christmas can be a sad time for some people.”
“There’s a new girl in my class named Kimberly. She moved here to live with her grandparents because her daddy’s in the war. He’s not coming home for Christmas.”
Her expression drew him back to the edge of her bed, where he sat down. “I’m sorry for Kimberly. That’s very sad. I hope her daddy gets to come home soon.”
“You never did tell me what you wanted for Christmas.”
“I already got what I wanted.”
“And what was that?”
Her answer surprised him, but not as much as her next question. “Daddy, you’re not ever going in the war, are you?”
Pulling her into his arms, he reassured her, “No, angel. You don’t have to worry about that. Hey, I’m kinda tired. Would you mind if I stretched out here with you for a while?”
“I don’t mind.”
He reached over and turned out the lamp as she curled up beside him. “It’s okay if you have to go away again, Daddy,” she murmured, her voice sleepy. “But come home soon.”
Pausing in the doorway a few minutes later to watch Liz slip out of her dress, Jack no longer felt tired. He approached her from behind and pulled her close enough to convey his desire, nibbling a spot behind her ear.
“Mmm, you smell as good as you taste. But I want more than just an appetizer.”
“Is that all you ever think about?”
Her detached air and look of cool appraisal as she turned toward him only made him more determined. This was a dance he intended to lead.
“Well, after nearly a month apart I’d say it’s pretty close to the top of my list right now.” He filled his hands with her hair, stopping her mouth with a kiss when she started to speak. “I don’t want to talk,” he whispered, taking her lips again, more insistently this time. He sensed her ambivalence waning as she leaned into his kiss.
Coming up for air, he noted the color in her cheeks with a self-satisfied smile. “So you did miss me, after all.”
“I tried not to.”
“Because I can’t afford to sit around here pining for my absentee husband. I have too much to do.”
“Pine no more, my lady. Your knight errant is home, willing, able and at your service for the next two weeks,” he murmured, fastening his mouth on the pulse point of her neck.
“Two weeks? I thought you didn’t start rehearsals for the new show until the middle of February.”
“Change of plans.” Feeling her stiffen, he raised his eyes to her unsmiling face. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes, I think there is, and we need to talk.” She moved out of his arms.
“Now? You want to talk about it now?”
“I think now is a good time, while I’ve got your attention.”
He frowned. This fly in the ointment of his homecoming was most frustrating.
“Well, I don’t know what there is to talk about. It was a business decision by the producers, none of my doing.”
“I’m not talking about the stupid play, Jack,” she said, putting on her robe and tying the belt with a flourish. “I’m talking about us.”
“What about us?”
“That’s just what I mean. The problem is that you don’t even realize there is one!”
“Will you stop talking in circles and tell me what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong is the fact that over the past year and a half you’ve been away more than you’ve been home. Your clothes are here and you pay the mortgage, but you don’t really live here. You sweep in here every so often for a few days to spoil your child rotten and make crazy love to me and then you’re gone again. I feel more like a mistress than a wife sometimes. If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you had another family somewhere.”
Her assertions were so ridiculous he would have laughed out loud, except that he could see from her face that she was deadly serious. He sat down on the bed and stared at her.
“I don’t even know where to begin to tell you how wrong you are. There is no one else. There could never be.”
“I’m not accusing you. I told you, I know you better than that. But don’t patronize me by telling me there could never be anyone else. I’m not that naive, and I can’t believe you could be. Whether you want to admit it or not, we’re living two very separate lives. It’s not good for us to be apart so much. There are too many temptations when a person is alone and lonely.”
He studied her face, suddenly afraid of what she might be saying. “Are you trying to tell me that you…?”
“Of course not! I’m talking about you.”
His relief expressed itself in the breath he had been holding. “So let me get this straight. You’re not upset because you think I’ve cheated on you but because you think I might? Why do you want to borrow trouble we don’t have?”
“I’m not borrowing trouble; I’m trying to prevent it! Why can’t you see what’s happening to us?”
“The only thing that’s happening to us is in your mind. You’re making something out of nothing.”
She acted as though she didn’t hear him. “Marriage is a lot more work than you seem to realize, and I’m partly to blame for that because I’ve made it too easy for you. I’ve been doing my share and most of yours while you’ve been out there chasing rainbows.”
He couldn’t take a remark like that sitting down. “Now wait just a minute,” he said, towering over her like an angry shadow. “In the first place, it’s work. And in the second place, you told me to go.”
“I let you go. There’s a difference.”
“You could have said no when I asked you.”
She shook her head sadly. “No, I couldn’t have. You were so miserable, and that’s when I realized that Sara and I weren’t enough for you. I didn’t want to risk losing you by insisting that you stay. But I didn’t know it would be like this. The fact that you’re happier now, away from us most of the time…does the work really mean that much to you? Is it worth everything we’ve had to give up?”
