25 December 2006

A new 'First Christmas' for me, of sorts

Okay, so I'm not the biggest fan of the big hoopla that categorizes Christmas. Let me tell you why...and why Christmas holds a particular painful spot in my psyche.

For years, I've been a big fan of getting 'the Charlie Brown® Christmas tree'...namely, the littlest, scrawniest, saddest looking tree you can find and then decorating it up to the hilt. This dates back to me being just 6 years old and my father, who was in the fight of his life at the time, had been in and out of the hospital. My parents, totally overwhelmed and overworked with his new condition, had 'foregone' Christmas altogether. Until their only child...yours truly...saw a Christmas tree stand closing down on a fateful Eve night. They had 3 trees left, 2 of which we could not afford, but 1 we could get for free as it had already lost most of its needles. My Mama wanted a better one, my Father did not want to get out of the car even to look at my find. I, however, was in love from first sight. I realized many, many years later on that Dad's reluctance to take on something dying must have been a bit of a challenge in and of itself for him...especially since, unbeknownest to me, just three weeks earlier his doctors had given him just six months to live. Choosing a Christmas tree was on the very lowest of priorities to him, I am sure, let alone one that seemed to have no time left itself in which to thrive.

That small, pitiful tree was taken home and decorated with great care that night by Mama and me...and after a good soaking in some water and some prayers, lived on til the middle of January. Besides the tree, all I remember from that year is Dad looking so sick, yet brightening up when I unwrapped this Barbie® hairdressing model he had bought me. God love him, I never liked it but he never knew. But each day, long after the presents were opened and used, I would go stare in wonder at this little tree that could and how it just...shined...like some special, perhaps misplaced star, under all the tinsel and glaring, flashing lights. How I marvelled at just how perfect it looked in the living room of our mobile home, setting pretty, straight, and tall in its green rubber bucket, which sat upon some of the most God-awful orange-yellow shag carpeting ever conceived by man. My Mama, in her wisdom, knew how attached I had become to it and finally removed it when I was at school one day...otherwise, I'd probably kept it until it was literally twigs. That tree was my tree, in my eyes anyway.

My beloved father survived that holiday and luckily for me, many, many more holidays to come. Every time he was told his end was near, he would keep right on walking on with his life. Some years were better, for certain, but the Christmas of 1976 marked a turning point for both he and I. I would never see Christmas the same way as a child again, and he would never see Christmas as a healthy man again. As time marched on, Dad and I became a bit jaded to the whole holiday experience. He would always remember being so ill at that time, and I would always remember having to (what I thought was unfairly) sacrifice my presents so he could get medicine, go to appointments, miss work when he was too ill to go. When you're a child, you don't see 'the big picture', you instead focus on the 'me' close-ups of everything. As I began to understand what my father was fighting for and what he had sacrificed just to stay alive and still support us as the main breadwinner, his resentment and anxiety of the holiday season also transferred onto me. He would wonder how many more seasons he had in him, and I would wonder how we'd pay the bills (like so many Americans, astronomical medical expenses sunk my family's fortunes in very short time). Mama loved Christmas despite it all; Dad and I would just soldier through and nod and smile appropriately.

My father survived more than 20 years in his chronic, and albeit terminally, ill state. Amazingly, it will soon be 10 years since we've lost him. In all of the years since I've been out on my own, I've tried to honour that 'First Christmas' as my family calls it, complete with sad and discouraged little tree. Last year, in prep for my trip to Oz which commenced on 23 Dec, I bought the little tree pictured here and had it in place of a Charlie Brown® one, more out of concern as a fire hazard with my older furnace than as an op-out to tradition. This year, as I finally dug out the few Christmas decorations I do have, I ran across the tree again. And I've decided to put it out and guss it up as best I can.

I'm not 6 years old anymore, but I'll forever be his daughter. Christmas isn't about having it all, it's about appreciating what we can have when things are low. Manger or no, religious or atheist, we all have had the potentially bad memories of the holidays...yet what we actually do with them afterward determines how we will remember them in the years to come. It doesn't matter what the tree looks like, or even how many presents do or do not lie under the branches. What does matter is taking a look and remembrance of those we hold dear here and now...and what we also have lost. And it's equally important to know when, and how, to move on. It's time.

So this year, I have a new, albeit amateur and undersized tree and it glows at night with its equally miniature ornaments and stockings for Mama and me underneath. It's highlights are little Santas and reindeer I've found at thrift stores over the years, some hand blown glass ornaments from my trip to Egypt, and a newly painted green one with palm trees from my dear friend Richard (WR to the regular readers). While I obviously have no way of knowing what he would have suggested in its decoration, the very core of me 'tells' me that Dad would have very much approved. And for the first time since I was that child who begged him to take home a dying fir tree from Oologah, Oklahoma, I love this tree.


Richard said...

Zoe, I am continually amazed at your writing. It seems strange that a person who is so "all over the place" in conversations can be so focused and poignant when writing. Keep on writing, it helps keep me thinking.

Anonymous said...

Hey I use to live in oologah! Cy