Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oh Tannenbaum

     My large yellow and white cat, Tip, has taken up residence at the foot of the Christmas tree. He’s tucked between the shepherds who are keeping watch over their flocks and the stable where the baby Jesus lies. Tip loved the tree as soon as we pulled it upright, and now that I’ve added the manger scene, he sleeps beside the baby Jesus.
     I didn’t want a Christmas tree this year. My plan had been to go the easy route and buy a four foot tall, pre-lit fake. Then, Joe asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I surprised myself by asking for a trip to the mountain with the family to pick out a tree followed by a decorating party. I’m so glad I did. The spicy smell of the tree greets me every time I walk in the room and it’s loaded with ornaments that bring special memories to mind. Scott’s girlfriend laughed as we topped the tree with a fragile paper doily angel he crafted in Sunday School when he was six. It has a photograph of his face where the angel’s head should be and he is not smiling. His sullen expression contrasts so beautifully with the laciness of his angel attire, and his frown leaves no doubts. Boys don’t like wearing dresses. Then there’s the six inch cardboard circle carefully constructed by Justin when he was about ten. He cut a picture of a large white-tail buck out of a magazine and I can still see his serious expression as he glued it onto his ornament. He had picked the most beautiful thing he could find for decking the tree. Justin’s girlfriend, Rachel, hung it tenderly in a place of honor. The lights were wrapped around the top two thirds of the tree because all of my men are over six feet tall and, as they passed the lights from hand to hand around the tree, it never occurred to them to bend over. So, the tree has a haphazard look.
     But, I don’t envy my neighbor’s carefully constructed Christmas trees: lights placed just so, fragile glass ornaments which emerge from layers of fluffy tissue paper, color schemes that match the furniture. My tree is lopsided, but Justin picked it out. We took a truck up through the snowy field to the base of the mountain. Joe, Lori my neighbor, and I rode in the front, while Justin and Scott bounced in the back. When the slick snow stranded us, we jumped out and walked the rest of the way up the mountain. Scott was distracted by coyote tracks, but Justin strode up the steep face of the mountain with the chainsaw perched on his shoulder and within minutes I heard the welcome growl of the saw coming to life. It wasn’t long before he slid back down the hill with the tree in tow.
     Our Christmas tree is a cedar. It was prickly to decorate and it was shaped by deer and wind, so it has a large hole on one side, but the smell and memories of the harvest make up for that. It’s not at all like our first tree. For the very first Christmas tree of our married life, I convinced Joe to go to a tree farm. I had definite ideas about what the tree should look like but Joe, having never bought a tree before, was appalled by the prices. We argued from tree to tree and when we finally brought one home it was pretty, but there was no joy in its branches. The next year we went to the mountain. I couldn’t find a perfect tree, but we weren’t paying money for it, so it didn’t matter. We laughed as we trekked around the mountain surveying our lopsided choices, and the tree that decorated our living room that year carried that laughter with it.
     Ever since then, our trees have come off the mountain. I think Tip likes lying under this one because it was picked out with such joy. I hope the baby Jesus feels it, too.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Love

     Orion is sprawled across the southeastern rim of the sky with his trusty dog Sirius at his heel. All of the winter stars twinkle with a cold blue light. The first sifts of what I call a sugar snow drifted from the clouds today, but they are clearing and leaving behind a sparkly sky that reflects the whirls of snow that fly up like feathers when we step out. Joe and I are headed to town to decorate the shop for Christmas. We have in mind a tool-themed Christmas tree for the big plate glass window and the van is piled with lights and the scratchy limbs of the artificial tree I used twenty years ago to display the ornaments I sold. It was up in the attic with all of the other memories gathering dust beneath the eaves. The walnut cradle I made that rocked both my boys to sleep. The wooden crib they slept in after that. An old high chair. Boxes of toys and books set aside for the grandchildren we hope to have one day. The odds and ends we took out of the house when we were remodeling. So much love tucked up there.
     Love is the bravest thing most of us do in our lives. To love something means to be willing to take the inevitable pain of loss that will surely follow. This has been on my mind since Gus disappeared. But it’s not just Gus. Perhaps part of aging is that we begin to recognize that loss will surely happen in our lives. Joe and I are at such a sweet spot in our relationship. We are best friends and the hours fly when we are together. We have raised two fine boys and launched them out into the world, and although we miss them, we now have time to turn again to each other.
     When we park the van in the town full of Christmas magic, we step out into a quiet night lit by swags of lights and the glitter of softly falling snow. We hold hands and my heart fills to bursting. This is love and in this season of God’s love I want to drink my fill. After the tree is decorated, we drive home listening to Christmas carols on the radio station. The snow has stopped but the roads are icy and halfway down the mountain we are flagged to a stop by a state trooper. His blue lights intermittently light the crumpled side of a pick-up truck that has just been hauled over the steep edge of the mountain. There is a big hole in the windshield and for just a moment before I can see it clearly, I panic at the thought that it might be Justin’s truck. I have been to the site of accidents that both of my boys have been involved in and the dread lurch and pound of my heart will never quite go away. And, although it’s not Justin’s truck, I know some mother’s child has just been pulled from the brink.
     When we get home, Justin calls his dad to tell him about his day. When they hang up,  I call Scott, who is on a college road trip with friends. I remind him to buckle up and tell him I love him. Then I step out onto the porch into the frosty night and look up. Above my house, Orion still sails across the winter sky. The Christmas stars remind me. God sent His son, so I am not afraid. Love has no end.