Twinkly Trees and Traditions

Last night I drove down my street towards my home at the end of it, and I noticed tree lights in a window.  Happy yellow-white glowing twinkle lights.  My spirit responded with a standing ovation, claps and cheers included.

Then I broke out of my mental auto-pilot and realized they were my happy lights.

I write this to you in case you happen to wander past and see the twinkle lights shining through the front window of my house.  I write this so you don’t wonder as my neighbors and even some of the folks who abide with me do–just why is the Christmas tree still up?

I wasn’t raised this way for sure.  The same Mama who didn’t do laundry on New Year’s Day or let us wear white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day made sure our tree and Christmas decorations were down by New Year’s Eve.  I think there was some line of thinking that carrying them into the New Year was bad luck.  Also, our trees from my Granny’s woods were usually shedding and in dire need to go to the high grass at the back of our property to live out their next life as a bunny habitat.  (I refuse to entertain the idea that snakes found joy in our old trees.  Because SNAKES. No ma’am.)

Then I married into a tradition of keeping the tree up until Epiphany, January 6th.  I liked this and had no problem embracing it after the first year or two of feeling slightly uncomfortable and apologetic.  The only problem was that January 6th only fell on the weekend a couple of years out of six or seven, so it was rarely the 6th when we actually took it down.  I remember attending a “Tearing Down Christmas” party once, and I thought it was brilliant.  It was after Christmas when folks were more relaxed, but she still had her home beautifully decorated.  It was the last hoorah before she put everything away.  I have yet to host such a celebration, but it’s still something I really hope to do one year.

This year things have been different.  There’s been a different feel in the air since October. I was looking at a milestone birthday in November, so maybe that’s why I missed Mama and Daddy so much–things were just different.  The month of November and first half of December flew by–with all my people taking turns having the cold crud that went through everyone we knew, with celebrations, having Thanksgiving at home (due to aforementioned crud), and three shows in a sixteen day period.  All wonderful things, but time passed quickly.  We always go tree hunting as a family.  With our oldest in law school and folks sick on Thanksgiving weekend, it was the 16th of December before we could actually make the hunting happen.

During this time I struggled with the idea of finally getting an artificial tree.  The only other time we haven’t had a real one was when we were living in Japan for those two Christmases.  I have wonderful memories of the tree hunts of my childhood.  Like other things I loved that I’ve not been able to share with my children, it was hard to let this go. Still, I felt like it was time.  With an artificial tree, we could put it up whenever we wanted–never mind if someone was sick or not.  And it could be decorated at leisure when my law student could come home.

Because as lovely as the ornaments are and as much as I love the stories behind each and every one (and if you have a month or two, I’ll tell you each one), it’s the lights, y’all.  It’s the lights that lift my spirits and give the room a glow like no bit of sunlight can.

Those lights create magic.

Lovely twinkling magic.

So I could tell you that it’s still up because my tree only went up on the 17th.  Or I could tell you that it’s because it’s artificial and I don’t have to worry about needles falling or fire hazards.  Or I could tell you that we just haven’t had the time, what with having wonderful family from out of state here with us after Christmas.

And while those things might be true to some degree–those are not the reasons why.

During these darkest days of the year, that tree with its little non-LED lights has given me hope.  It has been the light that draws my soul towards it and that hope like a moth to the moon.  The magic that I saw so brilliantly in the wee hours of Christmas morning before I retired for a few hours’ slumber remains.  It whispers to me–“All will be well, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

There is promise. The sun, the warmth, the days will lengthen.   The light will return.

But until then, I find joy and peace in the twinkling lights that someone in a warehouse somewhere painstakingly attached to my faux tree.  Bless them and bless that peace that surrounds me every time my eyes land on that luminous evergreen.

And bless all of you.  I hope that when you find something that brings you joy and peace and puts magic into your world, making your heart sing, that you will hang on to it too.  Some years are like that.  Some years we just need to keep those trees up.

And that’s okay.

Love  and twinkly lights to all.

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Christmas Eve Light and Love

Twenty-two years ago Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, just like this year.  My baby girl was three months and three days old, and she was being baptized at the morning church service.

Christmas Eves at our church then were quite full.  The church couldn’t be decorated until after service on the fourth Sunday of Advent, which Christmas Eve was that year.  After church, folks ran home, changed clothes, and then came back to decorate or “green the church.”  Another quick trip home and then we were back for a Wassail party (not a fan myself) and Covered Dish Supper.  Caroling was after, and then midnight service began at 11:30.  A beautiful day filled with joy and being together.

Together.

