“Come on downstairs. You’ve got to see the Polish Christmas tree,” said the father of one of my best friends. I was probably a teenager or maybe in college and was spending time at her house during the holidays. We trudged down to the basement to behold a Christmas tree with branches jutting out at odd angles and covered with a hodge-podge of decorations. But what really caught your eye were the globs of shiny icicles just thrown helter-skelter all over it. It was stunningly ugly. Her dad announced with pride, “Now, that’s the way we decorate a tree in the coal regions. Get a couple drinks in and then stand back and throw that tinsel, baby.”
My friend was one of four children growing up in a boisterous household where anything could happen and usually did. I was an only child of older parents accustomed to a more sedate lifestyle surrounded by adults, and I loved being swept up in the whirlwind of her family. Our parents met as newly-weds living in adjacent apartments and became lifelong friends. Our families attended the same church, the kids went to the same school, and my friend and I shared the best of childhood—the trips to Hershey Park and the beach and the picnics and parties—all led by her Dad’s enthusiasm, laughter, and flat-out joy in life. No one could dance at the local German club or enjoy a beer or race ahead of us kids to get in line for the roller coaster the way her dad could.
As adults, my friend and I didn’t see each other often but we always managed to stay in touch. When my own dad became bed-ridden, her dad would show up at the back door and say, “I just had to see John, today. See how he was doing, see if there was anything I could do. You call me if there’s anything, anytime, day or night.” And he meant every word. He channeled his boundless energy into taking care of everyone he knew in the small town where we grew up. As my friend said to me recently, “He just wanted to help to the point that sometimes it got on your nerves.”
This week, my friend’s dad went home to Jesus, and I kept remembering that Polish Christmas tree as I painstakingly decorated my own tree. Those of us left behind have been blessed by this kind man’s presence, his humor, and his heart that had room for all. I’m sure he’s already had a beer or two with God and is driving the angels crazy asking how he can help. And since it’s almost Christmas, I hope he’s standing back and throwing tinsel at a sparse little evergreen, introducing all his friends in heaven to a Polish Christmas tree.