The kid was completely shocked. Obviously, he didn’t expect to find his old man, dressed in sweatpants and a Jayne hat, clutching a battering ram sized flashlight (which was off), and mumbling something about giant floating space babies. I didn’t expect to find my kid, bundled up like the Michelin man, carrying firewood.
Let me repeat that: carrying firewood.
The kid decided to get up at 2:00 am and venture into the dark night of a -20 winter to haul firewood. He’d already made a zillion trips back and forth from the dark woodshed to the woodrack by the stove. All this while everyone (even the dog) slept. Hauling heavy oak, in blistering cold weather, in the dark, for his dad.
He did this because he wanted to surprise me with a full rack of wood and a toasty fire when I got up Christmas morning. It was all his idea. Entirely of his own initiative. Because he knows I like a warm fire.
There are times when you’re raising a kid and you think; “surely I’ve fucked up”. It feels like everything has gone wrong. Your precocious and delightful child is now a surly teenager and he’s listening to shitty music and dressing like a derelict and doing all the stupid shit you did when you were a teenager and it’s just as dumb now as it ever was. You’re afraid your contribution to the next generation is going to be a serial killer who’s unemployed and possibly even lazy. What a nightmare! A goddamn lazy ass unemployed serial killer and it’s all going to be your fault because you’re a shitty dad. If you’re a father you’ve had this fear. We’ve all had it. But at 2:30 am on Christmas morning, like a light shining through the clouds, I saw that my kid’s got a heart of gold and an iron will. Everything is going to be OK.
It’s goddamn hard to haul wood. I use force multipliers to make it happen, an ATV, a trailer, a big rack by the woodstove, strategic placement of the woodshed, teamwork, a hydraulic splitter, etc… In the dark, in blistering cold temperatures, working alone, it’s almost dangerously hard. Yet here he was; sweating from the work and covered in snow; clutching 40 pounds of oak.
Such a gracious and thoughtful gesture. I teared up and gave him a big snowy bearhug. Then I said something sweet and loving. I think it was “jumpin’ Moses boy, you‘re gonna’ freeze your balls off out there”. It was a real Hallmark moment!
He explained that he was planning on starting a fire in the woodstove after he’d loaded the full woodrack. He’d been at it for quite a while and had another half hour of backbreaking work planned. He expected to start the fire around 3:00 am and sit by it until Mrs. Curmudgeon and I woke up many hours later.
The kid had a noble heart and a generous spirit so I felt like the Grinch explaining that the chimney was still kaput. (He was dimly aware of me having loud and smoky issues with the woodstove. He’d assumed, like all teenagers since the beginning of time, that his dad’s blathering was some sort of adult bullshit that had nothing to do with reality.)
If he’d started a fire, the smoke would’ve bumped into the ice in the chimney, backed up, and flooded the house. We’d have wound up airing out the house in the coldest night (so far) of the year. Plus there’s the low but not impossible chance of an embarrassing call to the local VFD to put out a chimney fire. Boy wouldn’t that be memorable! I almost hated to rob him of what would surely be an awesome story to tell in the distant future. “Did I tell you about the time I almost burned down the house on Christmas?”
I needn’t worry. He didn’t fret in the least about his failed attempt at a Christmas surprise. He quickly stripped off his jacket and winter gear while I thanked him over and over and was asleep before I was done telling him all about the Gift of the Magi and how thankful I was. Then I woke up Mrs. Curmudgeon and told her all about it too. (I left out the Stanley Kubrick dreams. She’d have made fun of me and the pickles. I HAVE NO REGRETS ABOUT THE PICKLES.)
This year, the stupid goofy year that is 2017, is the year that I had the best Christmas present ever. (Also, the house didn’t get filled with smoke or burn down and that’s cool too.)
Merry Christmas y’all!
P.S. Shortly after Christmas day, the chimney was cleaned and ready to go. “Christmas firewood” is heating the house even as I type this story.