During the morning service, the two dear friends we had asked to be Auburn’s godparents stood up next to us and promised to love her and help teach her right from wrong, kindness from cruelty, caring from apathy.  Auburn’s godfather wasn’t yet married to the woman who had come with him that morning, but I know she must have promised all of those things too, sitting in the pew, watching as these bonds were formed.

I know this because that day she also became Auburn’s godmother.  In every sense of the word.

Over the years she has written notes of encouragement, given hugs of comfort, listened to my girl (and me), and laughed alongside us–often helping us to find the humor in situations.  She loved with a passion that one isn’t always lucky enough to come across.  Bless her, as my sister Mess Cat says, “She was larger than life.”

This past week, this dear soul left this world, ending her fight with cancer.  Amidst people who knew and loved her, her husband, and her son, we said goodbye on Thursday, gathered around the tent as the cold wind whipped around us.  Her husband got up and shared through his tears the joy and love she gave them all these years.  It was a time of celebrating and remembering one who loved and was loved with great adoration.

Last weekend my friend sat and told me and Auburn how when he first met his wife, she had said, moving things out of the seat next to her, “You just come sit right here beside me,” with her lovely Southern drawl.  Bless her, that’s who she has always been–welcoming, comforting, hospitable, and seemingly on the verge of a joy-filled laugh at any given time.

Today, as my littles have the wiggles and giggles and excitement abounds, I remember my friend–this dear woman who never missed an opportunity to make me, Auburn, or anyone else feel welcome and important.  I remember her standing by her husband twenty-two years ago today, holding my baby girl, and smiling with all her heart with joy.  It was a precious day.  I am thankful she was there.

As I am thankful she has been there for so much of our journey.

My heart is mindful of the ones who knew and loved her best–her husband, her son, her sister, her mother–and I know that in great contrast to the holiday music, bright lights, light-hearted movies, and cheerful greetings everywhere we go, they are bathed in the darkness of grief and pain and loss.  I am mindful of others who will spend this holiday missing someone they hold dear, for whom Christmas does not evoke visions of sugarplums dancing.

And I remember my sweet friend’s words, “Come sit here right beside me.”  If you are bathed in darkness just now, I hope that you will hear these words from someone.  I’m here, as are many others who have walked the path you are on, and we understand the darkness.  Come sit by us.

Or perhaps you are like my friend and could welcome someone who needs to hear those words.  They are indeed words that can change a life.

Wishing you all much love and light in the darkness, as the world celebrates glad tidings of Joy and Good News.  As I remember the baby from 22 years ago whom I held close as I sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” walking across the churchyard in the dark, I give thanks for 22 years of wonderful memories.  Time passes way too quickly, so may you all find time to make merry memories to recall and enjoy in the years to come.

Love to all.

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Happy Golden Years

Fifty years ago today, December 17, 1967, the romance that started outside a laundromat in Valdosta, Georgia began a new adventure as my Mama and Daddy said, “I do.”

And they did.  Sickness.  Health.  Laughter.  Pain.  Joy.  Grief.  Children.  Grandchildren.  Other children whom they called their own.  Friends.  Family.  Biscuits. Gravy.  Pound Cake.  Fried Cornbread.  Homemade Pizza.  Cars. Trucks.  Books.  Celebrations.  Mourning.  Everyday Life filled with Extraordinary Moments.

And even though their time together on this earth ended six years ago, I know they are together today, and I hope they are doing what they loved to do most on this day–spending time together, enjoying the journey.  On their anniversaries, Daddy would take the day off from work, and they would go on an adventure of sorts.  Traveling on backroads, eating in diners and restaurants they’d come across along the way.   Meeting interesting folks who would become lifelong friends.

Since 2013 after Mama left this world, I’ve had the joy of continuing their tradition of sharing books with young people we know.  In honor of their anniversary, I’ve chosen different books as our Christmas Book of the Year.  This year, I’ve chosen a very special one that ties an old memory to a new one.

This past summer the littles, the Fella, and I got to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.   Growing up I read the Little House books and loved my weekly time with Laura and her family on “Little House on the Prairie.”  I was “fangirling” pretty hard.  The. Home.  Of.  Laura.  Ingalls.  Wilder.  Where she lived.  Wrote her books.  Raised Rose.  Oh my stars, I was over the moon.  But as excited as I was, it was wonderful to see that our Princess was even more so.  She had read and reread all of the books in the past year.  She loved them.

