the mystery in misty memories

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved
and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour
because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones,
vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud,
formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(a misty rising of the superman / Julie Cook / 2017)

Whispers slip out between scented branches…
caught lingering between the twinkling lights.

Each bauble, each ball, each special tangible memory calls out from ages past…
transporting the now to the then.

Broken, chipped, bent or faded…it matters not–
the flood of what once was cascades down upon the unexpected.

Voices long since silenced are suddenly as clear as a bell…
as a clock chimes upon a stocking draped mantle.

Each reopened box, each unearthed trinket,
dusty and now worse for the wear from the years of in and out,
dangles precariously on a needle encrusted branch…
bridging both space and time…yet caught between a sea of red and green.

A story line begins to unravel….as a tale of love, loss and even hope sits
arranged ever just so, inviting all to come behold.

For good or bad, we begin again…
Carrying on with and without…
and if we’re lucky, year in and year out…
As a Mystery breaks through the barriers of both life and death.

“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty.
A human life is worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery.
We retain the child in us to the extent that we honor the mystery.
Therefore, children have open, wide-awake eyes,
because they know that they are surrounded by the mystery.
They are not yet finished with this world;
they still don’t know how to struggle along and avoid the mystery, as we do.
We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary
of our being,
because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal,
and that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery…
Living without mystery means knowing nothing of the mystery of our own life,
nothing of the mystery of another person,
nothing of the mystery of the world;
it means passing over our own hidden qualities and those of others and the world.
It means remaining on the surface,
taking the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated
and exploited, and not going beyond the world of calculation and exploitation.
Living without mystery means not seeing the crucial processes of
life at all and even denying them.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Burn, Burning, Burned. . .out!

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Jack London

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(one of the culprits on the strands of light / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(the burned out strands in the trash / Julie Cook / 2014)

The presents are wrapped, finally, and the stockings are hung—meaning— what you see is it. . .as in the decorations you see are as far as it goes–So just tell me it looks nice and lets move on. . .
The store is still busy as both time and people seem to keep coming as I’m running on fumes.
So imagine my chagrin when I came home one evening from working the holiday madness, aka retail, plugged in the tree and. . . nothing.
As in no lights.
As in a dark tree.

WHAT?

Too tired to scream, I could be heard mumbling to myself, “it figures”
Yet the girl scout in me knew there had to be some sort of remedy I could rig.
Grabbing two extension cords I began digging ever so gently through a well decorated 10 foot tree in search of the ends of the light cords I had pushed back in the branches to hide their unsightliness during the decoration ritual.
Finding the ends I began unplugging and replugging in an effort to see which cord would light and which would not.

As miracles would have it, I didn’t have to climb around all over the tree, discovering which cord was the culprit with very little wasted time or effort. . . ahhhh.
All I needed to do was to thread one extension cord up through the tree in order to plug in the good cords and run the other extension cords up to the other working cords.

Voila, a mostly lit tree with a dark mid-section—but at this point, I’ll take what I can get.

Getting home late again Thursday evening I scrambled out of the car to a darkened front porch in order to plug the lights in. . .the very ones I labored putting up around the front of the house on that blasted day known as “black friday”. As it was dark and cold, I was hurrying to get the show on the road so I could hurry up and make supper, I plugged in all the extension cords when I suddenly noticed an entire chunk of lights had burned out on the right side of the porch railing.
UGH!!!!
Great.
Now the house looks lopsided.
Clamoring around in the dark, I could be heard telling the dark of night, the lights that worked, the dead lights and anything else that was perhaps wandering around in the dark that “by God, I decorate this freaking house once a year, and I am bound and determined, as God is my witness, to light things up, and light I shall. . .”
Very Scarlet O’Hara you know—It’s a southern thing.

Fast forward to this morning.
As my oh so tired and exhausted husband headed out the door, making his way to the store to put in another solid day of making holiday cheer, aka our work in retail, I made my way to Home Depot. I had told him that I was going to go pick up some more lights before heading to the store to help (sell, wrap, greet, smile, and make merry, and curse my aching feet).
“Why in the world would you go buy new lights with only a few days left in Christmas?” he mumbled heading out the door.
“Because by gosh, as God is my witness, I decorated this house and I won’t have it half lit up as in half a&$. . .
He could be seen rolling his eyes as he got in his truck because at this point, he is so over Christmas. Plus I think he finds my Scarlet O’Hara impersonation a bit melodramatic.

