An Anniversary, ee cummings, and Christmas

December 17, 1967.

It was forty-seven years ago that my parents said their I do’s and joined their lives forever.   With close friends and family present, and Mama’s best friend from school and my Daddy’s Daddy standing up beside them, they joined hands and hearts and stories.

Forever.

I’m convinced they are up at the House sitting on the back porch, side by side.  Mama will reach out her hand as they watch the beautiful sunset and Daddy will take it.  And though it might be quiet between them, they love each other more than any two people I’ve ever met.

They loved children–their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews.  They loved all children.  They kept copies of “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” by the Provensens in the trunk of their car to give to children or parents they met whom they thought might enjoy reading it.  Daddy sometimes carried Matchbox cars in his pockets to share with little boys and girls he came across, especially at the doctor’s offices.  When he left this world, he left quite a few he’d collected yet to be shared.  He loved cars and children just that much.

The last few years before Mama passed, she enjoyed picking out Christmas or winter stories for the children in her life. Last year, our first Christmas without her, I decided to carry on that tradition–the picking out of the holiday story.

I really enjoyed myself, and I was so happy when I found the right book and felt like Mama was there, giving my choice a thumbs up.  (Patricia Polacco’s “Uncle Vova’s Tree”)

This year I started earlier, reading and searching for just the right book.  I found several good ones.  My crew have really enjoyed the daily readings in “The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits: A Christmas Story for Advent.”  But what one story would wrap up all the joy and delight and emotions of this Christmas season?

This past weekend I found out that my Aub, home from college, has a newfound love of ee cummings.  Sunday evening I took a few minutes to reacquaint myself with his poetry.  As I was reading some of his work, I found one he wrote called “Little Tree,” which has been published more than once as a children’s story.  I found a copy illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, and it called out to me.

Could it be?  Could this be the book for this year?

My copy arrived today.

I had already read the poem, and it touched my heart, but when put together with Ms. Ray’s warm and whimsical illustrations, it became a new favorite.

Just like that.

The littles and I read it together.  When we finished, they both sat still for a moment.  I asked if they liked it.  Both nodded.  Our Princess said, “It’s really almost like a Christmas poem, isn’t it?  It’s so beautiful.”

Yes.  Yes it is, as a matter of fact.  On both accounts.

We hunted for our Christmas trees in the woods on my Granny’s farm most of the years I was growing up.  Such great memories of beautiful afternoons wandering around, finding one we liked, but continuing on just to be sure. And then trying to find our way back to the one we’d chosen at the very beginning.  Daddy was so patient with us.  We never chose the “perfect” trees as there was an unspoken understanding that those belonged to the animals and the woods.  (Well, maybe I did speak it a time or two when someone dared to suggest us getting that perfect one.)  We usually looked for the ones that the deer had rubbed their antlers on.  Daddy taught us how to look for those trees, and he told us there was a chance that those wouldn’t make it.  So we chose one of those each year–we called them corner trees, which was perfect since we always put our tree in the corner of our living room.

Perfectly imperfect.  And every year Mama would say it was the prettiest tree yet.

That made me happy.  And I was quite sure it made the tree happy too.  Daddy taught me the word anthropomorphism many years ago, and it suits me.  I like to think that the trees have feelings and are happy or sad to be chosen or not.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that ee cummings’ poem spoke to me.  I’m sure it was, but when I read the line–“and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy”–my heart was home.

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from “Little Tree” by ee cummings and Deborah Kogan Ray

 

Yes.

This beautiful book will find its way onto our shelf after the 12 days of Christmas, but it won’t be forgotten throughout the year.  This timeless poem turned children’s book is one that can bring back memories whenever it is opened and read. It is too lovely to be tucked away for very long, dreaming of when it might be able to share its story once again.

Tonight I’m thankful for this story I found (thanks Aub!) which brought back memories that were such a big part of my Christmas each year.  Those tree hunts with Daddy were a tradition I love and dearly miss.  I am also thankful for the story that began 47 years ago tonight, celebrated after all had gone home over cups of warm Pepsi, because they had heard it was so good.  I give thanks for the two who loved us and taught us and encouraged us.  And I’m thankful for their love of books and generous spirits.  They left some mighty big shoes to fill.  While I cannot fill those shoes myself, I can walk along the path they left, and do my best to live up to whom they raised me to be.

Happy Anniversary to my parents, and Happy Everyday, as my Mama would say, to everyone!

May today be a day that you will always remember joyfully in the years to come.

Love to all.