“Don’t you understand that what I’m doing is for us, for our future? Liz, if this works out I’ll be able to pick and choose and never leave home again if I don’t want to. This is only a temporary situation, and frankly, I don’t think it’s as bad as you’re making it sound. It’s not like we’re separated the way some families in this country are right now.”
“Yes, a lot of families have been torn apart by circumstances beyond their control, but we’re on this path mainly because of choices you’ve made.”
“You’ve made a few choices yourself,” he reminded her. “I begged you to go to Spain with me, as I recall, and you flat out refused.”
“I couldn’t just pack up and go with you on a whim. You wanted me to pull Sara out of a new school in the middle of the year.”
“I still don’t know what would have been so bad about that. It would have been a great experience for her, a chance to see things she’d never see in a classroom in Sherman Oaks.”
“Yes, I’m sure she would have had the time of her life, cooped up in a hotel room all day waiting for the chance to see you when you came in from location exhausted every night.”
“I told you, that’s not how it would have been. It was chance for us to be together, and you arbitrarily nixed it!” He could hear his voice rising with his anger, so he lowered the volume before he continued. “It wasn’t about Sara needing to be in school, was it? It was about control. The real reason you said no was because you could — and to punish me.”
Her eyes narrowed and she raised her hand to slap him, but he was too quick for her. He could have snapped her slender wrist like a matchstick if he had been that kind of a man, but they both knew he wasn’t. He loosened his grip with an apology, instantly remorseful over the red marks where his fingers had been. She turned away from him, and he knew she was crying.
He watched her for a few seconds, wondering if she could possibly be right. Whispering her name into her hair, he held her and felt his longing for her return. “Please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Jack, but I don’t know if that’s enough to keep us from losing each other.”
“Of course it is.” He turned her in his arms. “That is never going to happen.”
“You can never say never, Jack.” The look she gave him was a sorrow close to pity as she replied. “If it does happen, it will be when you least expect it. And when something blows up in your face, the person who usually gets hurt the most is the one who didn’t see it coming.”
He dismissed her warnings, consoling her with kisses and promises, winning her back with ways tried and true until she yielded herself to him completely. They made love as if it was the first and last time, and in the afterglow he nudged her with a gentle rebuke. “How could you ever doubt us when you know how good we are together?”
The frown returned to her forehead. “Oh, Jack, didn’t you hear anything I said to you? If you think this fixes everything, then we are in trouble because you really don’t understand.”
“All I really understand is that you are my wife and I love you, if that means anything.” He rolled over, facing the wall. “And you’re wrong about us.”
Her voice was quiet from the far side of the bed. “I hope with all my heart I am.”
Jack lay awake for a long time afterwards in the cold silent night before finally losing himself to sleep and dreams that were anything but peaceful.
1973 — Christmas A.D. (After Divorce)
Jack stood on the porch, inhaling the aroma of cedar from the wreath on the door as he waited for someone to answer. It was a strange feeling, ringing the doorbell of a house he once called home, and he wondered if he would ever get used to it. It had only been ten months since he moved out (ten months, one week and five days, to be exact, not hard to remember because it was the day before his fifteenth wedding anniversary), but in some ways it seemed like a lifetime ago.
He was about to ring again when the door opened. “Hey kiddo, I was beginning to think I’d been stood up.”
“Sorry, Dad.” Sara welcomed him inside with a smile and a hug. “I was in my room, and Mom’s on the phone with Aunt Cheryl. You’re early, aren’t you?”
“Oh, I guess I am a bit, but it won’t hurt to get to the airport a little ahead of schedule. You never know what to expect on a holiday.”
“Okay, I’m almost done. I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Hello, Jack.” Liz walked in from the kitchen. “We weren’t expecting you this soon.”
“Yeah, I know. I just thought we might go on to the airport a little early, if that’s okay with you.”
“It’s probably a good idea. In fact, I’ll be leaving right after you two. I told Cheryl I’d be at Mom’s for dinner.”
She was wearing an ivory cashmere sweater paired with black slacks, and her hair was shorter and a little lighter, with soft layers around her face that made her dark eyes look bigger.
“I like your hair,” he told her. “It suits you.”
“Thanks. It’s easy. I need that.” She smiled. “The beard looks good.”
“Well, you know how I hate to shave.”
“I know. Is that for Sara?”
He had forgotten the package in his hand. “No, actually, it’s for you. Merry Christmas,” he said, handing it to her. Prompted by her reluctance, he added, “It’s not much, just a token, really. Open it.”
“Alright. But let’s sit down.”
He followed her to the den into what seemed like Christmas past. It was almost as if time had stood still. His leather chair was there by the fireplace, where Sara’s stocking hung from the mantle, and the tree that glowed in front of the window was adorned with tinsel and family history. There was Sara’s gap-toothed kindergarten picture, one of his favorites, and another picture of the three of them on a windswept beach. “Hilton Head,” he murmured.
“St. Simons,” she corrected him gently. “That was a good year.”
“Yes, it was.” He was glad to know he wasn’t the only one who remembered.
She opened the box and pulled out the silk scarf. “Oh, it’s lovely.”
“I thought the color was perfect for you.” It was a soft shade of apricot-pink, sure to complement the glow that highlighted her cheeks whenever she laughed. “I hope you’ll wear it.”
“I will. Thank you,” she said softly. “But you really shouldn’t have, Jack.”
Staring at her, this incredible woman with whom he had shared a child and a third of his life, he still found it hard to believe they had ended up this way.
“Old habits die hard, Liz.” He shrugged, emitting a short laugh without humor. “It’s amazing how many things still remind me of you.”
She looked as though she might cry. “I’m sorry I don’t have a gift for you.”
He shook his head. “That’s not true. I want to thank you again for letting me take Sara with me today. It means a lot.”
“It means a lot to her, too. She’s so excited about the trip.” She paused, her eyes glistening. “I would never keep her from you.”
Sara appeared with her luggage. “Okay Dad, ready when you are.”
Jack stood up. “Why don’t I take your bags to the car? Your mother can walk you out.” He knew Sara’s leaving was harder on Liz than she made it appear. “We’ve got plenty of time,” he assured her.
Liz acknowledged him with a grateful smile as he left them to their goodbyes. A few moments later they emerged from the house; Sara gave her mother a quick hug and bounded toward the car and into the front seat next to Jack.
He looked up at Liz through the open window. “We’ll call you tonight from the hotel.”
“I’ll be at Mom’s,” she reminded him. “Sara has the number in case you don’t.”
“I’ve got it. Be careful going through the mountains. I think it’s supposed to snow this afternoon. You should be fine once you get through the Grapevine, but you may have to take the detour at Lebec. That’ll slow you down.”
“I’m in no hurry. But you two should probably go.”
“Right.” He tore his eyes from hers and looked over at Sara. “Ready, kiddo?”
It was a hypothetical question that needed no answer, though she nodded, her excitement evidenced by a happy grin.
“Alright then. New York City, here we come.” He turned back to Liz. “Thanks again. I mean it.”
She leaned down and brushed his cheek with hers. “Merry Christmas, Jack,” she whispered.
“Bye mom! Love you!”
Pulling away from the curb as she waved goodbye in his rearview mirror, he put a hand to his cheek where she touched him.
His face was wet.
1977 — Under the Mistletoe
“Dad, look what I found.”
“Where in the world…?”
“Hiding in the back of the guest room closet,” said Sara, passing it to him with a smile. “Think you can still play it?”
The feel of the old guitar in his hands was like running into a long lost friend, and Jack couldn’t help but smile. “It’s sort of like riding a bike. You don’t forget; you just have to find your balance again.” He propped it on his knee and began picking at the strings. “Needs tuning.”
Sara knelt at his feet. “I used to love listen to you when I was a little girl. Do you remember my favorite song?”
He chuckled as he turned first one peg, then another, plucking and listening. “Puff the Magic Dragon — how could I ever forget? I kept hoping you’d get tired of it, but you never did –kind of soured me on Peter, Paul and Mary back then.”
“Why did you stop?”
He shrugged. “I guess I thought I was too busy. And after a while it seemed like the music just went out of my life.”
“People should never be that busy, not if it means giving up something they truly love.” Her eyes were sympathetic, not judgmental.
He smiled at the earnestness of youth, so often born of what they had not yet experienced. In a perfect world it would never happen, but life was rarely that simple.
“I think the biggest problem for some people is that they don’t realize the importance of some of the things they take for granted. And when they do, sometimes it’s too late.”
“It’s not too late for you.” There was something in her eyes that made him wonder if she wasn’t talking about something other than music. “Play something.”
“Oh, I don’t know, sweetheart. It’s been so long, I’d be pretty rusty.”
“Please, for me?”
For her, the moon if he could get it. “Alright, I’ll give it a shot. Anything in particular? But if you don’t mind, no magic dragons, okay?”
“How about The Water Is Wide? That was always my favorite.”
Jack turned toward the voice behind him and smiled as Liz made her way to the couch.
Sara took a seat next to her. “Go ahead, Dad.”
He cleared his throat. “I can’t guarantee this will turn out.”