During our time there, we saw Pa’s fiddle and photos and letters from Laura’s sisters.  There were letters schoolchildren had written to Mrs. Wilder, asking about the people she wrote about or thanking her for writing them.  The museum part was fascinating, as we took our time wandering around, reading and looking and soaking it all in.  But it was when we went to her home, the one that Almanzo built by hand, one room at a time, that I felt the spirit of the place.  Neither of them were very tall, so the home suited me and my short height just fine.  I loved that she continued using her old stove, even after Rose had an electric one put in.  Sometimes change is hard, y’all, and just not worth the bother.  As a child I had fallen in love with the young Laura.  This past summer, standing in her home, surrounded by her things, I fell in love and in awe of the grown Laura, the strong woman who didn’t want anyone to know she loved to read Westerns, and whose last birthday cards were still sitting on the table in her kitchen, as she passed on right around her birthday.  That was my favorite part of the whole adventure.  Soaking in her world in her little farmhouse.  The other house we visited that Rose had built for her parents as a gift when she was an adult did not compare.  It was lovely, but it just didn’t have the same feel, the same homeyness, the same spirit.

As I wandered through the farmhouse, enjoying the stories that our tour guide shared, I was reminded of a Christmas in my own home, many years ago.

I believe it was Christmas 1989, my senior year in college.  My dear friend had come home with me for a day or two before heading home to Alabama.  We had slept through the night to be awakened early the next morning by the ringing of jingle bells.  My friend, my siblings, and I all went to the living room where we found a sock for each one of us.  A long knee high sock I believe, filled with good things–like an orange, a giant peppermint stick, a penny, an orange in the toe, and the matching sock balled up inside as well.  It was left there by, as the note said, “The Christmas Spirit of 1889.”

I probably laughed it off as my parents and their whimsical ways in the moment, but inside I loved it.  I love all things old and traditional, and as far as I was concerned, this was perfect.  Everything about it.  I’m not really sure what prompted my Mama and Daddy to keep Christmas like that that year.  Maybe they wanted to remind us that simple joy is at the heart of Christmas–that the simple joys are the treasured memories we will carry in our hearts for a long, long time.

Just as I have the memory of the sock filled with goodies, nearly 30 years ago.

So when I sat down to choose a book to share this holiday season, I found it almost instantly.  In memory of that Christmas 28 years ago and our adventure “home” this past summer, our family Christmas book this year is “Christmas in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The illustrator, Renee’ Graef, shared that her artwork was inspired by the work of the talented Garth Williams with his permission.  It’s a sweet story about the excitement of the holiday season and the greatest joy of all–being together.

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Tonight I’m thankful for the love of two people that grew to touch so many–our family and friends and folks they met along the way.  A love that was joined together forever fifty years ago tonight.  I’m thankful for their quirkiness and how they reminded us of what is really important all those Christmases ago.  And I’m thankful for the privilege and thrill of standing where some of the world’s favorite stories–I know they are some of mine–were put on paper for all of us to enjoy.

May the simple joys of this Christmas season bring you grand memories that you will treasure for years to come.  Love to all.

 

 

A Little Golden Kind of Christmas Story

Forty-nine years ago today my parents said “I do” because they did and that was the beginning of a fantastic journey full of brilliant, simple moments and more love than one house could hold.  Forty-nine years ago right now, I believe they were warming up some Pepsi or some such because they’d heard that it was delicious.  I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of them, newlyweds, in the kitchen in their little rented home in Valdosta, Georgia standing over the stove with grins they couldn’t wipe off their faces (at least I would imagine so), and I never thought to ask if it was any good.

I would think probably not, since they never made it in the years that I can recall.

Still.

That love.  Those two people who loved each other, loved others–

I miss them.

They especially loved little ones.  And books.  I’ve shared before how in the later years they’d choose a special book or two to share around the holidays.  As a comfort and way to connect with them after Mama passed on in 2013, I attempted to continue the tradition.  Some years it’s been easy to find a book right off.  Others it took longer.  This year was the latter.  Most definitely the latter.  I tested some, read lots, but none felt completely right.  And again, I found myself drawn to books about trees.  Which makes sense really, since going out to Granny’s farm, traipsing through the woods, and finding our very own Christmas tree all those years are some of my favorite holiday memories.

So this year I tried not to pick out a Christmas tree story.  That was proving difficult, and I had set this past Wednesday as my personal deadline.  Wednesday morning Aub and I sat with a stack of Christmas books and looked through them.  Then…..I found it.

