Birthday and Holiday Cheer

 In Notes, Thoughts & Personal Expressions

Norbert JaegerThank you to everyone who submitted over 200 photos in celebration of My Black Friday 40th Birthday. It was a humbling experience and the response was way more that I ever would have hoped. Photos came from all over the country, the world really. Traffic to the #Mayernik40 website was also worldwide. 51 different cities spanning four countries and 17 U.S. States. All the photos made me smile. There were some from family, friends and the occasional complete stranger. Many photos made me laugh. A handful brought me to tears. I was in “Ron Burgundy glass case of emotion” all day and frankly a small part of me wished I just had a party. For instance, my mother sent me the above photo of my Father’s gravestone and pine tree. My father died in October of 1989 at the age of 43 when I was only 15, and being at his grave site when we go back to Michigan still elicits emotions that are one part irrational, one part sentimental, and one part depression. Apparently a photo of his grave site works too. I am glad she sent it. Of all the people I was thinking of getting a photo from, my father was the last on that list. The interesting thing about this photo is the large pine tree in the background.

This pine tree was planted behind his grave stone by my Mom, my two older brothers and me in the weeks after my father’s death. The cemetery grounds keeper said it would never survive, siting his crack professional opinion, the oncoming Winter season and a past half dozen trees that never grew. But we planted it anyway. We defiantly gave the finger to his past tree planting failures, and knew this pine tree would be different. I mean it had too. How’d Mother Nature take this tree from us when God had already taken a husband, a son and our father? (Seemed logical at the time.) I still remember that day like it was yesterday. The air was crisp, the pine tree—barely three feet tall. The hole we dug wasn’t very large and the pageantry of the event was short. My mom, my two brothers and I stood there gazing over the tree in silence as if by magic the tree would conjure up some mystical properties and my father would rise out of thin air, alive and well. Smiling and wide eyed he would descend upon us saying “Of course i’m not dead! See the cameras over there? You’ve all been Punk’d” Beams of light would radiate from the ground. Angels would sing in 8-part harmony. Birds would gather. Squirrels would stop their winter prep just to watch. It was to be magnificent. We’d sing, cheer and rejoice. Hugging, crying and laughing about the absurdity of his passing and then the five of us would pile into our maroon Plymouth Acclaim and go to Erma’s frozen custard and splurge on some cones in the crisp October air.

Instead, we said some Hail Mary’s and cried.

The one thing my Father loved was Christmas lights. He would place lights on the trees and bushes, outline the windows, swag large C9 lights on the gutters of our home as if to exclaim to the entire neighborhood “I’m an electrician dammit and the lights on my house ROCK!” Lights were important to him, and that upcoming season was particular dim in the holiday cheer department. That first holiday my Mom had purchased dozens of battery operated light sets. Literally hundreds of D sized batteries just to light the tree up at the cemetery. We go there every evening. Replace the batteries, and drive by two or three times just to see the glow of the colored lights from the road. The next day, after the batteries had given all they could, we’d replenish them. We did this for weeks. Even did it the following year. As ridiculous and incredibly expensive as it sounds, the lights did provide a glimmer of comfort during a very troublesome time. Now the tree that would never be able to grow is easily 30′ tall.

Flash forward to this fall and our last visit to Michigan. My mother knowing that I also swag large lights on the gutters of my home gave me all her old c9 lights and strands from the garage that used to grace her home. I wasn’t even sure they still worked or not. It had been awhile. But now, during the holiday season, I decided to use them and sure enough, they did work. I decided to place some on the small 3 foot tree in our back yard. One very reminiscent of the tree planted at my father’s grave 25 years ago. My kids were puzzled by it all, Julie asked, “Why are you lighting a tree way back there? It’s in the backyard… no one will ever see it.”

Why? Because I can. It took four extension cords just to get power there.

TreeAnd now the tree beams with color. And I see it. I know it’s lit even if I can’t see it. Occasionally I’ll look out my back windows, catch a glimpse and nod knowing that somewhere my Father watches over me. I miss his guidance, and strength. His uncanny ability to be the good man, with grounded morals. He was a great father and one who provided for his family.

As I stood there watching the lights gleam in the cold darkness I was 15 again. Warm inside for the lights.  My soul filled with holiday cheer. I said some Hail Mary’s and cried.

The photo of my Father’s grave is one of over 200 photos submitted for my birthday at #Mayernik40. Each picture tells a story. Each one, unique. Each one a treasure and collectively a better present than anything purchased on Black Friday. To all those who submitted a photo, or perhaps others who couldn’t but still thought of me, thank you. The poster I create showcasing all of them will be wonderful.

Thank you for making my 40th birthday a very special day.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Matt Smythe

    That was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever read, Joey. I didn’t say any hail Mary’s, but I’m in tears too, brother.

    • mayernik

      Thanks Matt. Coming from you that’s high praise.

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