“Just sing the song, Jack.” Liz’s voice was stern but her smile gave her away.
“Yes ma’am…” he nodded, his mouth twitching into a grin.
He fingered the opening tentatively, testing his muscle memory.
The water is wide, I cannot get over
Neither have I the wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I
The music returned slowly and surely like the tide, bearing him comfortably aloft by the second verse.
A ship there is, and she sails the sea
She’s loaded deep as deep can be
But not so deep as the love I’m in
I know not if I sink or swim…*
He finished the song as quietly as he had begun, and when the last of the notes faded into the air he raised his eyes to his appreciative audience.
Sara smiled. “I think I have a new favorite now. That was beautiful, Dad. Didn’t you think so, Mom?”
“Yes,” Liz said softly. “I think you may have missed your calling, Jack.” She stood up. “Dinner’s on the table.”
The look she gave him made him want to take her in his arms and tell her the only thing he missed was waking up next to her every morning, but he merely smiled and followed her into the kitchen with Sara, knowing he already had more than he dared hope for a couple of years ago.
Sara’s laughter at dinner was sweet music to both their ears. It was two Christmases ago when they almost lost her that they began to find each other again, and in some ways they were more a family now than in the last years of their marriage. Sara was healthy and whole, and that was an answered prayer, but he couldn’t help but wish for more, especially the way Liz looked tonight, her eyes smiling at him over her wine glass. Sink or swim, he was still in deep after all this time. He wondered if she knew…
Sara appeared destined to follow in her mother’s professional footsteps and persisted in recording the entire evening for posterity.
“Don’t you think you have enough pictures this Christmas? You’re going to wear out that camera,” laughed Liz.
“One more,” she promised. “You and Dad.”
Sara looked around the room. “Umm, right here, I think,” she said, positioning them in the dining room alcove beneath a swag of evergreens and holly. Framing them in her lens, she motioned them closer together.
“Come on, work with me people — it’s Christmas, you’re happy, life is good — I want to see that! If you need more motivation, Mom, just pretend the Bruins are in the Rose Bowl this year. That’s better,” she praised them above their laughter. “Dad, put your arm around her. Nice! Oh, you guys are beautiful, you know that? Now say, Sara needs a new car!”
Jack grinned. “Sara’s crazy,” he said through his teeth.
The camera flashed. “That’s going to be the best one,” said Sara, smiling. “Wait a minute, don’t move yet.”
“Fine by me,” said Jack, his arm still around Liz’s waist.
“I thought we were done,” said Liz.
“It all depends on whether or not you’re superstitious.”
“Superstitious about what?” Jack asked.
“Well, according to legend, it’s very bad luck to stand under the mistletoe with someone and not kiss them.”
Jack and Liz both looked up. “Who put that there?” she asked.
Their daughter shrugged. “Maybe Santa sneaked in here while we weren’t looking.”
“Or maybe it was a sneaky little elf named Sara,” said Jack.
“What does it matter how it got there? And if you’re not superstitious, fine. Go ahead; throw caution to the wind, live dangerously. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re right,” said Liz. “She is sneaky.”
“Yeah.” He tugged at his ear, his mouth turning up in a wry smile. “But I wouldn’t want to be responsible for risking the good luck this family has had this year, would you?”
She smiled back at him. “No, I wouldn’t.”
It was a sweet and tender kiss, and maybe he just imagined her lips parting ever so slightly, perhaps he was just remembering the way they used to be. But the look in her eyes when she raised them afterwards was enough to make him think that maybe, just maybe, his luck was about to change again.
A flash brought them both back to their senses. “I thought we were through with all the pictures,” said Liz, raising an eyebrow toward Sara.
“I only had one shot left on the roll, and it would have been bad luck to leave it.”
“You just made that up,” said Jack.
“You’re right,” she grinned.
“And the other?”
She shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. But you don’t have anything to worry about now.” Tucking the film into her camera bag, she smiled. “Well, I think my work is done.”
“Wait just a minute. Your mother and I want to talk to you.” Jack crossed his arms and glanced over at Liz. “Don’t we?”
“Yes, and I think it’s high time we set her straight. Go ahead, Jack. She’s got it coming.”
“What did I do?”
Sara obeyed with a look of utter confusion on her face.
Jack cleared his throat and did his best to look stern. “Your little set-up was pretty cute, very clever, in fact. I’ve got to hand to you. But you’re not the only one who can be sneaky. I’ll bet you never saw this coming.” He pulled a small box from his pocket and placed it in her hand. “Merry Christmas.”
Sara squealed when she opened it. “I don’t believe it!”
Jack and Liz grinned at each other, delighted that their surprise had remained a secret. “See for yourself. It’s in driveway,” he said, laughing as she hugged him on her way out the door.