 

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I will be giving away a copy of the book “Little Tree” by ee cummings to a lucky reader.  The winner will be chosen randomly at 12:01 a.m. EST on December 18th.  To enter, comment below with your favorite Christmas book or like the “I Might Need a Nap” Facebook page and comment on this post on that page.  For handwriting practice for the week I will have the littles write your names down, put them in a hat, and we’ll let Miss Sophie draw out the name.  I will send the book out to the winner on Thursday, and it should arrive before Christmas, barring anything unforeseen happening.  Good luck!  Only one entry per person please.  

More of the story of the two who became one can be read here.

O Christmas Tree

It has been decided.

christmas tree farm

christmas tree farm (Photo credit: The Shifted Librarian)

Tomorrow is Christmas tree hunting day.

We’ve had more to work around this year, it feels like, to make this work.  Between the evening/after Fella gets home schedule and Aub being gone during the week, we have finally circled tomorrow as a day we can all make it happen.

Which brings us to the next decision.

A tree farm, a live tree from the local hardware store, or a Frasier fir from the big name store over near the coffee shop?  They all have their pluses and minuses.

Tree farm–support local business, beautiful place to hunt, adventure, closer to what I grew up doing, but really expensive.  Depending on the tree, it can be either hard or easy to string lights and hang ornaments on.  Just depends really.  Most of the varieties they’ve had in the recent past were trees with less hardy branches.

Live tree–almost as expensive as the tree farm but we can plant it later, it’s environmentally responsible, natural color (the tree farm sprays theirs–not kidding), but it is harder to string and hang ornaments.

Big name store tree–it’s the least expensive of the three; the adventure aspect isn’t quite there, but it’s been the only place I’ve found a Frasier fir and those are awesome for stringing and hanging.

We’ve done all three.  And while we lived in Japan we had an artificial tree.  This was decided after I viewed the trees on the roof at the BX and saw what I deemed a pitiful offering at three times the price.  So we found an artificial tree.  The whole time I dealt with the tree that California code or whatever that warns of cancer risks when handling the tree and lights and so on kept ringing through my head.  (Yes, I’m a hypochondriac and I own it.)  It was beautiful, held every ornament we had, but I just couldn’t totally embrace it.  The retired Japanese gentlemen who were friends of my Fella’s came over for breakfast around Christmas.  They were fascinated by it and kept asking how many ornaments I thought we had on it.  I had no idea.  It was neat to see them so intrigued though.  Almost everything in Japan has to be done on a much smaller scale because their houses are on a smaller scale.  Our tree would have taken up half of a living room in a normal sized apartment home there, and it wasn’t even that big of a tree.

When we returned from Japan, we went back to the Christmas tree farm I’d visited years before.  One of the Christmases my Fella was deployed, Daddy went with us and helped us cut it down.  Aub and the littles have loved trekking all over trying to find the perfect tree.  It’s just that over the years the price tag has started turning my stomach.  It just broke my heart to pay that much for a tree we would gaze upon for a month, and then it would be gone.

So two years ago, less than a month after Daddy died, my heart just wasn’t in it.  We simplified Christmas. I didn’t pull out any ornaments or decorations.  We went to the local hardware store and found an evergreen that was more tall and straight than anything else.  We strung the tender branches with lights, and the children and I made ornaments–homemade cinnamon applesauce ornaments and we painted letters and glued them to rope to spell love and joy.  And that was our precious tree that year.  We planted it out back.  I think it’s a tender fellow still, and very timid, not quite sure if it wants to commit to living here or not.  There have been times I’ve seen brown among the branches and thought, “Well there he goes.”  But then he’ll green back up.  I have no idea.  Just thankful he’s sticking around.

Last year my heart needed Christmas.  The lights, the festivity, the decorations all over the house.  (Our Princess even has a tiny pink tree with glitter she puts in her room.  Gotta love it.)  I brought out things we hadn’t set out in a couple of years.  In the end we decided to go to the big name store because the prices were about 1/3 of what the tree farm was and the live tree selection wasn’t that good at that time.  We made it an adventure as much as we could.  It still took us quite a while to find the one we all could agree on.  In a way we made it the fun time we’d hoped for just with the right attitudes.  And my heart was much lighter as the cashier rang us up.  Yes.  That’s what I was hoping for too.   It was a beautiful Frasier fir, and it held the white lights (I insisted on those myself) and ornaments as long as we wanted it to.  Maybe it got a little dry a little sooner than we’d hoped, but it was a beautiful tree.

And so the discussion continues this year.  I was given the grace I needed today NOT to pull out all the things I have.  I am happy for Christmas to be here, but I just don’t have it in me–physically, emotionally, or energy-wise–to get it all out and pack it back up in a month.  *shudder*  I can’t do that to me this year.  My mind goes back to this past January, helping my Mama pack up her Christmas things, so much simpler than it was years ago, but so much history in it all, and I just want to cry.  So yes, a tree, ornaments and lights, candles, but I think that will be it.  I hope it will be enough for all to feel that Christmas was special this year.

