I love it more every year.
When I was a little girl, it was a family occasion, trimming the tree. First, Daddy strung the lights. Then we all (eight of us) had a hand in hanging the ornaments, which were simple glass balls and the occasional styrofoam ball, painted in one or another child's art class. Then Daddy and I hung the tinsel. Just the two of us. It was not strictly because we were the only two with patience enough to do it, but because I was the only one of my father's offspring who understood that it had to be "just so" or not at all. He could not abide haste in hanging tinsel.
I was the first child in the family who began buying gifts for the siblings. I'm sure I never spent more than two or three dollars on any of them, but I loved the feeling of giving, and I did so, never expecting anything back.
I think I was fourteen, the year Mom decided that Christmas trees simply cost too much, and we would have to go without. It broke my heart. I could not fathom Christmas without a tree. I was tortured for days over Mom's decision... and then I asked the father of a friend to drive me to the tree lot, where I paid hard-earned cash for the tree of my choice and I took it home with me. "This," I told my mother, "Is my gift for the whole family, this year."
I'm not sure anyone had ever given my father a gift which meant more to him, and he took it as such... a gift to him. We trimmed it proudly, even though the needles were too long to suit him. He loved that I had chosen it.
I continued that tradition for the next few years, though as I earned more money, I also bought gifts for my family members.
At eighteen, I married, and the first year, I still bought the tree for my family even though I would not be sharing the holiday with them. The following year, my father was no longer living with the family and I was not on speaking terms with my mother... so the tradition passed. B and I didn't have a tree. There was no place for it in our tiny home. We shared the holiday with my inlaws, and I gave up decorating trees.
We had Jesse three years into the marriage, which made our home seem even tinier.
Then my grandmother died, and for some reason, of the few things I was given, of her belongings... was a string of lights from her tree, and one faded glass ball.
Later that year, we moved away from my hometown and Jesse wasn't going to have a Christmas tree unless it was ours. We set one up in the corner of the living room in our apartment, and bought two extra strings of lights for it, along with one box of balls and one box of tinsel, which I hung by myself, after B and Jesse had gone to bed. A woman I worked with gave me a gift of a set of three tiny ornaments; elves in different colored stocking caps, carrying gifts. Come to think of it, perhaps they are actually just little girls, and not elves, at all... but I've always thought of them as elves. In any case, they were the "fanciest" ornaments I'd ever had. I'd never had any other than glass balls.
That began a tradition. Each year, I would select just one new ornament. There was no theme to it; the ornaments selected were an eclectic collection. The only theme was that they fit in my lack of a theme.
When Jesse was five, I wanted to do something special for Christmas. Jesse and I made clay ornaments with Christmas cookie cutters, and we decorated them with paint. I drilled holes in them and they have been some of the few ornaments I still have, twenty-four years later. They weren't perfect. He painted one of the bells black, with dark blue. I hung it on the tree anyway; always with a grin.
When his father abducted Jesse, it was days after Christmas. The tree still stood in the corner of the dining room, shedding needles for weeks because I could not bear to take it down. The following year, with my child missing, I couldn't bear to think of Christmas at all.
Except... I kept thinking that somehow, a tree would connect me to him. I suspected that he didn't have one, wherever he was.
So I bravely chose to buy a tree, and even more bravely, stood it in the corner and dressed it in lights and a few simple ornaments, including our homemade clay ones. I put gifts beneath it, and I prayed very hard...
For that Christmas and the next, I put on my brave face and hoped. And the next year, Jesse had returned to me. Broke that year, we gave him a cat and stability, but we found a few dollars with which to buy one special new ornament, as well.
Christmas became a thousand times more special after that. Jesse and I made a tradition of ornament shopping, and our tree became more full and lovely each year.
The year that Eve, our oldest cat, came to me with a three-inch piece of tinsel hanging out of her mouth, connected to at least six more inches of it which she had swallowed... I gave up tinsel. It wasn't the same any more as it had been when I was a little girl hanging it with Daddy, anyway. And not worth a thousand dollar vet bill. We'd gotten lucky that time but I'd seen the damage that the stuff could do to other cats, by working in an animal hospital.
The year I left Sam, I also left behind my beautiful Christmas ornaments. I would be living with my sister and there was no need for double ornaments; she had her own. Sam called me on Christmas Eve to tell me that the dogs had been wrestling and knocked the tree down, breaking most of the ornaments. I cried. But Jesse and I went shopping the following year and replaced most of them. I had demanded that Sam save what he could of the ones on the upended tree, and he returned the few surviving ones to me when I moved back to town.
In the years since, I have accumulated... and lost... a multitude of them. Grandma's string of lights finally gave out about eight years ago. Sam bought me new ones. They were "chasing lights." I hated them. I thought my father would hate them. Jesse saw them and hated them.
Over the next few years, Jesse began gifting me with ornaments at Christmas. They were the only thing I wanted. It didn't matter that there were no presents under the tree; it was how beautiful it looked that mattered.
I was living with Tim when I had my first artificial tree. And though I had fought it for years, I realized there were benefits to a fake one. First and foremost, my Peggy's health. She continually "grazed on" every real tree we ever had, and then of course, she would need to bring up what she had ingested. It was at least a daily occurrence, cleaning up after her. With the artifical tree, she still tried to graze, but she couldn't manage to ingest, and therefore, had nothing to bring back up.
Tim and I split up. The following Christmas, he offered me the tree. I took it, because at the time, it was either that one or none. The following year, I found a new one, small enough for my apartment and almost affordable. The cats still ate well that Christmas, even if I didn't. But it was worth eating Ramen noodles, to have that tree which was all mine again.
What happened, that following year was that I lost my mind. I found myself suddenly very popular among men who were very forgiving. I bounced back and forth between three of them. All of them knew about the others and didn't like it, but didn't turn their backs on me. It was, in retrospect, a little creepy.
For Christmas, I was living in a tiny trailer with a man I had already given up on. On New Year's Day, I moved out of his home and into the home of another.
The next year, I got sick. By Christmas of 2005, I was alone again. The man who, one year earlier, had sworn his undying love to me, had told me that he couldn't deal with my having Multiple Sclerosis. It was the most miserable, lonely Christmas since the one where I had Jesse back after three years missing. I was still living in that home, but only because I wasn't working enough to support myself, because I was so sick all the time.
Just after Christmas that year, I spoke to James... a man I'd dated several years earlier and I'd been head over heels about. We met for lunch. We kissed "goodbye." It was more like "hello."
We've been together ever since. This is our third Christmas. We are broke, at the moment, but we are happy together and full of hope and wonder.
We trimmed the tree with things we bought together and things I have carried with me from other relationships, other "lives," some being hand-made gifts from friends long gone from my life or deceased. Some are simply mementos of a special time.
If you have any doubt about what this season means to me, just look at our tree... can't you see it smiling too?
by Julie (there will always be a rainbow) Gaskins
April 19, 2007
It's That Time Again... Reposted for Incredible Holiday Traditions
December 19, 2008 12:02 PM UTCviews: 0 comments: 6
I love it more every year.
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