He smiled at Liz. “You think she likes it?”
“Oh, I think it’s a hit. What about next year, though? This Christmas is going to be hard to top.”
He slipped his arm around her. “Well, I have an idea I’m working on.”
“Already? It must be something grand. Are you going to let me in on it?”
“Oh, it’s the grandest thing, and you’ll have to be in on it, or it won’t work.”
“Well, what is it?”
“I’d rather not say at this point. I don’t want to spoil anything. You’re just going to have to trust me.” He cupped her chin in his hand. “You do trust me, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she breathed, just before their lips met.
And this time it wasn’t the mistletoe, and it definitely wasn’t his imagination.
1979 — Long Ago and Far Away
The lights of Christmas were just beginning to twinkle as Jack turned into the entrance to his old neighborhood. The weather was unseasonably warm, even for southern California, making all the Frosties, Santas and other North Pole denizens seem oddly out of place.
Like fish out of water, he thought. Like me.
Declining several invitations for the evening, he had opted instead for a late lunch with a close friend who knew what it was like to be in his shoes, especially this time of the year. It was refreshing not to have to pretend it didn’t hurt or that he wasn’t lonely and be regarded with understanding instead of pity. It had been a good choice.
It may have been a mistake, though, stopping by the house in Sherman Oaks. He couldn’t bring himself to sell it, and he had never gotten around to renting it as he’d planned, so it had stood empty since the summer as a ghostly relic from a time that was no more. He walked the vacant rooms quietly this Christmas Eve, like a ghost himself, knee-deep in memories so thick he could almost cut them with a knife, and yet to the naked eye there was little trace of the family who had once lived and loved within the walls. Closing the door behind him after staying longer than he intended, he decided perhaps the time had come to let it go.
Merry Christmas, darling
We’re apart, that’s true
But I can dream and in my dreams
I’m Christmas-ing with you…
He snapped off the radio before pulling into the driveway. His new place was home mainly in the sense that he occupied space and got his mail there. Sara had only lived there a month before leaving for a year in Africa with the Peace Corps, and though her room lacked the personality of the one she grew up in, Jack sometimes found himself drawn to it and the things she left behind, if only to remind himself that she wasn’t gone forever.
It wasn’t that he had nothing to keep him busy. Work was his salvation, this time in the form of a new television series. People who remembered him from Badlands may have been surprised to see him without the toupee, but that hadn’t hurt the Q factor of John McKenzie, MD, a role in which he felt much more comfortable. By mid-season, Dr. John owned its Sunday night time slot, ranking third overall with a 22 share average, much to the network’s delight. Jack threw himself into the days of rehearsing and shooting with a grateful fervor, but sometimes the nights were still too long.
He rifled through the envelopes retrieved from his mailbox — an electric bill, a thank-you letter from St. Jude Hospital, and a few Christmas cards — but the one that captured his immediate attention was a small white envelope addressed in a familiar sprawling script. Laying the others aside on the counter with his keys, he put on his glasses and opened it eagerly. A smile formed on his lips as he sat down to read.
The calendar says December, but I can hardly believe I’ve been here six months already. A year seemed like such a long time to be away from home, and now it’s half over. I love the work and the fact that I’m so busy, because it keeps me from thinking too much about how far apart we are, but not too busy to miss you, especially now that Christmas is near.
I hope you are well. I worry sometimes that you might be lonely, and then I remind myself that you’re busy, too. It seems Dr. John and the Peace Corps came along at the right time for both of us. I like to think Mom would be proud of what we’re doing.
Even though I can’t be home for the holidays, I know I’m in your heart just as you are in mine. I left a little something for you in the bottom left drawer of my dresser. You can’t miss it — it’s wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a red ribbon. You can open it now or save it for Christmas Day if you’d rather. I found it when I was going through some old stuff just before we moved. It’s not new, but it’s ageless in the sense that it shows how I will always feel about you, no matter how old I am.
I’ll call you whenever I can get to a phone, because my Christmas wish right now is just to hear your voice. Besides, as someone once said, “Long distance is the next best thing to being there” — right?
I love you, Dad. Merry Christmas!
Jack chuckled at her reference to one of his voice-over commercials, and then he read the letter once more just for the joy of seeing the words in her own hand. A few moments later he was seated on her bed, pulling the paper from his Christmas surprise.
Beneath the wrapping, preserved in black and white edged in pewter was a much younger, thinner version of himself with a bronze cutie in pigtails next to him on the beach, captured in profile from behind. With him seated and her standing, they were nearly nose to nose, oblivious to the rest of the world as they smiled only for each other. Brushing away tears, he read the inscription engraved at the bottom of the frame:
“The greatest gift I ever had came from God – I call him Dad.”
