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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the stories behind the door

on the first day you walked through the door
did you stop to breathe it all in
with the hope of memorizing it all-scents, sights, and sounds,
the way you do now

did you gently pull the door to behind you
and stop for a moment and lean into it
knowing as you do now that a measure of strength
is gained from the place that watched you grow

and stretch and learn

and break and piece it all back together

did you listen for the sounds of the birds
the same families over all the years
and look for that pink in the horizon as the sun
set and closed its eyes for its evening slumber

on the first day you walked in
eager and excited for the new journey
did you shed a tear over the place you’d left behind
or was there none of that, with all the possibilities in the rooms before you

did you find a corner and sit,
dizzy with the emotion all this new change was bringing,
and did you wish more than anything that you could
turn the clock in your hands, the last thing left,

backwards by days and years

or did you simply run through and search through every room
looking for the memories yet to be made
having no idea the story
that was about to unfold
upon this stage
this new setting
this
new

home

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the last one home

there is little better feeling than being the last one home

the last one to return to the roost where we all grew our wings

the lights on, hearts and stories waiting until all are there

and the smiles grow brighter

hugs are given and given again

and last just a moment longer than they used to

laughter accompanies the threats of telling that one story

that everyone already knows anyway

 

all await me behind the blinds with the light peeping through the cracks

beckoning me to their warmth

their affection the perfect protection from the cold chill

and darkness of the journey

 

all those I love and hold dear

tucked away inside,

piled up on every chair and cushion

and even curled up on the floor

 

plates are full

and so are the hearts

of those I love

and cannot wait to see

a sight for sore eyes

it’s been far too long

 

there is little better feeling than to be the last one home

unless it’s being the first one there, waiting,

anticipating

all the joy that is to come

 

All Hallow’s Eve–on haints and scary stories

While the littles and I were visiting my dear Aunt a couple of days ago, they came across this in her play closet and pulled it out for me to see.

A puzzle from my Granny's I grew up playing with.

A puzzle from my Granny’s I grew up playing with.

Suddenly I was our Princess’ age, and I held out my hands, barely able to say the words, “Hand it to me. Please.”  But I did eke them out, and she handed it over.  My hands, the same ones that held it over thirty years ago, immediately set to work solving the puzzle without my brain really putting any work into it.  I had done it so many times before, so long ago, that the memory of how seemed to be in my fingers.

And then it was done.

Done.  My fingers remembered.

Done. My fingers remembered.

I asked my Aunt how long it had taken me, still dazed and overwhelmed with the memories that came up unexpectedly.

She laughed.  “Let’s go with 87 seconds.”

I’ve still got it.

I did finally let my littles play with it.

A place from the past--my Granny's house.

A place from the past–my Granny’s house.

In those moments of first seeing it and working the puzzle out, I was transformed back to this place, my Granny’s house.  And once again, my heart ached with the longing for that place, that time, when things were simple and my worst fear was losing one of Granny’s matchbox cars in a frog house or…..nope, that’s it.  I loved everything there from waking up to Honeycombs and milk to sleeping on a pallet made of her old quilts in the living room with my cousins.  I miss it, her, those days.

So much so that yesterday I found myself taking a quick detour.  I turned left off the main road and drove up that old dirt road, the same one I first rode my bike solo on.  And there, in the midst of some overgrown grass, was one of the houses that built me.  I got out of my vehicle and stood, not wanting to go any closer and disturb the memories that are tucked away inside.  I just looked and remembered.  I could almost hear the sound of children playing and cows mooing and Granny calling us in for dinner.  I could feel the warmth of the sun through the window and from the old heater at our backs.

Today, being Halloween and all, some folks like to talk about ghosts and “haints,” as some of my favorite writers call them.  Folks like to tell scary stories and sit on the edge of their seats until there’s nothing left to do but scream, run away, or pass out.

Growing up, we used to tell the story of the 13 steps over and over during this time of year.  There were others that were passed around from one to another, but as I grow older, I know that ghosts are real.

The ghosts of the past–the memories of times there at my Granny’s are very real.   If I had opened the door to that house, had it been okay, I might have seen us gathered around a Monopoly board on the floor, my three older cousins and myself.  I would have heard us challenging each other to do the puzzle, and the one with the smile that was so much like his Daddy’s, once again, he’d be here, and not gone.  And I would take more time to memorize his face, his voice, and to tell him how much I always was in awe of him.

I would have seen the cabinet over in the corner, with the Tupperware containers of cereal inside.  The bowls on the shelf in the kitchen, waiting for us to pull one down and fill up each morning–was breakfast ever more fun that at her house?  With the anticipation of what we had planned for the day and the smell of sunshine enticing us to hurry up and eat so we could head outside for hours and hours, with only a little more than our imaginations and each other to play with.

The sounds of laughter and the weekday afternoon Gunsmoke theme song might have echoed off the walls in the living room.  The breeze blowing through the window in the front bedroom was the sweetest I’ve ever felt.  Thinking about it now makes me weep, longing to be there in that exact moment when I looked up from my newfound copy of Witch of Blackbird Pond and saw the white curtain billowing perfectly away from the window as the breeze bowed, danced, and dipped the curtain, as though they were partners at a fancy ball.  It took my breath then over thirty-five years ago, and it still does now.

Ghosts are real, but they don’t scare me.  I am surrounded by them every day.  Memories and sounds and smells and tastes and stories–all lingering from the past. What does scare me more than anything else is the thought of living without so many of those I loved in these memories–for the rest of my life.  That knocks the wind out of me.  I just have no idea how I’m supposed to do that.

Tonight I’m thankful for the ones who are here, who share my love of the past and also love those who have headed on Home.  I give thanks for precious memories, worn paper-thin from my playing them out over and over and over again in my heart.  I appreciate the ghosts of the past, and all of the love and comfort I feel when I sit with them for a bit.

Today is All Hallow’s Eve, and tomorrow is All Saint’s Day.   A good day to remember and give thanks for those who are no longer with us in the way they once were.  Tomorrow I will light a candle and remember.  Much as I do every other day.   Remember.  

Ghosts?  Scary Stories?

Light a candle in the darkness, and never forget.  It comforts the soul like nothing else, and chases away the fears.

If only for a moment…..
Love to all.

 

for the three

 

I packed up my things,

along with my talismans from Mama, Daddy, Aunt Wease–for courage

and peace, I hoped

and drove the same road I’ve traveled for over forty years

to one of the houses that built me

to say goodbye

one more time

As I drove through Hawkinsville and saw the 45

mph

sign

I heard Mama say, “They’ll get you through here.

Watch your speed.”

I smiled and drove on over the bridge,

the long one that made her nervous,

the one that, as we crossed one time, she told me

about her fear of bridges

I always think of her when I cross it

Then down the Golden Isles Parkway

past the sign for Bembry Road–one day maybe I’ll have a

grandchild with that name

I always say how much I like it, and they all agree

Then the turn and Congo Lane

I always looked for the gorillas when I was little

and sometimes

I still do

And then

The house.

As I entered with the key left by the realtor,

I could smell

oh that smell

Her scent still lingers

Even now, four years after she left us

I wish I could bottle the smell and carry it forever

and pull it out for special occasions like she did with her silver

I wandered from room to room,

remembering the wall that was once full of clocks

how proud she was to finally have that sun room

the CB radio room that was later a lovely sitting room

after he died

The spot where Toogie their Chihuahua ate

or hid, I could never be sure

The bookcase behind the door where she kept toys for my littles

The bedroom where she had Lucy and Ricky beds

and where I took the best nap I’ve ever had–

first time Mama kind of tired, you know

and where the lidded vase sat–

I was convinced it held ashes, but no

The pink bathroom I rarely went into

and the black and white tiled bathroom, so fancy

with the dimmer light that seemed magical

and still does

Cooter tried it out as I once did, fascinated,

“Look it’s a storm,” he said, turning it up and down

And the bedroom where she took her last breath, I quietly

bowed my head

And the tears flowed

I grew up here, played here, spent nights staying up after having ice cream

and playing Go Fish

It was where I could go and be the only, and for a day or two

that was just fine

It was where I visited with college friends,

in what Daddy and I lovingly called,

“One of the finest homes in that there Eastman, Georgia”

And now it looked old and tired and weepy,

just as I was

The voices echoed off the walls and the little girl I was

peeked around the corners

Cooter ran in the formal living room and I stood there,

laughing through the tears

I had no memories of this room without him.

We were not allowed in there as children, but him–

she let him run and tackle the pillow from the couch she held in her lap

and she laughed with joy

as I stared and thought, “Who are you?”

and it was as it should be.

 

We locked the door and drove away,

leaving behind the ghosts and memories of growing up

and returning as an adult and the roles reversing

and suddenly I was caring for her…..

and now it was time for someone else to make their own stories there

 

As I sat down to sign my name–oh how I’ve come to loathe doing that

It once felt so grown up to sign my name in full, and now

Now I hate what it usually means

Someone, something I have to let go

 

I touched the remembrances of Mama and Daddy, of her–

the one who loved this house

and felt safe there right up to her last breath–

oh please, I hope that is so–

and yet, when I looked down and took a deep breath, it was there

in what I saw

that my heart steadied and I didn’t feel

alone

Three other signatures, already there, waiting on me

to join them

The three that came behind me, yet have always

walked alongside

Those three names, typed yes,

but then handwritten with care by each one

First Sister, then Mess Cat, then Bubba

and I felt steadied

The pen didn’t wobble and neither did my voice

For as much as we may have bickered and picked

and teased

all those years ago, or last decade, or year, or month, or week

It turns out Mama was right–

and we are “all really very wonderful, I’m sure”

And together we stand strong

and can do what life requires next of us

No matter what blows our way

For in them, I see the lines of faces of loved ones gone

and I hear the echo of their words

and feel the dust of their love in the hugs

or waves from the back porch

In that moment the four were one

and for that, I am thankful

There is strength in numbers, yes

but there is something even stronger than that

in love

 

My last time pulling into this drive.

My last time pulling into this drive.

 

My Daddy built this handrail years ago.  Like anything he did, it is strong and has weathered the years well.

My Daddy built this handrail years ago. Like anything he did, it is strong and has weathered the years well. That door always made me happy because I knew I would get a hug and hands cupping my face as soon as I knocked, and her looking me in the eye, oohing over seeing me. Each and every time.

The lovely stained glass light over the table where I had my first cup of coffee, lightened with PET milk.  Which always seemed extra special.

The lovely stained glass light over the table where I had my first cup of coffee, lightened with PET milk. Which always seemed extra special.

 

I had forgotten about these beauties.  If I had had a screwdriver on me, the two she had in her bedrooms would have come home with me.  I adore these.

I had forgotten about these beauties. If I had had a screwdriver on me, the two she had in her bedrooms would have come home with me. I adore these.

The black and white magical bathroom. Fancy.  I loved this room.  Always.

The black and white magical bathroom. Fancy. I loved this room. Always.

 

Cooter creating the "storm" turning the dimmer up and down.  Yeah.  I let him.  For a minute or two.  I used to do the same thing when I was his age.

Cooter creating the “storm” turning the dimmer up and down. Yeah. I let him. For a minute or two. I used to do the same thing when I was his age.

I spent many a day visiting in this room, laughing over shared stories, listening to tales of the past, and smelling the delicious meal my Aunt and Uncle fixed for us.  I never sat in this house and felt less than special.

I spent many a day visiting in this room, laughing over shared stories, listening to tales of the past, and smelling the delicious meals my Aunt and Uncle fixed for us. I never sat in this house and felt less than special.

Cooter holding the sketch drawing of the house that was done in 1976.  I am thankful that I have this art to remember this precious home and the love freely given there.

Cooter holding the sketch drawing of the house that was done in 1976. I am thankful that I have this art to remember this precious home and the love freely given there.

 

Love Ya, Dear–remembering her

 

Easter Grass

Last night as I was piddling around here late after everyone was asleep, as I tend to do on nights before the big holidays *ahem*, I looked at shredded colored paper and thought how lovely it was to be able to color coordinate the paper with the baskets.  (This was thanks to a find at the GW Boutique.  This is not how I normally roll.)  I remembered the green plastic grass from my years growing up.  After we fished out all of our jellybeans and Robin’s eggs (aka “lipstick eggs”) and bubble gum eggs and so on, we took all of the “grass” from our basket and placed it back in the Sunbeam bread bag that it had been stored in since the previous Easter.  I can remember the colors fading and wearing off the bag over the years, we used that same one for so long.  I am sure we got our money’s worth out of that single bag of Easter grass.

As I did what I do last night, a story my Daddy told me came back to me and I had to sit down on his brown couch that is in my home next to Mama’s end table and lamp and smile and remember.

When they moved to the house on the farm, Daddy was around Cooter’s age–maybe 7?  He remembered their Easters.  Daddy said he and his older brother would go out in the yard the day before and dig a small hole, about the size of a bowl.  When they finished they would pick grass and line the “basket” with real grass.  Their eggs would be left there to be found on Easter morning.

Isn’t that the sweetest picture?  I can see my Daddy as a little fella, digging in the ground, crouched over his hole, working intently, occasionally pushing his hair out of his eyes, and focusing on getting it just so.  Then running all over, picking and pulling up grass, the very grass that was cool under his bare feet in the heat of the day.

What a precious story.

And one that makes so much more sense and feels so much more authentic than our plastic or shredded paper “grass.”  And what a relief it must be for that poor little Bunny that he doesn’t have to find his way inside.  I love that tradition and that story so much.

