The handsome woolen topcoat my father wore to Mass on Christmas was gray - his favorite color - and flecked with tiny white threads.

They look like snow in some of the photos my younger siblings and I inherited from our mother, the archivist and curator of 39 Burnham St.

Thanks to Mom's meticulous scrapbooks and photo albums, I have the opportunity, in this second holiday season without her, to revisit Christmases past.

Three months old in the blurry image of my first Dec. 25, I'm cradled by two young parents who lost their first baby and gaze at their second with a love I still can feel.

As the black-and-white 1950s blur into the Kodachrome 1960s, two sisters and three brothers arrive. In 10 years, there were six of us (talk about Irish twins).

No wonder our parents look almost comatose in Christmas-morning photos, having struggled through the night to assemble the latest games, gadgets, and gimmicks we'd requested of Santa.

A Sears catalog worth of fabulous, occasionally dangerous, baby boomer toys - a Vac-U-Form that melted plastic, a Mighty Mo cannon that shot a projectile across the room - were waiting under our tree.

But first, we had to line up, oldest to youngest, at the top of the stairs and wait until we'd said a prayer - and Mom had plugged in the tree. Her final touch.

Somehow, my father, a linotype operator at our local newspaper and a part-time A&P clerk, and my mother, a teacher's aide, had saved up enough to give us armies of GI Joes, families of dolls, libraries of books.

The vintage toys on display in the photos are upstaged, however, by the cavalcade of catastrophic fashion fads, tragic hairdos, and desperate gift choices of the '70s and '80s.

Here's my brother Chris, the sports fanatic, horrified by what I thought was a nifty official Phillies gym bag (he called it a "Phillies clutch purse").

There's my fashionista sister, Becky, in the aftermath of a near-meltdown caused by a bejeweled blouse she suggested I re-gift to Dolly Parton.

In 1985, the photos begin documenting the second Riordan population explosion: 13 grandchildren in 11 years.

Christmas on Burnham Street once again belonged to little people beaming for the camera in their holiday finery. I'd forgotten how wonderful those years were.

Alas, I can't find any photos of that apocalyptic moment when I opened the box containing my first transistor radio.

Nor do any images exist of the equally hysterical unveiling of the record player (my grandmother called it "the new Victrola") that revolutionized the following Christmas.

I'd rather that some other photos didn't exist - like those from Christmas 1994, when the fact that prostate cancer was killing our father was irrefutable, especially in his eyes.

And no image could convey what my mother and I felt on that cold Christmas Eve of 1995 when we crunched through shin-deep snow to lay a wreath on his grave.

As we turned to walk back to the car, she said, "It really hits you, doesn't it?" I knew what she meant then; I know it even more now.

So I regret I didn't think to request a photo at Christmas 1989, the year I unwrapped a surprise: my father's topcoat.

I'd been joking that he should rewrite his will to bequeath to me that Harris tweed masterpiece, which acquired a vintage chic in the decades after he bought it at Penneys.

"It wears like iron," my ever-practical father said, and he was right. The coat has turned out to be indestructible, even powerful: When I put it on, I remember how happy he was to give me this gift.

And if the rain stops at some point in this holiday season, I'll celebrate by wearing it again.

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan