Too often life is so cluttered with activity that we recall little of it. In a curious way we miss large sketches of our own lives if we do not take time to reflect, reintroduce sights, smells, and sounds, glean the gems, and discard the pain. Shorthand versions of past Christmases dance fleetingly through my memory, evoking a range of emotions. I remember having difficulty mustering surprise and suppressing guilt when opening a gift for the second time on Christmas Day. The joy and fascination of the original find could not be shared and was therefore shattered. I had ruined my own Christmas and learned a great lesson.
Christmas is a time to bunch up and chatter, get and give a warm caress and not fault loitering. One Christmas stands out from the rest in my mind's eye. Another learning experience, one more gem decorating the tree of my life.
It has been months since I had been back to my childhood home, an eight hour drive from the stresses of our business, the raising of three children, and the chores of the farm. The business was open six days a week, the sheep and eattic had to be fed twice a day, and the kids were restless for warm spring days. Going "home" was relaxing. My brother's and sister's families lived close to the folks. The cousins entertaind themselves for hours and I relaxed and ate the blackberry pie mom always cooked just for me.
My mind had painted lots of "warm fuzzies" as we drove up the narrow switchbacks to the home of the "cliff dwellers" (a name given the home place by my flatland in-laws). There were soon hugs all around Ss we moved from the kitchen door, which the family always used, to the living room. The warm paneling Dad had installed, the hardwood floors Dad had laid covered by the plush area rug, the beautiful granite fireplace Dad had built from stones we had collected on family camping trips to the mountains—all just as I had remembered. Familiar sights were disturbed by mom's laughter. "What is that?"
"That is the Christmas tree. I found it and put it up myself," she said proudly.
"Mom!" I blurted.
She continued to laugh at the shock registered on all of our faces. The "Christmas tree" was the bones of some sad deciduous that had long since met its demise. It was sparsely decorated with Christmas balls and popcorn. A sorry sight for sore eyes. Mom was reveling in triumph. Dad, however, was not to be outdone. From beneath the tree came a gift wrapped with such flair that a kindergartener would have been hard pressed to duplicate.
Multiple patches of various Christmas wrap were wrapped and cornered. Various colored bows and ribbon over-adorned each color selection. He thrust it toward me, "Now tell me what type of person would wrap a gift like that?" "I don't know, Dad," I said bewildered. He laughed. "A program on the radio was saying that you could tell a person's personality type by the way they wrap gifts. I'd like them to decipher this one."
I was home and it was fun. It was always fun at home. Always the unexpected. Always the laughing. Always the blackberry pie. Always extra presents under the tree "from Jesus" for each of us (something extra Mom had wanted to give).
Perhaps it was the same year that my brother's annual Christmas treasure hunt, prepared for the cousin's entertainment, had ended in the barn with the last clue hidden in a calf's ear. Which of the cousins would be brave enough to distract the mother cow while another retrieved the last clue to where the treasures were hidden?
Mom died in 1988, but the gifts from Jesus are still found under the Christmas trees of three families who now make Christmas memories for another generation.
And the lesson learned from that Christmas long ago? It's not the tree, it's not the exquisitely wrapped gifts, it's the memories. Christmas memories. Make them. Share them. Bunch up and chatter. You'll be creating ornaments to hang on the tree of your life.