His eyes caressed the photograph once more. It really was the perfect shot, as much a tribute to the artist behind the camera as the subjects themselves. Liz always seemed to know just when…
The stabbing grief over her sudden loss had gradually given way to a dull ache that even now made his heart sigh at the thought of her. But more than sadness, what he felt most of all now was gratitude for the gift she had given him twenty years ago, the sweet child of promise now a young woman of spirit and light. What he wouldn’t give to have both of his girls here with him tonight.
The jangling of the telephone on the nightstand jarred him back to the real world.
A slow grin deepened into a broad smile across his face, warmed by a voice on the other end, as sweet and clear as bells on Christmas Day.
“Same to you, angel…”
I’ve just one wish on this Christmas Eve…
I wish I were with you.*
1984 — Something Old, Someone New
“Something smells good in here. What’s cooking?”
Sara glanced up from the stove and smiled. “Shrimp scampi, and I hope you’re hungry.”
“I could eat,” said Jack. “What time is Steve coming?”
“He’s not. It’s just us tonight.”
“Did my ears deceive me? It’s Christmas Eve, you’re cooking and he’s not coming? What’s wrong — you haven’t changed your mind about the wedding, have you?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? It’s off.”
The smirk he had been wearing vanished from his face.
“That’s right. We’ve decided just to live together instead.”
“No, you’re the one who’s funny. Really, Dad, I thought you’d be used to the idea by now.”
It was no secret that he had never been keen on the idea of any kind of a liaison between his daughter and his young co-star, much less marriage. But it soon became apparent that his chances of preventing it were no better than trying to stop a runaway train with a body block. Besides, as a wise friend reminded him, it wasn’t up to him. It was Sara’s choice to make, and she had made it. In less than three weeks she would be Mrs. Steven Mathis.
“You know I’m only teasing. I guess you know what you’re getting yourself into, though why you’d want to marry an actor is beyond me.”
“Well, it was good enough for Mom, and she didn’t do too badly.”
“I don’t know. She might disagree with that.”
“I do know, and she wouldn’t.” Sara slipped her arm through his and leaned her head against his shoulder. “The reason Steve isn’t coming over tonight is because I asked him not to. I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with you – just you.”
He knew what she was thinking because the same thought had been on his mind all day. This would be their last father-daughter Christmas.
“That is the nicest gift you could have given me,” he said, patting her hand. “How long until dinner? Can you leave it for a few minutes?”
“Then come and sit down. I want to show you something.”
He led her to the couch. There were two small jewelry cases on the coffee table. He opened the larger of the two, revealing a petite strand of pearls.
“These were your mother’s. I gave them to her the Christmas before we were married; she wore them on our wedding day. And these,” he said, opening the other, “I gave to her the day you were due to be born, which was exactly twenty-five years ago this very evening.” Handing her the diamond earrings, he cleared his throat and continued softly. “I thought maybe, um…I mean, they both qualify as something old…well, they’re yours, whatever you decide to do with them.”
Sara kept her head down. “They’re beautiful,” she murmured. “I’ll be proud to wear them.”
Jack watched a tear fall on her hand. “As I recall, your mother had the same reaction,” he said, handing her a tissue. “I used to tease her that diamonds made her cry.”
“I miss her so much.”
He felt his throat tighten as he pulled her into his arms. “I know, angel, so do I. You just go ahead and cry. It’s better to do it now than on your wedding day. Your mother wouldn’t want that.”
“I just wish she could be there.”
“She will be,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. “Because when I walk you down that aisle, I know she’s going to be right there with me, with both of us. And it’s going to be a beautiful, happy day, and no tears, agreed?”
Clinging to his shirt, she nodded and cried, and as he held her he marveled at the quarter century that had slipped away from him almost without notice.
Turn around and you’re tiny, turn around and you’re grown, turn around and you’re a young wife with babes of your own…***
After a few moments, he heard her sigh. “Feel better?”
She sat up and took a deep breath. “Yes. I really do. How did you know I needed to do that?”
“I guess because I needed to.”
She smiled. “I love you, Dad.” All at once she jumped up. “My shrimp! I hope it’s not ruined!”
He followed her to the kitchen. “Can I help?”
“No, I’ve got it, looks like we’re okay. But you can pour the wine.”
“Coming right up.”
“And would you get that? My hands are full.”
He picked up the phone.
“Hello? Fine, how about you? I guess you’re lonesome tonight, huh? Well, right now she’s busy burning dinner, oh and giving me ‘the look’ — you know the one,” he laughed. “Here she is. Thanks, same to you.” He handed the receiver to Sara. “It’s your intended, unless of course you’ve changed your mind. There’s still time.” He made sure he spoke loud enough for Steve to hear, and then he nudged her in the ribs, making her giggle.
