What do you find in a Christmas movie? Some are filled with the magic of the season. Some are filled with the knowledge that each one of us is special. Some teach us that the spirit of Christmas is giving more than we receive.
Last night, my mother and I watched The Gathering, starring Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton, made in 1977. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about an older man who left his wife because of selfish reasons, and dismissed his grown children because of differences he was too proud to overlook (including one son who had dodged the Vietnam War draft). This man is diagnosed with a fatal illness that will leave him only a month or two to live. It dawns on him that he is out of time to mend his family, and decides to have one last Christmas gathering before he dies.
Not only is the message clear, and lasting, but it brought back memories of past Christmases in my family, especially for my mother. My father looked quite a bit like Ed Asner, and was gruff and sometimes brutal in his view of how a family should be, and how the world should be.
When they were decorating the tree, Maureen Stapleton unwrapped a cookie made from baker’s clay, decorated with sequins and marker. Just like the ones my siblings and I made when we were kids. The head was broken from the body, and required super glue for mending, reminding my mother of all those baker’s clay cookies made and decorated so long ago, and crumbling after being stored and unwrapped year after year for the last 40 years.
Especially poignant was the scene where Ed Asner, as the patriarch of the family, read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids before bedtime, adding to the magic and anticipation of Santa, whose reindeer and sleigh was surely not that far away. My father did that too. He had a special Night Before Christmas book – the cover padded and puffy – that was pulled out every year for the one traditional story that had to be read before bedtime.
But instead of leaving Santa cookies and milk, as Ed Asner suggested to his grandchildren, my dad had assured us that Santa was tired of so many cookies, and he was surely sick to death of milk. Better to leave him a Big Mac from McDonald’s, with a cold Diet Dr. Pepper to wash it down.
The Gathering was bitter-sweet. Bringing back those wonderful childhood memories of Christmas, but then reminding both my mother and me that sometimes you couldn’t go backwards, only forwards. Sometimes, there was simply no more time left.
The movie ended with us knowing Ed Asner would never see his children again, and would leave his family behind within weeks. My dad won’t be coming back either.
Sometimes, it is, in fact, too late. But more often than not, there’s still time to make things right, and to let others know how much they mean to us. When the opportunity presents itself, don’t waste it – seize the gift when it’s given.
Merry Christmas to everyone: today, tomorrow, and throughout the year. May your days be merry and bright!