: views from the Hill

Friday, November 19, 2004

Hurrah! A Christmas tree after all!

Unlike the grinch over there, I love Christmas, love the warm glow in the middle of dark Winter. Love the smell of cut tree. The family still living and celebrating has six birthdays in November and December and one right after the New Year so the choosing of gifts to suit for the birthdays and then again for Christmas Day can be a bear.

Luckily, my family has always been less into the conspicuous consumption and more into the thought behind the gift. When you grow up with five other sibs who need gifting and an allowance of 25c/week of which a dime goes into the plate at Sunday School and another dime goes to the Camp Fire Girls at the weekly meeting, any bits of money from cutting 'cots or babysitting are precious.

Creativity was always the key, creativity, empathy, understanding, thorough scouting to suss out the deepest desires of the giftee. A gift certificate is fine, but a carefully thought out personal something is best, if possible. An added twist recently has been an eighty-year-old mother who says she doesn't want anything she must read or wear, or needs to take care of and ... so.

A gift treasured from back when and stashed in my jewelry box is a pin my next older brother gave me when I was about ten. He'd taken a Brazilian cruzeiro piece and soldered a tiny brass safety pin on the back to make a wearable pin. He was always brill and thoughtful in his choices of presents for people.

I miss him this time of year. He's been gone now three years and I still see things in the shops and think how much he'd like them. I miss those missing from the ranks. The six sibs are now three. My oldest brother would be turning fifty-nine on December 10th if he were here. Odd to think of him almost sixty when he's always caught in amber at age twenty-nine. Would he be grizzled? Would he be like Don May, mellowed and at peace with the world? What would he be doing with his life? Engineer? Teacher? Counselor? Would the sister who also died at twenty-nine still be a hippie free spirit Buddhist or would she have settled down and be driving a Volvo and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity?

This time of year brings the warm glow of the holidays but also waves of nostalgia and regret and darkness and a pervading sense of loss when I remember those who have died and won't be part of the season. There was a Christmas or two not too long ago when I was so far into the black ooze that I was barely any help at all with all the planning and effort it takes to set up the Christmas we are used to having together. Cards? Food? Tree? Those few years even the tree was an effort. Oh, sure, once it was up it was lovely, but planning to cut it down, pull out the decorations, put them on was something I had to be dragged into. I had no energy, no spark, no joy, no anticipation.

Skip's birthday in December and the memories it rumbles triggered the cascade the first time the black ooze surprised me over the holidays. I can look back now and recognize what happened and how I ignored what was happening. As a result, these years I walk carefully when the season turns, watch for signs, forcefully expose the bits of darkness that crop up, flood them with light, consciously change the dark rumbles of black ooze into happy memories of years gone by: a blue dump truck, an artificial Christmas tree we had in Brazil with green feathers in lieu of needles, caroling under the stars while the family walked along the beach at Recife on holiday, a New Hampshire Christmas at my grandparents'. Hot chocolate. Mulled cider. Snow. The Three Chipmunks singing Christmas tunes.

... and I remember what can happen if I forget to take care of the ooze, acknowledge it, accept it, transform it before it overtakes me.

Rest. Eat. Enjoy. Don't stress.

I've always loved the Christmas tree, the smell, the colors, the decorations that accumulate one or two a year until putting the tree up recalls magical memories of Christmases past. This year I bought two garlands of glass beads at Target because I hadn't been able to find any at a reasonable price for as long as I'd been searching and those we use date back fifty or more years and are fragile, so fragile.

I love the warmth of Christmas. The lead up to the day. Cutting fragrant evergreen and holly branches to decorate the mantle. Setting up the creche. Handmade wreath on the door. Baking.

This year, though, there's a different feel to the season. I'm getting all caught up in my fretting and worries about the upcoming trip. What to do about cameraworks? Film or SD? Time grows short and I need to get some sport sandals for walking in water and then hiking. What sorts of clothes? Which? How many? Of what kind? Pack but pack light. The hugest fret of all was that we'd get back late on the 23rd and his nibs said there'd be no time or inclination to put up the tree.

"No tree?" I said. "But the family Christmas is here now! How can we have Christmas without a tree?"

"We will have no time, Sal. No time."

"Maybe we could put up the tree before we leave and the sib who is watching the house and the cat until the young-un gets in from Boston could watch the tree as well."

He just hummm hummm'd.

I mentioned this option several times, with that sad little hiccup in my voice - sniff.

No, not really ... we tend not to play games. We exchanged views. He said we'd have no time. Later, I countered his "no time" with an option I'd thought of. We talked about it a couple times and he agreed it might be a possible, if not traditional. The tree might be doable ... if we found time before we left.

In the last day, though, things have changed. Calls back and forth from the E coast. The folks running the trip have rescheduled and rearranged a bunch of stuff and logistics have changed such that we'll be leaving two days earlier than planned and returning two days earlier.

Hurrah! There will be time to go up in the mountains and cut down a tree! Time to decorate the tree! Bonus plus is that the young-un will be here to take part in the cutting and decorating.

Oh, happy day. There will be a Christmas tree after all.

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