The dog’s leg kept time with the music, stretching for that unreachable itch caused by winter dry skin. Two of our girls decorate the Christmas tree with a friend as the oldest skips the “festivities” to be at a sleepover. I subtly rearrange the lights on the tree after the branches fall, promising not to relive those childhood “discussions” of too many bare patches etc. Why was setting up a tree so hard in the 70s? For starters, the stand was so minuscule a seedling could not be held in that thing. And the dish was so small it had to be watered everyday. Being the smallest, I was always nominated for the job, each day shimmying on my tummy under the branches and reaching out one arm to get the measuring cup of water without poking my eye on a stray branch. The lights brought endless torture as well, gently being pulled out of a cardboard box, in a mess of 10,000 knots. My brother performed the detangling surgery, plugged in the primary color balls, and crossed his fingers they would light. If not, John had to discover the culprit by unscrewing each bulb until the defect was found. And the fishing wire! Stretched around the top of the tree to ensure it wouldn’t tip over (see previous sentence regarding stand). No wonder so many used fake trees.
My parents gave us an ornament each year, specifically selected according to our activities. My Mom always said it was so we wouldn’t have to buy plain glass balls and tinsel when we had our own first trees. Nursey-Tursey, purchased the year my head was cracked open getting a drink from our bird bath, is still my favorite to hang. She is cardboard felt with an army green cape trimmed in gold and hangs, not by hook, but metal wire wrapped around the branch. There is the wooden girl on a horse representing the two years I was a rider, and the one designed by my grandmother, made of cinnamon sticks tied together with plaid ribbon and a cardinal sitting on top. My girl scout troop made hundreds to sell at our church bazaar. But my favorite is the tree topper, a gold star, brought from Ethiopia by my grandfather, PopPop. No matter how frazzled the family dynamic was by the challenging tree process, we could all pause and smile as my Dad climbed the step ladder and placed the magical symbol on top.
This morning, I
coerced asked my husband to help put stamps on our late Christmas cards which I had already photographed, designed, stuffed, and addressed while making soup for 18 of his coworkers and 12 teachers as well as decorate the whole house so we could share a moment of quiet during this crazy advent season. He asked if the writing on the stamp, a small yellow blur to him, went on the bottom or top. We looked at each other and laughed; we are getting old. We have succumbed to printing address labels because your an idiot if you think the handwritten one gets appreciated more valuing the efficiency and willingness of young ones to help. I remember many trips up 95 sitting in the back of a station wagon with my mother and her 5 X 7 address cards. The collection started with her marriage, each one showing a system capturing a wealth of information. Name, wedding gift given and when the thank you was written, address -many crossed out and rewritten multiple times, and dates of years a card was sent, circled if reciprocated. Of course, many of the names were familiar but I loved coming across the ones I did not know, asking to be told of a past of which I was not part. They represent a time in my parents lives when they were fresh, two east coast preppies living in Monterey, CA. They walked to the corner of their block and watched people on the streets for entertainment. There was one friend, native to my mother’s new world, who would not go out when it rained. My Mother did not grasp the logic of a cancelled lunch until her friend explained it only rains once a month in SoCal so why risk messing up a hairstyle? The place where my toe-head brother would ride in the grocery cart, pointing to women with stripped hair, and say: “look Mommy, they want to look like me”. As the miles ticked by, our stack grew smaller and we began to believe the cards would be mailed on time. Occasionally her eyes would well with tears and I would demand why she was sad at a time that only means happiness and excitement to a child. I now understand.
My own address labels show the fragility of life. Some joyfully add a new last name or another child to the family. But some are edited in sadness. The removal of a husband’s name who walked out last week. Not knowing where to send my college roomie’s card because her 43 year old husband has cancer and no longer qualifies for the clinical trial after a stroke two days ago. The total inappropriateness of excluding a friend’s partner because I don’t know his last name though they have been together for ten years. Removal of the last relative in Camden who sold the family homestead last summer. And the benign removal of names or addresses of those we just don’t keep up with anymore.
It is almost a year since the heart attack. As we sit together, I silently reflect on how far we have come and yet. We still make each other crazy. We struggle over money and dreams and goals and ego and words and time and logistics and family and stress and a new refrigerator and who does more and who loves more and the leaky basement that needs to be converted to a teen room that will never be converted to a teen room and how the heart attack happened to us all. One child is in therapy, learning to process emotions and fear and math and all the other parts of growing up after experiencing a momentous event usually reserved for adults. And the other two truck along but carry a hole in their hearts of what may be. For the first time I can see, we have a chance to fill that hole with good. With Love and Hope. Just like the little baby in a manger did so long ago. Advent doesn’t really feel about waiting. Love now.