Sometimes the simple ways are best.  I wonder what my crew would do if I have them dig their own baskets next year?  Worth a shot?  Just imagine the memories–good? bad?–that could come from that.

Love and merry memory-making to all.

just need the zipcode for Heaven

Dear Mama,

Well, we are just about done.  The house at Blackberry Flats is almost all cleared out, Mama.  I know you’ve probably been shaking your head, wondering what was taking me so long to get it in gear.  I can’t say, really, except that it was just too much to think about.  To get myself together enough to do.  I know you sure must be proud of Mess Cat and Leroy.  They really made it happen, didn’t they?  And Sister, she helped too.  And the prayers and ideas and help from Bubba and Coey–thankful for those too.

I guess it was just me that was the bump in the road.

And I’m sorry, Mama.

It’s just none of this seems real.  Still doesn’t.  Like one day I’ll wake up and we’ll have a long talk analyzing THIS dream.  It’s been a h— sorry.  Yes ma’am, I’ll watch my mouth.  But you have to admit.  If the past three years, the past fifteen months even, have been a dream, it’s been one for the books, right?

We tried to be good stewards with all of your “things,” all your “stuff.”  I know you’d just as soon we packed up most of it and given it to folks who needed it.  With the exception of the few things you talked about and pointed out where you’d like for them to go.  And one day I will be able to let go of more of it.  Just, not quite yet, okay?

Saturday we came across your “Backdoor friends are best” plaque that hung at the back door.  Remember how I used to be embarrassed to have folks, friends of mine, come in through that door?  You had that old-fashioned wooden clothes drying rack back there, remember?  And you’d hang all of our unmentionables on it to dry.  If we knew someone was coming over, one of us girls would make a mad scramble to go and hide those things.  We couldn’t have folks coming in the back door and seeing that.  Now I miss that life of knowing folks well enough to go in through their back door.  It speaks to the relationship and to the trust and the love.

As I held the plaque I knew.  Aunt.  She needed this.  I hoped she would be okay with us offering it to her.  I knew you would be.  They are our oldest and best “backdoor friends,” aren’t they?  I sent it to her by way of Cuz’n.  She and I talked yesterday.  Turns out that was the right place to send it.  But you knew that, didn’t you?  The only thing was, she wanted to know if I’d be okay seeing it at her back door.

Oh Mama.

Today I’ve thought about that question and how quickly I said “Oh please yes!” as my heart leapt with something akin to joy.  At first I thought it was because it would have a good home (you know how I anthropomorphize things–and yes, Daddy, used that one just for you!).  But as the day wore on, I heard from Mess Cat.  The last of the things have been delivered to a thrift store that will help families who have gone through what we did with Daddy.  Bless ’em.

And my heart crumbled just a bit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy that Mess Cat and Leroy and Shaker are going to make so many new and wonderful (I love hearing you say that word in my head right now) memories.  Have you seen Leroy out in the building?  It’s about to enter a new heyday for sure.  They have beautiful plans and ideas for the house too, Mama.  But most of all, it will be filled with love and laughter again–your favorite way to decorate, the way you decorated it best.

But for a moment this afternoon, as I drove home from Macon, I saw the empty house in my mind’s eye.  And what my eye stayed on was that freezer.  Oh, it’s not there, no ma’am.  Going to be put to good use.  But between it and the refrigerator–you covered them (in your organized way of course) with pictures of our babies and pictures our babies had colored.  Or drawn.  Or scribble scrabbled.  Just for you and Daddy.  There on the windowsill was the little baking cat figure that Aub picked out for you.  The plate we painted for you and Daddy hanging on the wall.  All around you, Mama, you decorated with love.  Your placing these things throughout your home, all the way back to your dresser and the wooden bead necklaces that first Aub and then Princess made for you, spoke volumes to me over the years.

And today, in thinking about them not being there, I realized what they all said.

All of those things you placed freely around your home, said–

You belong here.

You are loved.

You are special.

You are mine.

 

And that’s when the tears came, Mama.

It’s not that I won’t ever not belong there, but it’s time to move on and let new stories come to life in that house.  I’ll knock first and I’ll enter through whatever door Leroy and Mess Cat decide they want folks coming through.  And it will be okay.  Better than, even.

But if Aunt does decide to hang that heart with the back door friends message by her back door–

well, that will be just fine with me.

Because you know, then, for just a moment, I can remember that I had a place that I belonged, a house that always said, “you’re mine” or “well, hey, it’s you again, where you been? what you been up to?” And I can smile and give thanks and know.

I was loved.

Miss you Mama.

Always, and always and always,

love,

t. annie