It was late in the summer of my parents’ lives that I was born into a family with three children well on their way to being grown and done with home.
Life had been a struggle for Mama and Daddy en route to escaping completely the poverty of their Appalachian childhoods. They were married for 12 years before they owned their first lamp — I have and cherish that piece of earthly gain — which was acquired through the generosity of a church congregation that pooled its money and bought it for them.
By the time I arrived, life had smoothed quite a bit for my parents who were earnest, hard-working and steady. For $1,000 in the 1950s, Daddy purchased seven acres of land with a small river that ran through it and a brooking stream that ebbed sweetly and gently through the pasture. He, with the help of friends, built a small, sturdy brick house with concrete porches and walls, determined it would last the test of time and Southern humidity. It has.
He demanded the front door be wide enough to bring a casket through, for in those days rural Southerners practiced bringing home their dearly departed to sit up with the dead. Only one casket ever entered that door and, as irony would have it, it was so small it would have fit through any door. I was 5 when my infant 6-month-old nephew died of instant pneumonia.
In front of the large picture window that Daddy had placed in the living room, the small blue casket was placed with sprays of flowers and potted plants placed all around it. It was early January when the sadness pushed its way into our lives. Only 10 days earlier, the Christmas tree had set where the baby lay in repose.
The picture window. That is the key to this story of Christmas for it was there our Christmas tree was placed, lights — always the big bulb, multicolored lights — glimmering brightly to show our home was celebrating Christmas. By the time I was 8 or so, Mama was tired and completely unenthused about any additional work outside of the normal care and feeding of her family. I understand. She still managed to put up the Christmas tree but sometimes it was only a week before Christmas before it went up.
Little brought me more joy than our Christmas tree. I remember many times I smiled while looking at it from the den where I watched television or passing through the living room. Though all my trees now (we put up three) have white lights, I wish I had one like that tree back then with its big, colored lights and tinseled icicles.
When I was 9, I took over the Christmas tree to get it up as soon as Thanksgiving ended so we could enjoy it for a month. Mama would set the tree in the stand — sometimes a live one that we cut down on our property — then I would decorate it. I would continue the tradition until I was graduated from college and living hundreds of miles away.
My love for Christmas trees continues. We have one in the bay window of the kitchen, one in the foyer at the bottom of the staircase and one in our bedroom.
“That tree is so great that it should have its own website,” Tink said about the bedroom tree that is tall and laden heavily with silver and iridescent ornaments. It glistens like a diamond.
“It is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “Nothing compares.”
His grin grows wide when he sees me drag the ornament boxes down from the attic.
“Yay! The Christmas tree.”
As in the days of my childhood, I put it up early. The day after Halloween, as a matter of fact.
And I still smile at the sweet joy of a Christmas tree.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.