by Scott Kindberg
December 25, 2018
An Enduring Gift
At my folks’ house on Hallock Street, there was a leather chair in the corner of the family room that belonged to my dad.
One didn’t have to look far to confirm that. Among the items within arm’s length were:
His newspapers (he read at least two every day).
His books (everything from biographies to baseball).
The TV remote (a Yankees game or a Cheers re-run were his favorites).
A walkman and headphones (to listen to his Swedish music, of course).
And a blanket and a neck pillow (for his afternoon cat-naps).
All those things were there, as expected, when my mom sorted through it all in the weeks following Dad’s sudden passing in February 2006.
But there were also things in and around that recliner that gave us all pause. For me, the one that left the biggest impression was the Sports Illustrated column by Rick Reilly, dated Dec. 27, 2004, that my Dad carefully pulled out of the magazine and tucked into a book rack that sat on the far side of the chair just below the left armrest.
Entitled, “It’s Not Easy Being Santa,” Reilly described his experiences he had while making appearances as St. Nick at three Boys & Girls Clubs in metro Denver. Planning to ask state-of-sports questions, Reilly quickly learned that the kids had far more important things to worry about.
“I learned nothing new about sports,” Reilly wrote, “but plenty about how spoiled my life was, how Scroogish my spirit, how narrow my vision.”
Maybe Reilly would have been better prepared if, before he visited the kids, he’d paid a call on Dad, the least spoiled, the most un-Scrooge like and the most open-minded person my brother, Gary, sister, Lisa, and I have ever known. Plus, he fit the part.
You see, Gunnard “Kinky” Kindberg dressed himself up and paid visits to children throughout Chautauqua County an average of 25 times a year for 25 years.
That’s 625 times in which — with the assistance of our late Mom and occasionally Gary and I — he pulled on the red suit, arranged the snow-white hair and beard just right and adjusted the wide, black belt.
That was also 625 times in which he checked his makeup — yes, he even had red blush applied to his cheeks — made sure his wire-rimmed glasses were lodged just right on the end of his nose and that his trousers were tucked into his black boots. When all was in order, he proceeded to make little kids, big kids, parents, grandparents and, in some cases, great-grandparents smile or cry with happiness. You see, Dad had just the right personality to be Claus.
He also had just the right relationship with the Lord.
Dad didn’t recite scripture from memory or engage people in deep theological conversations. He was merely a shining example of what a husband, father, grandfather and friend should be.
“God is good … all the time” became my Dad’s favorite. Psalms 107:1 reads: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.” What comforting words!
While my family has experienced a huge void since Dad’s passing, we also know that his presence is never far away. How else to explain two amazing events within days of each other in the summer of 2007.
The first involved my younger brother, Gary, who was asked by a friend to play Santa Claus for a “Christmas in July” party. Gary, who often drove Dad to his “Santa gigs” each December, was more than happy to oblige.
Gary picked up the red suit and the accompanying accessories from Mom, got dressed and headed for the party. The plan was for him to wait in the woods behind the house and come out of hiding when he heard one of the youngsters at the party request a Christmas song. The choice was “Jingle Bells.”
It just so happened that Gary was carrying a string of bells, just like Dad always did. It was only natural, then, that Gary walk out of the woods, shaking the bells with the sound of that Christmas carol ringing in his ears. Our Dad would have loved it.
But there was more.
One of the adult guests at the party asked if Gary — he of the beautiful tenor voice — would sing “Children of the Heavenly Father,” another one of Dad’s favorite songs and one that Gary and his daughter, Katelyn, sang as a duet at his funeral. Gary obliged, but was momentarily caught off guard when he was asked to sing the final verse in Swedish while holding an infant child. Dad, the man who valued his heritage more than anyone, would have been so proud.
Somehow, Gary managed to get through it. Fact is, he told me later, that wasn’t the most difficult part of the evening. That came as he was getting ready at his house a few blocks away an hour or so earlier. Pulling the red suit out of the suitcase was OK and putting it on was fine, but when it came time for the beard, well, let’s just say the makeup ran a little bit.
Why would the beard evoke such emotion?
Because my brother could smell Dad’s cologne.
But that was only the beginning. The next day, as Mom was putting the suit away, she remembered that she wanted to keep the beard together with another one she had packed away. She eventually found the box underneath her bed.
She also found something else.
At the head of the bed, on the floor, was a dark, rectangular object that she couldn’t immediately identify. She extended her arm as far as it would reach and pulled out what appeared to be a box. It was neatly wrapped, a bow affixed to the top. Slid underneath the ribbon was a card. She opened the envelope and pulled out one of Hallmark’s finest.
It was a Valentine’s Day card … from Feb. 14, 2006, nearly 18 months earlier. The card was signed by Dad. The thing was, he died in the early-morning hours of Feb. 8, six days earlier, which just happened to be Mom’s birthday.
The way Mom, who passed away in July 2014, had it figured, Dad must have hidden the Valentine’s Day gift days before and was planning to give it to her on the holiday.
Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see it happen.
But even in his physical absence, Mom knew that his love for her — and for his entire family — endured.
And, in the end, that is the greatest gift any of us could ever receive.