Letters and Diary Fiction posted March 23, 2021

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Memories of this World ch. 6

by estory

The anticipation of getting our Christmas tree would build through the first couple of weeks of Advent until it seemed to flicker in the house hopefully as the candles on the wreath. The cold, darkness of each night was coming upon us earlier and earlier in the afternoon, and we had to turn our attention from our outside games to something else. We found it in the magic of our Christmas tree. Here was a way of rekindling the green and gold of summer right in our own living room. That Christmas tree of every December seemed like an old family friend on one hand; on another, something of a magician.

On a Saturday morning in mid December when the kitchen smelled of tea and oatmeal, my father would finally announce that he would take us to get our tree. We practically leapt up out of our chairs and into our coats and mittens. His knowledge of Christmas trees stretched back for decades into the past of family tradition, and we trusted his judgement. We knew he had to have a fresh tree, one with a straight top for the star, and that perfect, cone shape.

Sometimes we would drive up to the estates on the north shore of Long Island to pick out a tree from a farm, sometimes he would take us to a lot on a street corner in town; but once under the strings of colored lights, in the crisp, December air that spoke of the turning of another year, it was always the same. We would scramble after my father between the bristling firs and spruce, whose woodland aroma would excite us even more. We would run to one tree after another, calling for our father to examine it. He would disqualify this one for an odd branch, this one for having loose needles, that one for a crooked top. The tree had to be perfect. At last he would stand for a time looking decidedly at one and we would gather around it and agree; this would be our Christmas tree.

After the man on the lot gave it a fresh cut, it would be tied to the roof of our Ford Falcon station wagon and we would bring it home in triumph. My mother would have hot chocolate ready, with fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. We'd carry the tree into its place of honor in front of the living room window, and my mother would admire it as my father set it into its stand. We'd let its branches spread and fill the room with its fragrance of pine woods up in the mountains.

Then we would sit on the couch sipping our hot chocolate, watching my father wrap the sets of colored lights around and around the tree from its lowest branches to its highest boughs. After he had crowned it with the star of Bethlehem, we would take turns hanging the ornaments. Most of them were delicate, colored glass balls from a time before we were born and we would unwrap each one carefully from its gauze of tissue paper as if it were a jeweled treasure from a lock box. Out would come the peacocks, the toy soldiers, the teapot, the old churchbell, the icicles, snowglobes and angels. They conjured memories of Christmases past. At last my father would lay a strand of glittering tinsel on each bough until the tree seemed to be wearing a ball gown of breathtaking beauty.

We knew then that Christmas Eve with its magical, mysteriously wrapped boxes of toys, its cookies and candy, carols and candlelight, was not far off and that the dead of winter would surely pass.

There are few moments that seem to capture the essence of life as much as these Christmas moments. I hope I was able to capture the excitement of bringing that live tree from the mountains into those living rooms, where it held court in a dazzling display of colored electric lights and glistening glass balls and tinsel, helping us pass through the grim dark and cold of the dead of winter. Christmas is that moment when the grace of God rescues us from that darkness, and this celebration that our parents carried on from their parents connects us together and connects us with our ancestors, to the joy and power of life itself. The sense that life will make it through the darkness to the spring on the other side. Christmas became that moment of celebration when we realized life was bigger than death, that hope was greater than despair. A lesson we keep with us for the rest of our lives. estory
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