I vaguely remembered Mama’s excitement at finding this book a few years back.  I thought and dug through my memory banks that I expect are getting to be like what my Granddaddy described as Fibber McGee’s closet, and I kept coming up with my sweet cousin for some reason.  So while Aub looked up my Mama’s Amazon account record, I texted my cousin.  Sure enough, she’d given it to my cousin a few years ago.  Appropriate.  Perfect for her actually.  However, I was sad.  I really love this book!

So I continued searching.  Aub left for work, and I started to read on my own.  I found two I liked, but I still couldn’t choose.  Then it hit me–maybe I should bring my littles in on this year’s choice.  They know about the tradition, and as it turns out, they were tickled to help choose.

I think they chose well.

So our Princess, Cooter, and I are thrilled to announce this year’s choice for Maemae’s Christmas book.

It really is perfect.  I have such happy memories of Little Golden Books growing up.  Those gold edges and perfectly same-sized books–hard covers and beautiful, colorful illustrations–we had quite a few sitting on our book shelf…..waiting to be taken down and read again and again.  Some of those same ones grace my shelves now.  But not this one.  I was thrilled to find it, as I’d not read it before.  I love the sweet stories and poems, especially the one about the animals and people’s reactions to “no snow.”  But what tickled me the most was Cooter’s reaction to the story about the little squirrel.  Read it.  See if you can figure out at what moment he said, “UH OH” out loud–concerned that things were about to go awry.  I don’t want to spoil it, but that was Cooter’s favorite part of the book.

I highly recommend both of these books.  I also recommend the other book (which our Princess especially loved).  It is a sweet story of a strong woman who makes a difference in our world with her caring, strength, and ingenuity.  A great story not just for the holidays but everyday, right?


What are your favorite holiday and Christmas stories?  I would love to hear about them.

I hope your holidays are filled with hours and hours of enjoyment and good books to read, but most importantly, I hope these days are filled with the living out of your own great story.

Merry memory-making!

Love to all.

 

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas…..

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By Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland (Christmas is almost over) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

as I prepare to break down Christmas and pack away the ornaments, I sift through the memories made this Christmas season, and my heart is full to bustin’.

There are so many precious moments, big and small, that I have tucked away to keep me warm this winter and in the ones to come, but these twelve stand out for me tonight:

1–The first night that we were all under the same roof for the first time in several months, and I took that sweet, deep breath of thankfulness.

2–Listening to Christmas music while baking Mama’s cookies in the kitchen, using her very own cookie cutters.

3–Taking the Zoo Crew up to Wesleyan on a cold, wet afternoon to hear the Washboard Band play and hear Aub in her percussion debut.

4–The joy of sharing St. Lucia Day festivities with friends and family at Evening Prayer as my writerfriend D and I shared our stories of light for the second year in a row.  It’s a tradition now, y’all.

5–Attending “White Christmas” at a local theater with youth actors and actresses.  Seeing their beaming faces at the end for the curtain call–they were so pleased with the job they had done.  As well they should be. I fell in love with the place, the young people, and the story all over again.

6–The joy of sitting next to One I Hold Dear as I watched my littles perform for their Christmas programs.  When folks do things they don’t have to do out of love and just because they want to, that is a beautiful gift.

7–Hearing Christmas songs played live in my own home. As we wrap up our first year of piano lessons, it has been so much fun to hear the littles playing Christmas carols for us.  I am anticipating even more songs in the coming year to brighten our holidays.

8–The musical offerings talented and beautiful folks shared at Evening Prayer both before and after Christmas.  So much time, talent, and dedication went into those evenings.  I love each and every one of them for making my holidays truly special with their music, smiles, and laughter.

9–Seeing the faces of children, young and old, as they saw Santa Claus when he visited us at Bare Bulb Coffee.  So many precious secrets whispered in Santa’s ear.  The smiles were bright and everlasting.  My heart will never quite be the same again.

10–Hearing “Silent Night” in the candlelit church on Christmas Eve.  I choked up and couldn’t sing all the words.  I felt so connected to the ones who are no longer with us who also sang those words on so many Christmas Eve nights over the years.  I felt surrounded by a host of those I love.

11–Those precious, quiet moments in the wee hours of Christmas morning, when I sat there by myself in the midst of gifts and love, and I was excited, worn out, relieved, happy, and filled with wonder and peace.  And as I sat there, loathe to leave the sweet twinkle lights and their golden glow and the love that filled the room, I thought about how all of those emotions were probably present that very first Christmas morning.  That’s when my heart filled with gratitude, and I found myself weeping as I headed to bed for a few hours of slumber.

12–One of the very best moments was seeing the excitement in my children’s eyes and hearing the anticipation in their voices as they wrapped and then gave their Christmas gifts on Christmas morning. They were more excited to give the gifts they’d chosen than they were to open up the ones with their names on them.  That was a huge gift to me, and I am so thankful for their giving hearts.