“You are so bad…” she said to him, shaking her head. “Hi. Oh, we’re just playing around.” She grinned at Jack. “He was kidding, mostly…so what are you doing?”
Jack smiled, lifting his wine glass in a silent toast to her. She was going to be one beautiful bride. He only hoped he could make good on the no tears agreement.
1985 — Rounding the Circle
“Jack, stay out of those. There won’t be any left when they get here.”
“Whatever you say, dear.” He popped another mushroom into his mouth before sliding his arms around her waist and dropping a kiss on the back of her neck.
“Now, you’d better stop that,” she warned, a sultry smile in her voice, “or I won’t be able to finish this in time.”
“What else are you making?”
“Cioppino,” she said. “You know how everyone loves it.”
He made a face behind her. Cioppino was an acquired taste, and not everyone loved it the way she made it. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage…I mean, cooking?” he teased her. She elbowed him, pretending to be offended, and the next moment she was in his arms returning his kiss with a force that left him reeling. He leaned in to take her lips again but she stopped him.
“You just chew on that a while, lover boy. The main course will have to wait until after dinner.”
He smirked. “If we’re lucky they won’t stay long.”
“Don’t kid a kidder. We both know you don’t mean that. You’ve been on pins and needles all day, waiting for them to get back.” She patted his cheek. “You’re such a doting father, and I think it’s so sweet.”
He caught her hand and kissed it. “I think you’re sweet.”
“Hold that thought.” She dismissed him with a mischievous grin and resumed her work. “Be a lamb and wash and dry the new crystal, will you?”
“Yes, dear,” he replied, admiring the rear view for a few seconds before tending to his assignment. He had to hand it to Laura for the way she had thrown herself into the role of domesticate since their September wedding. It was hardly her style, but she certainly deserved an ‘A’ for effort. And even though she wasn’t the world’s greatest cook, she satisfied his appetite in other delightful and sometimes very imaginative ways.
The chemistry between them was apparent from the very beginning, the first day she showed up on the set of Dr. John. A vivacious, forty-ish redhead with a quick laugh, Laura McIntyre was cast as his love interest for the week. By the taping of the show the kisses felt very real. He chided himself for what he considered a schoolboy mentality, but after seeing her for about a month he had to admit he was hooked. She was like a drug, and he couldn’t seem to get enough.
She was so different from Liz, though, and Jack had been a bit apprehensive about how Sara would react to this new woman in his life. But he needn’t have worried. Sara made it clear that whatever made him happy would make her happy too. And Laura was the kind of person who embraced everyone, and she relished the idea of family, having no children of her own even with two previous marriages. If she had any regrets about that, she never voiced them. It wasn’t her nature to dwell on the what-ifs and the what-might-have-beens of life, and in Jack’s mind that was one of the great things about her. It was a crazy love, against all odds, and it felt so good to be in it.
She was the first one to the door when the bell rang, dispensing hugs, gushing a mile a minute.
“Darlings! Come in, come in! How was Hawaii? You both look wonderful!”
Jack grinned at Sara over her shoulder. “Hiya, beautiful,” he said, capturing her in a warm embrace when it was his turn. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Dad. I’m so glad to see you.” Her eyes were shining.
“I’m glad to see you, too. I thought you weren’t coming back until next week. What changed your mind?”
She smiled. “I guess it sounds silly, but I just couldn’t stand the thought of being away during the holidays. Besides, I wanted to give you your Christmas present in person.”
“Speaking of presents, where do you want these?” Steve held up a shopping bag loaded with elegantly wrapped packages.
“Oh, how festive! We’ll put them under the tree with the others. But you really didn’t have to bring anything. Jack is so happy about your being here for Christmas, you’ll never be able to top that,” said Laura with a smile.
Steve grinned. “I wouldn’t be too sure if I were you.”
“Now I’m intrigued,” said Jack. “What could possibly be in that bag?”
Sara gave him an affectionate squeeze. “You’ll just have to wait to find out.”
Laura served the appetizers while Jack tended bar. “Anyone for Folonari Soave? I think they gave me a year’s supply along with the check for the commercial.”
“Sounds great,” said Steve.
“Club soda’s fine for me,” said Sara. “My stomach’s still in the air.”
Steve offered her a look of sympathy. “Sara got a little airsick coming back.”
“Are you kidding? It was the flight from hell. The turbulence was bad enough, and then we hit a downdraft and dropped about a thousand feet. I was never so glad to get back on solid ground — I could’ve kissed that pilot when we landed.” Steve’s jovial demeanor darkened. “There were a few minutes when I wondered if we’d make it home at all.”
