I don’t do Christmas trees.
It’s not a bah humbug thing, and it’s not some kind of protest about the commercialization of Christmas or a supposed paganization of it. It really has to do with that happy sadness of memory.
I was the only child of a single mother, and we were very poor. I remember one Christmas in Atlanta when I was ten. She was working two jobs as a waitress and we had a one-room apartment with a kitchenette. There was a bathroom downstairs that we shared with a basement apartment. I remember sleeping in my coat. Mama bought one of those little plastic gumdrop trees and set it on the dresser, filled it with colored gumdrops and wrapped my Christmas present – I think the landlady gave her some paper. It was two pairs of panties. They were so pretty; one was pink, and the other blue and they had a bit of lace trim. They were nylon. I’d never had anything but white cotton panties before. They were beautiful. I don’t remember being unhappy. It was Christmas and I was ten and I was loved.
Much later, not so poor and a lot older, we were still like children together at Christmas. She loved decorating and giving presents. I always had a lot of gifts; she’d even wrap a can of coffee she knew I liked and put it under the tree. This continued after her divorce and after my own. I always made it home for Christmas. It would have devastated her if I didn’t. It was Christmas and she was 70 and she was loved.
The last couple of years of her life, it was a struggle for her, especially that last Christmas, but she tried for my sake, and I tried for hers.
Mama made the most beautiful beaded ornaments and gave them to everyone she knew. I had a zillion of them, and in the first couple years after her death I decorated a Christmas tree with them. But it wouldn’t do. I gave them all away.
A few days ago, I met a friend in the parking lot at church. She lost her husband almost two years ago, and she was crying. “You said I’d get to a place where it wouldn’t hurt so much. Well, I’m still not there. It’s the memories. I hate them!”
“You will get there,” I said. “You’ll know you’re there when the memories don’t make you cry, but make you smile. And then you won’t hate the memories but cherish them.”
For the past several years I haven’t bothered with a tree; after all, I have no ornaments now. But this year, I think I’ll put up a small tabletop tree in the living room window with just some white lights. I’m pretty sure it will make me smile.