I believe we will probably go “over the river and through the woods” back over to the big name store.  (It’s actually more like drive by the grocery store and past the Waffle House, park next to the coffee shop.)  I love that my family will make it an adventure, and the cashier will make me smile.  It’s what we make it, and it will be okay.  I know too many folks who are in need to spend that much on a tree this year.  Not judging anyone else, just know what feels right for us.

I miss the days when I was growing up.  Oh the joy of the Christmas tree hunt!  My Granny had a good-sized farm with lots of woods divided through the middle with an open area.  We’d visit with Granny for a little while, and then we’d walk around back, past the horse and cow pastures, and head for the woods.  Daddy had all that he needed to get the job done, I especially remember the saw and his gloves.  We’d wander through, and it amazed me we would never get lost.  Daddy’s internal GPS would take us right back up to Granny’s house each and every time.

As we wound our way through the woods, we’d see some of the same cedar trees from year to year.  The perfect ones.  Getting bigger and stronger and taller each year.  Those were off-limits.  We never questioned it.  We knew.  Those were the woods’ Christmas trees.  The ones the animals would gather around on Christmas Eve and share their stories with others there.  We would get excited when Daddy would point out where a deer had been rubbing its antlers against the tree bark.  We called them corner trees because we could put that spot against the wall and it would never show.  Daddy said those trees didn’t have much of a shot of growing much bigger anyway, so we didn’t feel too bad cutting one down.  Finding one of those “deer trees” didn’t mean the hunt was over though.  We still had to walk around, just in case there was a more perfect one over the next hill.

Which is how I met the snake that time.  Daddy must have stepped right over it and never even noticed.  I turned to follow him and there in front of me, curled up asleep (at least I assume it was) was a snake.  What kind, you might ask?  A LIVE ONE, that’s all that mattered to me.  I refused to move another step; I was terrified.  Daddy came back and got me.  He didn’t harm a hair on its head like he did the one we’d found in the horse barn.  We were on its turf.  It’s also very likely it was not a poisonous one, but I didn’t take the time to ask or wait on an answer.  I wanted to be as far away as I could get from it.

Finally we would choose a tree.  As Daddy sawed and cut and moved around, laying flat on his back on the ground beneath the tree, we all clapped and cheered and yelled “Timber” as loud as we could as it fell, our echoes and the resounding thunk of the tree falling to the ground the most beautiful Christmas music of all.  Daddy would grab the tree at the bottom and drag and carry it out of the woods.  I took the hand of whomever was youngest (who had most likely spent some time riding in Daddy’s arms or on his back on the way in) and we walked back to Granny’s house.  I remember the crisp smell of the air and the satisfied and happy song in my heart.  It was about the tree hunt, but it was about so much more.  It was about being with the people I loved more than life itself and being ready to help my Daddy whenever he asked–something that brought me joy right up to the last time I held his glass for him to sip or helped him get in a more comfortable position in his hospital bed.  It was about love.  The tree became a symbol of that.

We did that every year when I was growing up (and after I was out of the house) until Granny moved to town.  The only exception I remember is the year that Daddy was so sick.  I was eleven or twelve I think.  Daddy had been struggling with bad headaches for a while and wasn’t able to take us hunting.  Mama went and bought a little magnolia (or was it a gardenia?!) in a pot and sat it on top of the piano.  She hung a few of our lighter (poor little plant…) ornaments on it, and we called it Christmas.  A stickler for tradition, I am sure I did not make that choice easy on her or Daddy.  I am sitting here right now, remembering looking at it in the beginning through glaring eyes, as though I could make it go away with my stare.  Oh my.  Mama told me years later we were lucky we didn’t lose Daddy then.  Sort of puts that poor little magnolia (or gardenia) into perspective.

So though our trek will be different tomorrow it will be about the same thing.  Love.  And laughter.  There’s always plenty of that to go around with this crew.  We’ll find a good tree I hope, but while I know I loved the way our trees looked each year, and that every year Mama would tell us we’d outdone ourselves and found the best one yet, I also know it’s not about what the tree looks like.  It’s about the memories attached.  And it’s about the children remembering what each ornament reminds them of–who gave it to them or why they got it.  It’s about another year of stringing the lights–that was my job growing up, and the simple action of hooking a hanger on the ornament and handing it to the right child.  (They will tell me if I get it wrong!  Of that I can be certain.)

I hope that your journey this season is filled with love and laughter whether there is a real tree or not, from a tree farm or the market down the road, or no tree at all.  It’s whom we are with that matters most.  But I am curious–real, artificial, pre-cut, cut down your own, Charlie Brown tree, or magnolia bush?  Or none at all?  Where are you this year?

Merry memory-making, my friends!