Thursday, December 8, 2005

Memories and Smiles





This is not the entry I planned to make today.  Perhaps that will come at another time for it’s a message I’d still like to share, but for now here’s a little snippet of my life:


I decorated the house today.  The outside decorations were done a few weeks ago before the temperatures dropped and the snow fell, but today it was time for the interior to take on a semblance of the holiday.


Christmas is my favorite time of the year and I cherish all the memories and traditions it holds for me.  That does not translate into lavish decoration, however – only things that have meaning to me, despite their understated appearance.  Each year, I search for the smallest real tree I can find.  In this era of bigger is better, finding a tree in the 4 to 5 foot range is many times a challenge, but this year I found a scotch pine that called my name – measuring a whopping 56” from trunk to tiptop.  It was off to the side and already in a stand – probably to demonstrate that, despite its crooked trunk, it could still stand straight and proudly.  While others wrestled mightily to secure nine and ten foot monsters to the roofs of their SUVs, I quietly slipped my little treasure into my trunk - and closed the lid.


It sat outside since Monday to let its branches settle, but today was the day to bring it inside.  It fit the stand easily and – as advertised – stood straight and tall.  I fed it some water and watched as it thirstily drank, then brought up the lights and the other decorations from the basement and set to work:


As always, first came the nativity set – displayed in a prominent location and away from any secular trappings of the season.  The star was lit and I stood for a moment in silence to remember once more why we celebrate this holiday in the first place.


Then it was time for the music to play – loud enough so that I can simply immerse myself in the moment – and the rest of the work began.  The stockings were hung, the votive village was placed carefully on the mantle, candles set in place, the small plastic lightup church from my childhood placed on the desk – battered and taped from years of use, but always able to bring a smile to my face.  I carefully wound the key to the music box inside and heard its clear rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful for probably the thousandth time, but still as touching as the first.


Finally, it was time for the tree itself – placed on a small table to give it height but not to overwhelm the room, and allow for presents to be placed easily beneath.  As always, I placed and lit the star first, and then began unrolling the strands of lights.


Now almost all of my memories of Christmas are fond, but it does tear at my heart to remember those with whom I can no longer celebrate – most notably my mother and grandmother, those who always seemed to know how to make the day the most special it could be.  But this year, an unexpected twinge arrived as I uncoiled the first set of lights.  For the past 16 Christmases, that first strand of lights would suddenly attract a grey blur.  It would appear silently and without warning, take the furthest-most bulb gently in its teeth and run, stopping abruptly as I held the other end of the strand, then rolling over and playfully batting at the lights and my hand as I came near.


His name was Pippin.  He was all grey with beautiful green eyes.  His coat was sleek and he had an attitude, but he was also about the sweetest cat I’d ever known.  Every Christmas, he was as much a part of the decorating as the tree and the lights themselves.  Things took longer and a strand or two of lights were destroyed over the years from a bit too much exuberant play, but he was as much a holiday memory and tradition as any I’ve described here.


This past summer, he passed away – and rests under a tree in the yard I can see every day from the sunroom window.  Hardly a day passes when I don’t still see a shadow in the corner of my eye, hear a sound and assume its him making his way through the house on some imaginary adventure, feel him against my feet at the end of the bed. But still it hit me hard when there was no one to pounce on the lights this year – and I sat silently on the floor by the tree for many minutes before I could invoke the holiday spirit again.


When the lights were all on the tree, I took the boxes of decorations back to the basement.  But before I came back upstairs, I searched through the box once more and retrieved a tiny red stocking I’d originally decided not to place this year.  It had come with a small gift from a friend exactly16years ago – and it had immediately found its place on the mantle as Pippin’s stocking.  I brought it upstairs, hung it on its familiar hook – and suddenly it felt like Christmas again.


bedazzzled1 said...

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh...that just yanked my heart.

inafrnz247 said...

::sigh::  your words touch me, Rob.  You just....know.  Even better, you can create images, thoughts and emotions using words, powerful and true.  Just meeting you, but knowing you still ~ Michelle