The Greatest Gift
The season of a lifetime
By Bill Fields
Like all of us, my father had his moments. He could be short or overly critical about things that didn’t — or shouldn’t — matter much. These lapses didn’t overwhelm the good of the man, but they were there. Every December, they seemed to vanish.
Dad was happiest around Christmas, and not just because of a free ham from work or a fresh bottle of brown from the ABC Store. He weighed less that time of year, regardless of how much of his homemade fudge or my mother’s “Trash” (an addictive baked snack mix of cereal and nuts, flavored with Worcester sauce) he ate.
With the tree up and lights placed around the front door, the extended forecast for Dad’s mood was pleasant and calm. He preferred an all-blue display inside and out, although he wasn’t Jewish, Catholic nor had gone to Carolina. The color had a soothing effect unless you touched one of the big glass bulbs late in the evening; then it seemed the Christmas miracle was how the cedar (1960s) or white pine (1970s) hadn’t turned into kindling.
We made do with a faux fireplace, enhanced with plastic logs illuminated by amber lights that flickered thanks to a spinning wheel. The real flames were in the backyard grill. Dad loved to cook out, even in winter and especially around Christmas, when there was more likely to be steak than hamburger. A flashlight was a necessary tool, lest he have to return outside to make sure Mom’s ribeye was as done as she liked it.
With the exception of assembling some toy with a lot of parts when I was little, Dad liked everything about Christmas. He enjoyed procuring the fruit, nuts and candy that went under the tree, and the little gifts that filled the red felt stockings my sister sewed, our names in green glitter. He was happy when carols came on the radio.
We wore out our Monopoly set, and when he worked at the Proctor-Silex factory, it was natural for him to be represented by the iron. Family poker games were a holiday staple, and Dad overruled Mom and bought the proper set of chips I had eyed at Hill’s downtown. His last Christmas, 1979, weak and frail with cancer, he still found the strength to play a few hands.
That Dad’s birthday also was in December, celebrated on the 20th of the month, contributed to it being a special season for him. Not until a dozen years ago, nearly three decades after he died, when I went poking around a cluttered records room in Carthage, did I truly understand why.
He knew he was adopted, and we knew too, but details, if known, were never shared. Then one afternoon in the county seat, in the fall of 2008, searching for his history and my own, I made a discovery in the court records from March 5, 1921:
“FIRST: That on or about the 14th day of December, 1920, as petitioners are informed and believed, one George Parker found upon the roadway, or near there-to, in the County of Moore, near a place known as Frix, an infant newly born, manifestly abandoned by its mother.”
“SECOND: That the said Parker states that he is ignorant of the parentage of said child, and the parentage of said child is unknown to petitioners . . . and that notice of this petition and motion be given and served upon George Parker, the only person known to petitioners to have any rights or interest in the matters alleged in the petition.”
After finding the newborn and caring for him, Parker gave the child to William and Chattie Fields a handful of days before Christmas. The couple, who had lost their grown daughter, Sadie, to diabetes, named their gift William Eugene Fields. If a certain mystery accompanied Gene through life, so did the love of the people who took him in a hundred years ago. As much as Dad loved the holiday season in my lifetime, his best Christmas had to be his first. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.