Arriving at Home Depot, the place that saw my credit information stollen in the data breach they suffered earlier this year. . .as my bank account was accosted by some thieves in south Georgia, Illinois and Indiana that was luckily caught early enough before any real damage occured, I was ready to do business again, risking my bank account and identity all in the name of holiday lights.

Do you know how sad the shelves holding the holiday decor look right about now at a massive home improvement center? Kind of like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. . .empty and sparse with a few remaining boxes which look as if they’d been opened, pilfered through, stuffed back shut and left for any poor sucker who happened to come by at the 11th hour in need—such as myself.

There were twinkling warm mini lights, snowflakes, giant icicles, round colored balls, and the very retro looking giant colored lights. . .those monstrosity lights of my childhood—-the ones I hated—so tacky and garish.

I grabbed a couple of remaining boxes that had obviously been opened and hoped for the best.
Kind of the same mindset I felt when I handed the cashier my debit card–thinking here goes nothing, again, or maybe here goes everything I own again, sort of feeling.

Back home, I open up the boxes, yanking out a waded up tangled mess of lights. Just as I figured—someone either returned these puppies or either pulled them out taking a gander before stuffing them back in the box deciding they weren’t for them. Smoothing and pulling as best I could, I stretched the cord along the railing. I proceeded with 3 more boxes. As they all seemed to work, I felt a sense of relief—until the one strand filling in the area of my original area of contention began blinking.

WHAT?

The strand was also white, my other strands are green.
AGGGGHHHH!!!
Making the sound Homer Simpson makes, I see that I have all constant green wire shining lights except for a lone white wire strand that now “twinkles”—-
“REALLY?!” I am now heard shouting to all birds and any passing cars.
“Well, too bad!!!” I’m heard to exclaim to the squirrels.
I have lights, who but the raccoons and possums will notice the twinkling—any passing cars will be driving too fast but to merely briefly “ooooo” at the sight of lights as they move like a bat out of hell down the road past the house as no one drives up and down our road paying any attention to posted speed limits, yellow lines or much else for that matter, so who cares if one batch is now twinkling??!!

“By God”, I exclaim, I have lights and lights I shall!!
Makes no never mind anyway as the lights will just be coming down in less than a week.
“This is Christmas by George and we will make merry!!!”

The moral of the story you ask. . .besides being wary of using debit cards now a days anywhere or buying obviously previously opened boxes. . .
We need to be mindful that everyone gets a bit burned out this time of year, even the kids–from the constant going here, there and yon, to the constant shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, working, caroling– to the high expectations, the hopes, the dreams, the let downs and disappointments. . .

At first it’s just the burned out holiday lights, then the next thing you know you’re shooting the neighbors giant inflatable Frosty the snowman with a BB gun. . .
It won’t do any of us, or those around us, any good letting ourselves get all worked up in a tizzy. . .it’s best to simply let go and go on— moving forward and making “Merry” the best way we know how. . .

Now where in the h*!l is that pitcher of eggnog—you know the one. . .was that one cup of rum and one cup of bourbon per one quart of eggnog or was it two quarts of nog. . .I think I like the odds with one quart and equal ratios!!

Merry Christmas!!!

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The stories as told by a tree

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
T.S. Eliot

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(ariel view looking down on the tree and boxes of ornaments / Julie Cook / 2013)

I hope everyone had a very nice Christmas–despite the wicked weather and UPS delays. . .

It seems that life here was so hectic leading up to Christmas Day that my memory of it all is now but a mere blur. People came, they ate, they slept, they ate, they exchanged gifts, they ate some more—then they departed. Now more people are coming today. . . where there will be, no doubt, more eating, sleeping, eating, gift giving, eating, shopping, football, eating, celebrating, eating, then departing sometime next week. Whew!

In between the shifts of company coming and going, I have worked feverishly to purge my house of Christmas. My mother always said you couldn’t carry anything from the old year into the new year so all Christmas decorations–the tree, the lights, etc, must be down and packed away all before New Year’s eve.

I worked like a crazy person on “Boxing Day”–boxing up, packing away, hauling up and down steps, carrying out to the trash.. . yet another Christmas. As “my people” never seem to be home when it’s time to decorate or time to take down, I become a one woman demolition team. It also doesn’t help that I really don’t like my world being turned upside down with the rearranging, moving, adding and taking away which results from decorating for a holiday. I like my world just so.

