November 29, 2018
Each year, after we enjoy our Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, Paul, Maddy, Hunter and I return home to watch A Christmas Story. You know the movie. The Major Award. The Red Rider BB Gun. The Soap Poisoning. The Triple-Dog Dare.
Yep. That one.
Prior to the start of the movie, we determine if it is a year that we will permit quoting along with the movie or not. This year, we agreed to quote along. This is going somewhere, I promise.
Toward the end of the movie, while the family shops at Higbee’s Department Store, something hit me. The Old Man is actually engaged and listening to Ralphie the entire time. When Ralphie’s parents return to the Santa display to retrieve Randy and Ralphie, the Old man asks Ralphie if Santa asked if he’d been good. Ralphie replies with dejection in his voice. “Well, no.” The Old Man chuckles a bit and says, “Don’t worry he knows. He always knows.”
The reality of that line never really registered for me. As I began to reflect on the movie and all the times we watched it as a family, I realized that I had missed some significant lessons. Lessons taught by the Old Man. To be frank, prior to this year, I found him to be a rather static character. But this year, I realized something. I realized that while I focused on Ralphie and wondered if Randy was ever able to put his arms down, the Old Man silently taught valuable lessons.
First, the Old Man celebrates the simple things in life. When he receives the telegram that he won, his excitement can’t be contained. Everything about the evening becomes a celebration. The order of dinner and the structure of the household routines fades as the delivery man’s knock beckons the family to the door. And he didn’t win just any old award. He won a Major Award.
Second, the Old Man wants the best for his family but still seeks a deal. When the family journeys downtown to purchase the family Christmas Tree, the Old Man wants the best of the best. Upon examining the tree suggested by the salesman, the Old Man challenges, “Haven’t you got a big tree?” His wife giggles when she sees the size of the tree now being suggested. The Old Man replies, “Well Christmas only comes once a year.” Realizing he almost has the Old Man sold, the salesman says, “I’ll throw in some rope and tie it to your car for you.” This seals the deal.
Third, the Old Man pays attention to his son. Throughout the movie, Ralphie asks everyone, but his Old Man, for the Red Rider BB Gun. After blurting out his request for Old Blue, his mother mumbles, “No. BB guns are dangerous. I don’t want anybody shootin’ his eye out.” His teacher adds a P.S. to his theme. “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
His final hope. Santa.
But with a voice that is matter-of-fact, almost condescending, Santa says, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” The result is utter dejection.
But the Old Man, silent on the matter throughout the entire movie, purchases, hides, and wraps the treasured gift. Ralphie finds himself speechless and overcome with elation on Christmas morning.
Finally, the Old Man refuses to be robbed of a memory. When the Bumpasses’ Blood Hounds manage to make their way into the house to steal the turkey, the house erupts into chaos. After chasing the dogs out of the house and surveying the damage, the Old Man commands his family to get dress. He decisively declares, “We are going out to eat.”
As I tortured my family with a literary discussion and analysis, I realized that it is important to pay attention all the time. There are lessons available to be learned everywhere.
When we least expect it, from the most unlikely of sources, we can find ourselves challenged to be better. To find joy in frustration. To solve problems without turmoil. To seek the best for others. To pay attention to even the small things.
As you navigate all the hustle and bustle of this time of year along with the challenges of everyday life, I hope that you find ways to embrace some of the lessons taught by Ralphie’s Old Man.
Honored to Serve You All,