Sunday, December 11, 2011

THE LAST REMAINING CHRISTMAS GIFT--a personal story in sepia tones

This post was originally written in the form of a letter and I will leave it in its original form except for the signature.

Dear Karen,

It is cold and clear here as I write in the pre-dawn. Rascal-the-dog came into my bedroom at 06:00 and threw up loudly, waking me. I went back to sleep for a while, but awakened, after a few snores in the stilldark, thinking about Christmas.

It is real winter here, not just chilly late fall nonsense. The heavy snow has yet to arrive, but there is a dusting on the ground. The weather is frankly December-cold and not just November-testing.

Triggered by the snow and cold, unbidden but not completely unwelcome, I feel Christmas coming in my mind, even more quickly than it is coming on the calendar. Christmas, much against my atheistic will, finds a special place in my memory. I did not have a bad childhood, mostly, despite what you and my analyst think, and I do remember some fine fine Christmases--Christmases rivaling those served up by Dickens and even 1950's Coca Cola ads. They are all in my memory now, washed clean of all anxiety and negativity in the river of time. And decorated like a Christmas tree with adornments of pure goodness and magical light... Human memory is such a fickle and imprecise device, serving up what the psyche needs most at a given time and withholding unnecessary complications. So it is with my memories of Christmas.

My memories, tinged as they are with wistful sepia emotions, play themselves out as movies in my most visual mind. The movies take place in my childhood living room, with the Christmas tree set like a dazzling green jewel between the two ugly brown neocolonial arm chairs at the north end. Our family always had the best tree in the neighborhood. My father told me so and, as a child, I had no reason to doubt him. He mocked trees decorated by families lacking the fastidiousness necessary to properly dress a naked Fraser Fir, which species my father considered the only "real" Christmas tree, scoffing at people who bought scraggly Scotch Pines. He mocked and scoffed a lot as he decorated the tree every December 19, his birthday, which signaled the beginning of the holiday season for us in those days. Christmas did not begin the day after Hallowe'en, as it does now at Walmart.

His scoffing began where the decorating began, with the hanging of the lights. He scoffed at people who used those fat ugly lights that were rigged in parallel and only went out one at time, instead of the whole string going out as did our series-wired, but more aesthetically pleasing lights. Our series-wired lights were superior not only in that they were more slender , but had a subtly twisted shape, that more closely resembled a real flame and were connected to one another by only one slender green wire and not the two braided wires of the fat ugly parallel-wired light sets. He individually clipped each light bulb to the end of a branch in a perfectly upright position. "You never saw a candle flame burning sideways; did you?" and each strand of tinsel, which was made of a toxic blend of lead and tin, and which we carefully saved from year to year in a bid to economize, had to hang freely from a single branch and not touch a lower branch. "You never saw an icicle hang sideways; did you?" And two red balls or two green balls never hung thoughtlessly next to each other on our tree My father distributed the colors and sizes in a seemingly random, but archly conceived, pattern.

My mother and I were not excluded from the decorating process, but we did not hold design credentials that sufficiently impressed my fastidious father. Our initial role was to do exactly what he told us to do, until the telling become harder than the doing for my father, and my father gently banished us to the sofa to watch in guilty exile as he did the rest of the decorating by himself. It happened every year. We knew we were not worthy to decorate the tree and our just “punishment” was to watch from the sofa, inwardly sighing in relief, as my father performed the intricate solo ballet of gilding the Fraser Fir lilly. 

My father was not a harsh man, nor the least bit selfish. He simply believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well. At the end of his “performance”, he charitably let me hang my two favorite ornaments on the tree all by myself, anywhere I chose. I always hung them low and in the front, so I could lie on my stomach with my head in my hands propped on my elbows and gaze at them endlessly as they reflected the macrocosm of the magical tree in the shiny microcosms of their polished surfaces. I believe it was in gazing at these ornaments as a child that I got my first glimpse of the aeternal.

I can only remember two material presents I received at Christmas as a child, and they are long gone from the inventory of things I now possess. Even the memory of those two particular things I do still remember no longer enchants me. The real Christmas gift, I now realize and the one I will always remember is my father's gift to me, given in his execution of his tree decorating ethic and how his honoring that ethic so faithfully and well taught me to respect the work I do and to do only work I respect. That gift will still be with me this year and will be with me on my last Christmas on this earth—truly a gift of the eternal.

May each and every one of you have had the fortune to have received a lasting gift from one of your Christmases past or may you be  in line to get one this year.  Better yet, give this kind of lasting gift to someone you love.


Jim Hockings

1 comment:

  1. Your story is written with such feeling that the reader is immersed in your cherished memory. This was an inspiring message for your readers. Thank you.