Prepare the Way, Now

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.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sue Avery on December 13, 2014 at 11:56 am

    This post is so special. I can feel the depth of your pain, happiness and hopefulness. Brought tears to my eyes. You have such a gift for transparency in your writing. Thank You.


  2. Posted by Allison K Atkinson on December 13, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    This time I am moved beyond words, until I realize I can’t not tell what I am thinking! I miss my parents in the beginning, myself in the middle and my children three quarters of the way through…and then I take the message you were leading me to and I am smiling. Melanie, this was as good as an Anna Quindlen back page essay in Newsweek. Maybe a little different because we know the characters a little. But I heard your voice in my heart of hearts. Thanks for this perfect Advent message.


  3. very special – glad you found the moments to express your thoughts…love Mom


  4. Posted by maryholly on December 13, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Oh Melanie! What an entry! I laughed at Cindi’s organization! Would anyone that knows her be surprised? However, I don’t think she could have ever accomplished what she has without the organization. 

    The issue of keeping up with those in our lives only gets worse, luckily not always in an awful way. (My children’s friends are still getting married and babies are showing up everywhere!) You and I both had stable childhoods, so we’ve had to learn about change as we have gone along. I don’t know that I understood as a child just how much change, good and bad, would be a part of the process of growing up. I was 47 and she 48 when I had my first experience of losing a good friend. The perspective of growing older and old took on a new meaning.

    Love, joy, loss and pain are shared by all of God’s creatures. Marriage and family add on a wonderful dimension but the threat of loss is always there. Because of his heart attack, you (and he), had to face the possibility of real loss at an early age. The year before was the trauma of losing your (good?)friend suddenly. Maybe PTSD happens at some point. Life is not always easy but God, who is always with you and whose presence is felt especially during difficult times, gets you through to the other side.

    At 69, I feel blessed that I can honestly say, no matter the struggles, I am a better person now because of love given and love received. Hang in there. God bless you and your family.

    Merry Christmas!

    Mary Holly

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone


  5. Posted by ashley on December 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I love this entry, Mel. It’s that time of year to be reflective and feel all of the pain, regret, fear, nostalgia, hope and joy that life brings–and let it wash all over us again. I’ve already teared up 5 times!! Old wounds might heal, but the scar is still there. At the same time, I’ve discovered a level of joy and comfort that I didn’t know existed. At the end of the day, it’s family and friends and whatever faith I’ve got that gets me through. And maybe a couple of prescription pills and a glass or two of wine 😉

    Thanks for sharing. I love hearing about your family.

    Together in spirit,


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