It was late in the summer of my parents’ lives that I was born into a family with three children well on their way to being grown and done with home.
Life had been a struggle for Mama and Daddy en route to escaping completely the poverty of their Appalachian childhoods. They were married for 12 years before they owned their first lamp (I have and cherish that piece of earthly gain), which was acquired through the generosity of a church congregation that pooled its money and bought it for them.
By the time I arrived, life had smoothed quite a bit for my parents, who were earnest, hard-working and steady. For $1,000 in the 1950s, Daddy had purchased 7 acres of land with a small river that ran through it and a brooking stream that ebbed sweetly and gently through the pasture. He, with the help of friends, built a small, sturdy brick house with concrete porches and walls, determined that it would stand the test of time and Southern humidity. It has.
He demanded that the front door be wide enough to bring a casket through, for it was back in those days that rural Southerners brought home their dearly departed and sat up with the dead. Only one casket ever came through that door and, as irony would have it, it was so small that it would have fit through any door. I was five when my 6-month-old nephew died of instant pneumonia.
In front of the large picture window that Daddy had installed in the living room, the small, blue casket was placed with sprays of flowers and potted plants placed all around it. It was early January when that sadness pushed its way into our lives. Only 10 days earlier, the Christmas tree had been set up in that exact spot.
The picture window. That is the key to this story of Christmas, for it was there that our Christmas tree was placed, lights — always the big bulb, multi-colored lights — glimmering brightly to show that our household was celebrating Christmas. By the time I was 8 or so, Mama was tired and completely unenthused about any additional work outside of the normal care and feeding of her family. I understand. She still managed to put up the Christmas tree, but sometimes it was only a week before Christmas when it went up.
Little brought me more joy than our Christmas tree. I remember many times that I smiled while looking at it from the den, where I watched television, or as I passed through the living room. Though all my trees now — we put up three — have white lights, I wish I had one like the evergreen of my childhood with its big, colored lights and tinseled icicles.
When I was 9, I took over the Christmas tree in order to get it up as soon as Thanksgiving ended so we could enjoy it for a month. Mama would set the tree — sometimes a live one that we cut down on our property — in its stand, then I would decorate it. I continued that tradition until I graduated from college and moved hundreds of miles away.
My love for Christmas trees continues. We have one in the bay window of the kitchen, one in the foyer at the bottom of the staircase and one in our bedroom.
“That tree is so great that it should have its own website,” Tink said about the bedroom tree, which is tall and laden with silver and iridescent ornaments. It glistens like a diamond.
“It is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “Nothing compares.”
He always grins when he sees me dragging the ornament boxes down from the attic. “Yay! The Christmas tree.”
As in the days of my childhood, I put it up early — the day after Halloween.
And I still smile at the sweet joy of a Christmas tree.
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