Thanks, Dad. Happy New Year

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

A few weeks ago, I wrote about one of the best Christmas presents I ever received. It was a brand new, red Huffy Galaxy bicycle.

My parents bought it for me for a few reasons — the main reason being that it was perfect for me to use on my early morning paper route. I caught my Dad and a neighbor assembling the bike before Christmas. That could have spoiled the surprise, but it did not.

I knew what I was receiving, but watching my Dad struggle to get everything assembled and working was a blessing. Dad worked hard for his family.

This year, giving and receiving gifts took a backseat to keeping the family safe from coronavirus. Oh, sure … people still spent time shopping and wrapping, but distributing presents was a bit more problematic.

Because of some unexpected quarantining, we did not have any family gatherings. Most gifts were carefully dropped off, with extremely limited contact. Our large family gathering with siblings, children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren was dropped because of the virus.

However, a few things happened that will leave precious memories for a lifetime.

We knew our granddaughter, Amanda, would be missed this year. A few weeks ago, we watched on the San Diego Harbor webcam as her ship, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, pulled out of the harbor to start a long deployment in the Pacific Ocean.

We have no idea where she is. We only know her deployment will last for several months as they cruise the largest ocean in the world.

It was painful to realize that we would not get to see her this year on Christmas. As a result, we were totally shocked when my son called on Christmas Day to tell us they had Mandy on a Facetime call.

Somehow, Josh was able to patch us into the connection and we were able to share some Cacetime with our favorite sailor. That was a great gift from my son and Theodore Roosevelt who made that call possible

But, what about Christmas morning?

As a toddler, Jessi was terrified of Santa. I could not get her within 50 feet of a mall Santa. We thought if she saw Santa on Christmas morning, she might not be so afraid. So, I donned the classic red suit and went to her house early Christmas morning. I was afraid she would still be afraid. I was wrong.

Dressed as Santa, I walked around her room making noise by kicking around a few of her old toys. I heard her roll over and sit up.

Then I heard a faint, “Santa?” I knelt beside her bed with a special doll in my hand. As I handed it to her, I said in my best baritone Santa voice, “You’ve been a very good girl.”

Jessi hugged the doll, then she reached out and hugged Santa saying, “I love you, Santa.”

I picked up the big red Santa bag that was filled with toys and headed for her living room. When I glanced back, I saw Jessi and her Mom peeking from the bedroom as they watched Santa fill her stocking and place Christmas presents around the tree. As I left their house, I proclaimed, “Merry Christmas.”

It was a beautiful moment. As I drove home, I cried.

I have had the honor to be Santa for all my children and grandchildren as they grew up. This was the first time in over 30 years that I woke up early on Christmas and stayed home.

However, a few days before Christmas, I gave Santa’s boots, red hat, glasses, and gloves to Jessi. She placed them near their living room couch. When the little ones woke up, they assumed that Santa had gotten tired, ate his cookies and took a nap. Little Claire said she knew that Santa woke up and ran out without his boots. She was excited.

Despite COVID-19, our tradition of experiencing Santa on Christmas morning continued.

Our Christmas feast with the whole family gave way to separate meals. Debbie and I repeated our feast of pot pies, microwaved mashed potatoes, and Stove-top dressing. Feast might not be the right word to describe it, but we ate together and certainly enjoyed each other’s company.

One of the most meaningful gifts I received this year came from my younger sister, Terri. Her Christmas card seemed a bit bulky. Inside was a handmade facemask with a note attached. It read, “Dear Randy, Just as Dad worked to keep us kids safe and healthy, may this mask – made from his handkerchief – do the same. Merry Christmas! Love, Terri.”

That mask means a lot to me. Although Dad died a few years ago, whenever I put on that facemask, I feel protected by my Father. What a great Christmas gift.

Within a few days, we will brush the dust and dirt of 2020 out of our hair and we will move on to the greater potential of 2021. Despite the probability of a post-holiday surge, with the arrival of the vaccine will come immunity.

With immunity will come a return to normalcy. We will return to church and school. Social gatherings, dining out, theatre and sporting events will again become a part of our lives.

Collectively, we survived 2020. Collectively, we will thrive in 2021. Just as our parents protected us when we were young, for the next few months, we will need to support and protect each other.

Have a healthy, Happy New Year.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist