Excuse me, please. But it's Christmas Eve, and I must go home.
If only for five minutes and only in my thoughts, I have to go back on Christmas Eve. I haven't been there in person for many long years. Still, I have never been away.
Every Christmas, there's a string of events that take me home. It starts with the children in their programs at church. Then it's the carols, the Christmas trees, the glitter, the packages.
And in my mind, I snatch a few minutes to travel down Highway 14 once again. Around the curves and down that last big hill above the Missouri River.
I go in the back door.
I walk through the kitchen. The linoleum floor is cracked along the edges, but it's freshly scrubbed and Glo-coated for this night. As I put my things on the dining room table, I see the glow of lights from the tree in the front room.
I take my place there -- close to the tree.
I see my brothers and sisters as children again. And in the big leather rocking chair, I see my dad. It's the moment I've been waiting for so long.
. . . It always seemed on Christmas Eve everyone is too slow. It took too long to do the dishes. It was forever until they finished milking the cow and came back to the house. Then the boys always had to make one last shopping trip uptown.
Eventually, we open our presents. Daddy sits there holding some handkerchiefs and neckties in his big, rough hands. He has a shaving brush -- made in Japan. With his Danish accent, he says, "We have too much. It is too much."
As I tear white tissue paper from a Shirley Temple doll and greedily scan the bottom of the tree for more presents, I think, "It is not too much for me."
Helen and Shirley fondle new sweaters and sniff their bubble bath. My brother Harley sits on the floor where the draft comes in from the front door. Walter sits beside him.
Most of the year, I consider Walter my personal enemy. I give him a pinch every time I have a chance. He slugs me back.
On Christmas Eve, with his hair combed and slicked down with hair oil, Water looks almost like an angel. On Christmas Eve, nothing is too expensive for Walter's little sisters. He is generous with money he has earned delivering the Capital Journal.
We put on our coats and buckle up our overshoes before we start out for church. As we walk down the back road and up the hill, this night seems different from all others.
Maybe it's because we girls get to leave off our long underwear on Christmas Eve. Maybe it's because we think we see the same star that guided the Wise Men.
It is cold and clear in Pierre, S.D., on Christmas Eve. Because we are early, we stand over the big heat register at the front of the church. Warm air blows up under our skirts. Later, some boys who were lucky enough to be chosen as shepherds have blankets draped around them. They come in the back door of the little Lutheran church and go out the door up front beside the pulpit.
Five minutes is all I can take.
It's time to come back to reality. This is the here and the now. The children at my own house are long gone, but some of us get together somewhere on Christmas Eve. There's supper to fix and candlelight services.
I wouldn't have it any other way.