Dark Tree

The food probably tasted great. But today I was too excited to notice, or even to remember what had been on my plate. I watched Mom eat the last of her buttered bread. Although it was a small slice, it seemed to take her a very long time. Eventually she licked a smear of butter off her finger and said, “Well, now that we have had our noon meal…let’s put up the Christmas tree!”

FINALLY! There weren’t too many other families in my school that waited until December 24th to put up their Christmas trees like we did! A part of me was proud of the fact that we waited. It meant that we were purists…people who faithfully followed the old traditions. But it was hard for me to wait. I loved having a Christmas tree!

My brother Casper left the house to get the balsam that we had cut a few days before. Billy, my other brother went up to the attic to get the boxes that held our precious decorations. While the boys put the stand on our tree, my sisters and I eagerly went through the ornament box. At age twelve, I knew by heart all that the box held. The treasures I fondled were old friends…ones that I got to see only once a year!

While admiring the set of chocolate foil-covered Santa ornaments we kept never used anymore, my sister Mary said, “When Kathy was small, she tried to unwrap one of the Santa’s so she could eat it!”

I said, “Yes, Mom took it away from me. She said that the chocolate was old…that it might be bad for me.”

Mom reached into the box and pulled out a prettily painted metal nativity scene. She said it was candle powered, and showed us how when it still worked, shepherds and the three Kings could come out on a track from its backside to visit the baby Jesus.

I was quieter than usual while decorating our tree that day, because I was trying to mentally grasp something that has tickled the backside of my mind every Christmas since I learned how to think. It was something only faintly remembered.

After thinking hard I remembered once when I was very small, I had stepped into our night-darkened living room and feeling confused. Things didn’t look right. It was dark, but I didn’t know how to turn on the lights. There was something I wanted in the room. Looking around, a moon and star-lit window caught my attention. In front of it stood a dark Christmas tree, silhouetted against the inky blue winter night sky.

Even though it was dark, the sight comforted me. Everything was OK…the big beautiful tree was still there. I yawned. The big, soft chair I knew as a davenport was nearby. I easily found it and crawled up. The room was cold. I wondered where I had I left my blanket. A pile of soft material was on the cushion. I pulled it over me. It was so thin! Shivering, I pulled it higher, and discovered that it was also very short. Accommodating myself to what was available, I curled up into a tight little ball so that all of me could be covered.

The dark Christmas tree memory perplexed me for years. I wanted to know if it really happened or if it was something I’d dreamt. It was shadowy enough to have come from another lifetime.

One December afternoon when I was visiting Mom with my young daughters, Niki and Tammie, I decided to ask her about it. I said, “I have the strangest old memory, Mom, and I have no idea where it comes from!”

She asked, “What do you remember?” I told her about the darkness, the window and the tree…the davenport, and the thin blanket. My mother looked at me with a surprised expression. She exclaimed, “Why, I think I know what you remember, but you were so young!”

I leaned forward and asked with excitement, “Do you really think you know? I was alone you know…”

Mom nodded and said, “Your grandpa died four days before Christmas the year you turned two. In the afternoon Daddy and I put up the tree, then that evening we went to the funeral home. Your big sisters stayed home with you. After everyone went to bed and was asleep, you must have crawled out of your crib and came down stairs. When Daddy and I got home, we found you sound asleep on the sofa. You were all curled up under a dress shirt that Daddy had tried on and didn’t like. He had draped it over the back of the davenport before leaving home. We wondered how you managed to get out of your crib! You had never done it before.”

I knew how I had managed. Having a Christmas tree in my house is like having great, royal guest come to visit. Its presence draws me to its side. It made crawling out of my crib as easy as eating Christmas candy!

 

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