22 December 2008

Mama and the trees - all fifty-six of them

I feel like telling a family story, for some reason.

For a variety of reasons, my mom neither had nor saw a Christmas Tree until 23 December 1938. On the 3rd, she had married the man who would be my father and she moved to his parents home.

On the 23rd, my grandfather, who never called mom anything other than sister, said "Sister, get your coat; we're going to town."

Grandpa bought lights and ornaments an a couple of presents, some ribbon candy and Christmas pillow candy (do they still make that stuff? The little white ones with orange stripes were my favourite) and some corn for popping.

Later that afternoon, grandpa sent my dad out into the woods to "bring home a Christmas tree." Mom and grandma popped corn and strung it on thread. When dad arrived with the tree, they decorated it. That was mama's first Christmas tree.

Mama told me that it was the prettiest thing she had ever seen and that she made a vow that every year her children would have a tree. Perhaps there would be nothing under it but a dime store toy (it was the depression, remember), but that there would always be a tree.

And there was for the next 56 years until she died. Papa had been dead ten years by then.

Every year mama made a big deal out of putting the tree up. She preferred it to go up just a few days before Christmas Day, but we kids usually won the discussion and the tree went up too early in Advent. And mama's prophecy was true - sometimes the dime store supplied our presents, but we never knew and it didn't matter to us.

When I was about 12 years old, I inherited the job of decorating the tree and the house. I'd spend far too long, but the tree had to be "just right." And each year, when it was finished and I'd cleaned up the war zone I created during the decorating, my dad would always say, "Mama, he did a good job; I think this is the prettiest yet." Mama would pass the comments on to me because for some reason, dad never gave me a compliment, to my face, about anything.

This year the treatments have really killed me off and I really am tired, but I have an SOS out to a friend who is coming over Tuesday to dig out my tree. It will only be one small three-foot tree this year, though, not one of the nine huge trees I have. There will be no other decorations this year.

I'll get out the box of special ornaments. Things from decades long past -- the snowman that was mom's ornament, the pink and blue 1950's tree birds that are my brothers' ornaments;. I remember the day we bought them at Kreisinger's mercantile and grocery store. There will be the caroler ornament my oldest oldest brother made in school in 1951 and the wee pine cone bird I made in kindergarten. And the wee pink pig, and the elephant given to me by Leona Kaiser of blessed memory.

As each ornament goes on the tree I'll remember each person and all the Christmas parades, shopping at Western Auto, candy canes, toy cars, Aggravation games, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer show year after year, and that Red Rider BB gun that actually shot sideways, and all the turkeys that helped make our Christmas Day celebration. (The birds, by the way.) And all the love--and all the love. I'll probably cry a little bit, too.

Like my friend Wayward said, "The tree is an old friend" of mine, too.

I'll thank God for blessing me with such a good mother and for the dysfunctional family in which I grew up, and for allowing my memory to be clear of those long ago days. And thank God that because of the wee bairn in the stable, I'll see them all again. That's the best Christmas present I ever received.

Today, enjoy "Alle Jahre Wieder" - it's for Frau Gwen Frank, my college German instructor, a woman whom I was privileged to call friend and who honoured me by allowing us to "Dutzen." Frau Frank died this year. I miss her, too. The clip a modern rendition and the scenes are from the Frankfurt Advent festival. The song captures the essence of this post, and in my opinion, what it's all about, year after year.
Alle Jahre Wieder -------- Every Year again
Kommt das Christuskind ---comes the Christ child
Auf die Erde nieder --------Down to earth
Wo wir Menschen sind. ---- Where we humans are.

Kehrt mit seinem Segen ---Sweeping in with His blessing
Ein in jedes Haus ----------One in every house
Geht auf allen Wegen ------Walks in every path
Mit uns ein und aus. -------With us in and out

Steht auch mir zu Seite ----Stands also at my side
Still und unerkannt --------Quietly and unrecognized
Dass es treu mich leite -----To guide me loyally
An der lieben Hand --------By his dear hand