Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Mom and Dad aren't putting up a Christmas tree this year. I offered to put it up, take it down, and clean up any mess. They don't want it.

Neither Mom nor Dad ever had a tree growing up. Their folks were too poor or too practical or maybe just not sentimental enough. For my sister's first Christmas, Mom was living with her parents while Dad was in the Marines. She bought a box of ornaments and a tree, her own first Christmas tree as well as her daughter's.

Our childhood Christmases were magical. Mom baked and fixed and fussed. We cut down a tree together each year and put it up while we sang carols. We painted sugar cookies and made fudge. Dad popped popcorn and roasted almonds in the fireplace.  Even as a little kid, I understood how blessed we were even though we didn't have much money.

I swear to you: I am not making this up. One year we spray-painted the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey and turned it into a golden sleigh for a Santa we made out of Styrofoam balls. We made a lake out of aluminum foil and little people out of marshmallows. We gave them hats made of crimson peau de soie (French for "silk of skin") left over from the Christmas dress Mom made for Debbie. We arranged lights around the edges of our snowy little town and left it up until the marshmallow people shriveled into senior citizens.

Daddy wrapped all his presents for Mom in matching paper. He arranged them under the tree and twined lights around them in their own special display. The packages never contained anything more exotic than a small blue bottle of Evening in Paris cologne or a dish from the dime store, but the care Dad took with Mom's gifts made them glow.

Santa did not just leave gifts: He created tableaus. The year Santa brought my brother a Boy Scout mess kit, he hung the pot on a tripod over logs laid out for a campfire. The year Santa brought a horse (yes, a horse), he left a saddle and bridle on hay bales in the living room floor. Handsome, the horse, had to wait outside. 

One year Santa brought ice skates for everyone. Mom packed a picnic and a cast iron skillet into a basket. We all skated on the creek until we were too cold to move and then huddled around the grill while Mom fried Spam for Spam-and-cheese sandwiches. She wore a white synthetic fur hat dotted with iridescent paillettes that sparkled in the sunshine. Laughing and twirling, she was the most beautiful sight in the world.  

I've been a lot of places since that day, from the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center to Kimo's in Lahaina and hundreds of places in between. Nothing I've eaten anywhere has tasted better than a grilled Spam sandwich and steaming hot Campbell's tomato soup from a chipped brown coffee mug at a roadside park in the Ozark Mountains.

I understand why Mom and Dad didn't want a tree this year, but it breaks my heart. It's just another inevitable step on a path I don't want to travel. We've been to the mountains. Guess now it's time for the valleys.


BONNIE K said...

Fun memories to read about, altho I agree it's kind of sad that they're done with a tree. A grilled spam sandwich - quite a visual!

Amber said...

Wow. How beautiful that all sounds. This inspires me to make our kids have memories like this.


Deb Shucka said...

What amazing stories! Stories that are your life. It's so easy to see where your creativity comes from.

It's interesting that parents have come full circle with the tree (and I'm sure in so many other ways as well). Even without the tree, I know you'll help them find the love and light in this holiday. Love to you all.

Jess said...

Great stories. :) Trees are fun, and I did grow having one, but have only had my own once in my adult life (with Tracy...). I don't think you need a tree to have a very sweet Christmas. Sometimes simplifying is good too (I may decorate a plant this week...).

I hope you have a wonderful time with your sweet parents and family. :) Much love.

Mercurious said...

Much to catch up on. I've not had internet or email or phone access for much of the last two weeks.

Great post today, though this must be pretty hard for you.

Steph said...

Beauty. Sheer, yet tearful, beauty.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

"It's just another inevitable step on a path I don't want to travel. We've been to the mountains. Guess now it's time for the valleys."

Oh, Jerri, COL.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous story! I wish I had Christmas memories like that ... no wonder it makes you sad to see them not want to put up a tree. You had some serious magic moments as a child.