Y’all, I was just kidding.  Twelve?  All the little moments.  Cups of coffee with friends.  Surprise visits with folks I haven’t seen for far too long.  Painting with my little friends and watching them focus and work so hard to create their own masterpieces.  Sitting around a fire with precious people as the sun went down and the stars came out.  Watching the children play with their friends as the excitement of Christmas came closer and closer.  Wrapping up in warm, colorful afghans and talking late into the night.  Hallmark Christmas movies.  Watching my brother teach my Aub how to make “Maemae’s” biscuits.  Phone calls and Christmas cards.  Hugs galore.  Cousins who make me smile and laugh.  Oh the joy and peace that passes all understanding!

All of that.

May each and every day of this New Year be filled with just such gifts for all of us.

Love to all.  Merry Twelfth Day of Christmas!

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By Grover cleveland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas…..

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six pairs of little bare feet.

Running through the yard, romping through the house.  Getting them where they wanted to be, catching skinks and lizards and frogs and lovingly creating them wonderful habitats.  Running after each other and riding bikes and scooters.  Wandering all over Blackberry Flats.  Or little bare feet, kicked back, relaxing, just being together.

The cousins are in town, and we are very, very happy.

Love and laughter fills my house and the one at Blackberry Flats, full to bustin’.

Merry memory making has commenced.

And yes, in the photo above, you have counted correctly.  There are only five pairs of feet and fifty toes instead of sixty.  That’s because when you play all day after a long trip from home and you are a little fella of a certain age, you just might not want your feet in a picture.  Even though they are the cutest little feet you ever did see.

You’ll have to take my word for it, because Baby Monkey wasn’t having it.  He had better things to do.

And I’m okay with that.

Thankful for all the sounds of little feet and big, for laughter and stories and make-believe and all the imaginations.  This is the most beautiful sound of the season, and this is what brings Christmas to my heart.

Love to all.

 

 

All the Pictures WITH them

Today I had the joy–and it was sheer joy–of seeing the faces of children as they saw Santa Claus up close and personal.

Our favorite little coffee shop hosted Santa in the chair next to the Christmas tree up on the little stage.  Family after family came in and approached Santa with timid footsteps and eager.  With shy smiles, radiant, beaming faces, or with worried frowns.  Some children went straight up to Santa, while others had to warm up to him from afar.  Santa sat with children of ALL ages on his lap or standing next to his chair, and he listened.  He held hands and handed out candy canes and smiled and laughed and coaxed little ones into smiling for the camera.

Most parents pulled their phones out and took pictures of their children with the jolly old elf.  Group shots and individual ones with Santa and their children.

And that’s when I had to step in.  I was that person reaching for their phones, insisting they get in at least one picture too.  For a family shot.

Almost every time, the parent would insist he/she hadn’t really planned on being in the picture, so they looked “a mess.”  Still I insisted.

One day your children will thank you.  They will be glad they have pictures of you and them together.  

I know of what I speak.

Over the years, there aren’t a whole lot of pictures of me and my Mama.  She was either taking the picture or in the kitchen while the rest of us were taking them.  So when I find one of the two of us, it brings me great joy.

I don’t have enough pictures with my Mama and Daddy.

So today, I reached for phones and insisted parents jump in there, and I took two or six shots of each family with Santa, insisting the parents look at the pictures before they left, so we could redo if we needed to.

It was an honor to see their faces.  Because when the whole family was in there with Santa, the parents’ smiles were usually bigger than those of the children.  Every single time.

If you are going to be with folks you love over the holidays, take lots of pictures with them, not just of them–all the people, parents and children.  Use the little square in the corner of your screen to turn the camera around and take selfies with them if you have to.  Whatever you have to do, create some magical pictures with the folks you love for you and others to look back on and remember and feel all the love once again.

My favorite moment today–when the veil was so thin–was when I looked in the eyes of a young Mama who got it.  She saw into my soul and why it mattered so much to me, and I saw into hers and knew that it was important for her too.  She was a tearfully happy Mama in the picture with her very young littles which I took through tears of my own.

Tonight I give thanks for the pictures I do have with my folks, and I give thanks for all the times I look at someone I love and say, “Let’s take a picture together and they say, ‘Okay.'” The photos bring back joyful memories and make me smile and remember and hold my people close.  Once again.  The years between us just melt away.

Merry memory-making, y’all.

Love to all.

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Santa waves in greeting to one of his little visitors.