“It was pretty scary,” said Sara quietly.
Laura patted her arm. “You poor dears, how awful! Oh, but all’s well that ends well, as they say. Now you’re safe and sound back here in good old southern California where all you have to worry about are mudslides and earthquakes. So much for solid ground, right?”
The mood in the room brightened once more, and Christmas resumed with the sounds of laughter and the clinking of glasses, followed by the tearing of holiday wrappings with the exchanging of gifts and more hugs, until only one small package remained.
The tag said To Dad ~ Love, Sara. He smiled when she handed it to him. It felt like a book. He knew it had to be something special.
He didn’t know what he expected, but this wasn’t it. It took a minute for it to sink in, and he heard himself asking, “Is this for real?” He looked up to see her nod and smile.
Laura was beside herself with curiosity. “Well, what is it?”
He handed the book to her, and she read the title out loud. “The Grandfather Club (A Humorous If Not Always Handy Guide for Prospective and Practicing Members)… Oh, Jack, your baby’s having a baby – how wonderful!”
“Come here, you.” He bundled Sara into his arms, overcome by the euphoria of wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. “How long have you known?”
“Well, I had a pretty good idea when Steve was wrapping up in Australia, but I didn’t find out for sure until we got to Honolulu. Christmas seemed like the perfect time to tell you, and I didn’t want to do it over the phone.”
“We wanted to see your face.” Steve was grinning from ear to ear.
“I didn’t disappoint you, did I?”
“Not one bit,” he said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Grandpa.”
Jack pulled him into a bear hug. “Same to you, Dad. So when’s the ETA?”
Laura was busy calculating. “We have a lot to do in less than six months, with all the shopping and the planning…we’ll have a shower, of course…oh my gosh, I’m going to be a grandmother!” She looked a little glassy-eyed, and then she composed herself. “I can handle this. I can.”
Sara laughed. “I don’t think there’s a person in this room who doubts that.”
Laura looked hopeful. “There are books, right?”
The laughter inside the house faded behind the french doors as Jack stepped quietly onto the patio, still absorbing the news of his impending grandfatherhood. He looked up and smiled when Sara joined him a few moments later, slipping underneath his arm.
He squeezed her shoulder. Liz’s birthday was the sixteenth.
“I hope I’m ready for this,” she said.
“Don’t worry; you will be, when the time comes.”
“I mean afterwards. It’s so daunting, the idea of someone being totally dependent on you, being responsible for another person’s life. There are so many ways to screw up. The more I read, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
“Then do yourself a favor and stop reading books. You’re gonna learn what you need to know the same way your mother and I did, from your kid. Sure, you’re gonna screw up sometimes, that comes with the territory, but you’ll both get over it, and you’ll learn from that, too. Most of parenting is common sense. You can’t go too far wrong if you just do what comes naturally.”
“If Steve and I can even come close to being the kind of parents you and mom were to me, I’ll be happy.”
“Your mother deserves most of the credit for raising you. If I could change anything, I wouldn’t have been away so much. I missed a lot of moments I shouldn’t have. And once they’re gone you don’t get them back.”
“Isn’t it funny how people can look at the same thing and see it differently? What I remember most are the times we spent together, not the times apart. And I wouldn’t swap those memories for anything.” She looked up at him and smiled. “If you could see yourself through my eyes, you would know what a wonderful father you really are.”
She had finally succeeded in making him cry, but it was alright, for they were the words every father longed to hear. He held her for a long time, recalling the moment when a tiny bit of heaven came into his life one December morning and the incredible, unforgettable journey that led them both to this Christmas Eve.
His heart near to bursting, he looked down into her lovely face and smiled. “My baby’s having a baby,” he said softly, and he kissed her cheek. “But you’ll always be mine.”
EPILOGUE – 1986
June 14 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Jack’s life with the arrival of Mark John Patrick Mathis, 7 lbs. 9 ounces, named in honor of his grandfather. Sara and Steve made the adjustment to 2 am feedings and diaper duty remarkably well, and Laura was unofficially dubbed the most adoring and fashionably chic grandmother in Malibu.
As for Jack, well, he just did what came naturally, as if it was a role he had been born to play.
Maybe it was.
*The Water Is Wide is a Scottish folk song which dates back to the 1600s, with lyrics varying according to period and singer. There have been many modern recorded versions, including one by Pernell Roberts on his album “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies,” released in 1963.
**Merry Christmas, Darling ~ lyrics and music by Frank Pooler and Richard Carpenter, copyright Irving Music 1970 (BMI).
***Turn Around ~ lyrics and music by Malvina Reynolds, Alan Greene and Harry Belafonte, 1959.