A Charlie Brown Christmas

I called home today – the home home. The home of my youth, of my family, where my mother sits. On the porch swing, admiring the weather, the bright hues of tulips and yellow jonquils blooming, how green the grass is, what 70 degrees feels like after a long winter. My phone call went to voicemail. Or I guess we don’t call it voicemail when it involves the land line. It went to the answering machine, where my Dad’s voice greeted me – suspended in time, maybe 10 years ago, perhaps less.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t hang up (usually I quicken to call my mom’s cell phone – or, worst case, wonder if I should phone the police because where would she be right now?). I didn’t move. I didn’t breathe.

I let it really wash over me and for those 12 seconds, I got to pretend that life was as it always has been.

Hi Dad.

What I wouldn’t give for that simple sentence to be returned.

After the beep, I hung up, set the phone down in my lap, and I let myself get carried away on the cloud of that voice.

His voice was clear, strong. Deep but not a baritone. Warm.

In my memory, his voice could be stern, sharp and punctuated, like any voice. But mostly, it was rich, full of a life force, that liked to take its time and soak things in. And the mischief often in his eyes could forever be heard in the teasing lilt of his voice.

It occurred to me that my daughter, 21 months into her young life, has never heard that voice. The voice that would speak millions of words to me over the 40 years we had together, impart guidance and cajoling and parenting and wisdom and exasperation and answers and questions and poems and quips and songs and coming up with some confident statement on-the-fly that was likely some creative interpretation of the truth about living. Which is, I suppose, what we are always doing all the time. My dad just had a grander way of delivering it.

All of that, and she doesn’t know it.

I sit and wonder, at what point do I play it to her? Do I start now, and have all the snippets and videos and voice memos become baked into her memories too, so that she won’t ever feel like she was without him? So that she won’t ever feel like there was a before and an after?

Today, of all days, my mom got back a recordable storybook, “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” She and my dad created it for Mike and me in 2011, the first Christmas we were married.

A few months back, when tidying up the shelves, I found the book, long forgotten and buried under other books. My heart skipped, as I fumbled it open and pressed the button to hear the recording. It kept catching, no discernable words coming out. I quickly got a screwdriver and pried open the battery case. Only to discover the batteries surrounded by blue crystals, acid leaked out, dried up. I cleaned and messed with the springs, installed new batteries. Still no luck.

When my mom visited last month, I brought out the book from the safe place I was storing it, folded in a clean cloth in the closet. Seeing her own handwriting on the book and the dated year, she breathed in quickly and exhaled a soft “Oh.”

We were in a predicament. But my mom and dad have always known people. She said, “let me take it home and ask the sound guy or maybe Glen Sies. I think he did some work for someone on electrical things and refurbishing old radios or tvs before. I heard he still tinkers around. Maybe one of them can figure it out.” This is when I most miss my home home and people who know people who know how to do things.

Tonight, I did call my mom on her cell phone, as she sat on the porch swing, listening to the trains come and go and kids on bikes get fainter as they rode up the street. I imagined the sun setting at her back. She asked, “Did you get the video clip I sent? The book came back.”

After getting Celeste into her crib for the night, I made a cup of tea and settled into the pillows in my bed. I opened my phone and found the video clip. Now it was me breathing in quickly.

I pressed play. Loud and clear, my mom said, “The name of this book is a Charlie Brown Christmas, by Charles Schulz. A gift for Meaghan and Mike.”

And then my dad, “and any future little Campbell kids. Read to you by Mom and Dad in 2011. With all of our love.”

I set my phone down in my lap again.

I think to myself, “yes, I will play this. I will play it all for her.”

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