As it came time for me to dismantle the tree (and yes, our’s is a live tree), I couldn’t help feeling a bit wistful as well as somewhat nostalgic–even as I lugged all of the ornaments boxes, once again, out of the attic, spreading them out all over the floor. I’m not one of those people who creates a “themed” tree. Our tree is a hodge lodge tree full of ornaments dating back to a sunday school class in 1963 when I was a little girl—the ornaments create a bit of a time-line, moving forward through college, on to the ornaments of the newly married followed by the ornaments of our son as a baby then as a little boy coming to now, with an engaged couple ornament. There are the ornaments from various travels and those of various countries. There are the ornaments from my students throughout the years and the cherished ornaments from friends. . .

It seems each ornament has a story. There is the nutcracker ornament my dad gave me shortly after mother died. I had collected nutcrackers when I was a young girl as Santa would bring me a beautifully painted German nutcracker each Christmas– Dad carried on the tradition when I was older by giving me a nutcracker ornament.

I found myself a little sad yesterday as I reached for my nutcracker ornament, gently lifting him from the tree then tenderly placing him in his designated place in the ornament box— thinking about Dad when he actually “thought”–unlike Christmas Day this year when he was just a shell of his former self as my stepmother recounted trough tears the ordeal of dad having lost the car keys this past week—thankfully no, he’s no longer driving–but hence the debacle of his having lost the keys that he doesn’t even use. . .

There are the ornaments that were a part of the trees from throughout my childhood. They are, to me, mother’s ornaments which now tie a piece of her to my own trees and of my life today. There are her little porcelain British regiment soldiers whose heads I have to glue back on year after year. There are even the little glass santa snowmen with the goggly eyes that were actually my grandmothers–and the painted easter eggs that belonged to my other grandmother.

There are the ornaments that various students have given me over the years. As I remove each ornament, I can remember each student as if I’m suddenly being transported to the very spot in the classroom or office when I first opened the gaily wrapped package each student proudly presented. It’s not as common for high schoolers to give their teachers gifts–therefore making each received present truly special and one of a kind. I can recall each face as I gently lift the various balls and figures from the tree.

There are the nativity scene ornaments which my godparents gave me when I was in high school. I cherished those ornaments all those many years ago, so proud that they had thought of me. He was the dean of a massive Episcopal Cathedral so for me to have received such a remembrance was always extra special.

There is the collection of the porcelain angels, with one being what a friend gave me following the death of my brother. There are the beautifully fragile glass Santas, the hand carved birds from Vermont. . .and there are the two tongue depressors turned snowmen that at first glance look quite cheap and homemade and yet they tell quite a story.

I actually first came about my life here in Carrollton by way of another teacher who, at the time, I did not know. She had decided to call it quits mid year in 1982. She was the art teacher of the local high school here and was married to one of the history teachers. She had decided to leave mid year in order to go back to school at the University of Georgia to further her degree. I was the young, freshly graduated, college kid from Atlanta who was hired as the replacement. Eventually I would make the school and the community my home and my life for 31 years.

When her two sons were little boys she was the type of mom who believed that the boys should make their own spending money even at the ripe old age of 7. One Christmas the youngest boy wanted some lego kits. In order to make some spending money she had him make Christmas ornaments. After school, one afternoon, she escorted him from classroom to classroom selling his tongue depressor snowmen. I felt rather sorry for him as he was so quiet and shy, whereas she was rather flamboyant and quite “artsy”— I bought 2 at a $1.00 a piece.

Several years following the sale of snowmen, she was diagnosed with cancer. She raged a valiant fight, but the battle proved too much. She departed this life leaving behind her then teenaged sons and their dad, a very distraught husband and father. A couple of years ago, just prior to my retiring, I finally told my colleague, her widowed husband, the story of the tongue depressors and how, to now honor his wife, each year I place the snowmen in a prominent position on our tree. With tears flowing down his face, he simply hugged me. That seems like such a long time ago.

Each year as I put up the tree, only to be followed by the taking down of the tree, I am constantly reminded of what was—for happy or sad. I am glad to have a tree that tells a story—and delightfully it is a continuous story. There is indeed a beginning, but thankfully, there is no end as it is a constant continuum–with each year building upon the previous year.

Throughout the long year, from Christmas to Christmas, there are adventures that usually witness the procuring of some new trinket intended for a future tree. These mementos are squirreled away until the designated time when they are pulled out of drawers and cabinets, gently unpacked and placed alongside their fellow trinkets, doodads, figures and balls— adding to the continued story of a single family who travels along together on the continuum of a life, for good or bad, inextricably linked forever by a life forged by those who went before us and only to be continued by those who follow suit. The story of a family, as told by a tree. . .