As many families did, the Ware family always put up the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving and kept it up until January 1. After we kids were grown and out of the house, however, the tree got put up later and later, especially as Mother’s health declined. Always, though, we had a tree.
For years, Dad would go out and cut a tree down, so we had a great-smelling pine, albeit one seldom the perfect shape. That’s what the wall (or the corner) was for: disguising the bad side of a tree. We’d decorate it with bubble lights and big heavy Christmas lights, using the aluminum bulb shields from the early 1950s. (For all I know, those still exist in a storage barrel in the garage in Egan.)
Mother always had to flock the tree, too — so the search for canned snow went on, year after year, for her to accomplish that. I don’t remember when artificial trees replaced the real ones, but they were certainly more convenient.
As time passed, Mother accumulated any number of Christmas-related decorative items: a tiny bottle-brush tree (long since disappeared); a ceramic tree with tiny bulbs that worked when you plugged the tree in; a tiny metal structure with angels that revolved when you lit the small candles that went with it; all sorts of tablecloths and towels and an apron. And, of course, there was the Elf on the Shelf — three of them, actually, from the original incarnation. Those always got placed on the upright piano. After a few years of storing them (folded, at some point), the elves sort of lost their perkiness. After that (with our typical rather sarcastic family humor) these became known as “the dead elves.”
Once we were on our own, and after Kay married, we didn’t necessarily have Christmas at Christmas. It might fall a couple of weekends early. It might fall in the middle of the week. It just depended on when we could all get together.
Even after Mother died, we always had Christmas in Egan. The exception: the last Christmas that Phil was alive, 1995. That year we had Thanksgiving and Christmas in his room at M.D. Anderson in Houston. Somewhere I still have some of the tiny ornaments from that year, as well as the little artificial tree.
Later, when Dad was ill, we spent a couple of years where we had Christmas in the hospital. I always bought a little tree with lights, set it up, and announced that we were together, and it was Christmas even in a hospital. Dad always smiled.
After Dad died, that first Christmas was the beginning of the new Christmas tradition. By then, the new beach house was complete. This is our second Christmas at the beach house.
It doesn’t really matter where you are, not really. As long as you’re with loved ones, that’s what counts.
The holidays are bittersweet for so many of us as we grow older. Those who aren’t with us, the losses and disappointments that go with being adults — whatever the reasons might be, holidays often darken, morph into days to be endured. By this time of year, articles appear everywhere advising readers how to avoid depression.
Sometimes, our joy in the season simply disappears so gradually that we wake up one day and realize that we really don’t like Christmas. I know that for years I faked it, managing to get through the season because I was the one in charge of getting everything done.
Yet somehow the enjoyment has returned. I find that I enjoy the season again. I even look forward to decorating, though that might not happen until Christmas Eve (as this year, because that is when we’re first all together).
And, I confess, I listen to Christmas music. Not until after Thanksgiving, though, not of my own volition. My iPod has a Christmas playlist that grows every year. My choice of Christmas music is, shall we say, eclectic, to say the least. Certainly there are the traditional albums — those of sacred music, of classics by Pavorotti and the three tenors. And by the Rat Pack. By Chris Isaac, and Elvis, and Jimmy Buffett and Michael Buble. One-hit wonders like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” And this year’s addition to the playlist: “Duck the Halls,” by the now-infamous Robertson clan of Duck Dynasty fame.
There are presents yet to be wrapped (at least I’m through shopping). The tree is up ready for decorations. Strings of lights need to be put on the deck railing outside. I even have lights to wrap around the front line of pilings.
Oh, and because we’re at Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula, we need to buy fireworks and sparklers — hey, it’s the South. We like to play with fire. And it’s legal here on Bolivar.
As the Dr. Who marathon plays on, setting us up for tomorrow night’s long-awaited Dr. Who special where Matt Smith regenerates into Peter Capaldi, we are all here, The refrigerator is jammed with food. Soon we’ll trim the tree.
It’s a season to pause and remember our loved ones, here and absent. The Doctor’s digital regeneration might remind some of us of a different and more significant regeneration promised centuries ago.
From the Warehouse Too to your houses, my friends, Merry Christmas with lots of love and hugs.