The stories as told by a tree

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


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

This is a post I wrote the first year I had started blogging.
It was actually written the day after Christmas but I think the sentiment
is still very much worth sharing and most timely…as I think such thoughts might
be best remembered now instead of in a few days when things are being packed
up and put away…remembered as we stand on the cusp of a most joyous
and sacred time.

I am amazed at how much our lives have changed in these few short years since
this post…
changed for both sad and joyous…
There have been deaths, loss, gains, marriage, babies…
the very visible continuum of just one family.

It is my wish for all of us that we may each remember how precious our
lives are and of how important it is to spend the allotted time given to each
of us wisely and lovingly…
Please enjoy….
And I wish for each of you a very Merry Christmas!

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 some time 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 ornament boxes, once again, out of the attic–
spreading them out all over the floor. No wonder they call it boxing day…not really
but it works for me.

I’m not one of those people who creates a “themed” tree.
Our tree is a hodgepodge 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 timeline, 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 through 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 googly eyes that were actually
my grandmothers–then there are 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 which in turn
makes 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—–all 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. . .

On the first day of Christmas….blah, blah, blah…..

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
a drunk opossum in a box!”

Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge


(mother’s late circa 1950’s mistletoe ball / Julie Cook / 2017)

See this garish, yet oh so festive green, red and white bedecked ball of plastic??

This ball of plastic, aka mistletoe, has been a part of every Christmas of mine since
I began having the capacity to actually remember memories…..

Every year, sometime in December, Mother would haul down the boxes of Christmas
ornaments and lights from our attic.
Down came the stuffed Coca Cola Santa who would sit on the fireplace hearth.
Down came our stockings knitted by my aunt.
Down came all manner of bauble and ball.

The wooden beamed, insulated tomb which housed our poor ornaments,
as they would spend 11 months out of the year, was
in this wizened sense of hindsight,
a really dumb place to keep real keepsakes….

You know how hot it gets in Georgia in the summers right??

So is it any wonder as to why those festive little dough ornaments
we made in kindergarten didn’t much survive past grade school…???
all before succumbing to the elements and reverting back to their powdery,
albeit now colorful, days of floury finery….???

Mother would pull down that wooden drop down hatch in the middle of our
hallway ceiling, the one with the sad little raveling cord and the plastic knob
at the end, as she’d precariously jiggle the pull down rickety wooden ladder
attached to said little pull down hatch, as I was instructed to hold the ladder
very still while she maneuvered boxes both up and down.

I now marvel at how Mother never fell and broke her neck.

Ceremoniously Mother would pull down this and that box…
She’d survey the contents determining the survivors and discarding the broken.

And each year she’d head to the kitchen in order to literally tack up that
plastic ball of mistletoe over our back door,
as in with a thumb tack in the door frame.

I always imagined being kissed under that mistletoe…
because isn’t that what you’re suppose to do when you happen past a boy
under some mistletoe…????
You get kissed by someone magical and special under that mistletoe???

And I always wanted it to be someone other than my dad’s peck on the cheek
each evening when he’d return home from work throughout the holidays….

I wanted a kiss, a real kiss from a real boy…one day…much like something Prince
Charming might offer….
Yet what I knew of real kisses back then, eludes me now… but I
certainly thought it was something every young girl would dream of…..

Fast forward about 50 years….

So there I was Sunday night, unpacking our own boxes of Christmas treasures
and memories, most of which oddly spend their 11 months out of the year in a very
hot Georgia attic (as some lessons are hard learned)… when low and behold,
what did my wandering eyes behold….but that same ball of mistletoe with
Mother’s tack still stuck on the strand.

Proudly holding up my childhood relic as if it were some trophy fish dangling from
a stringer, I call for my husband to see my prize….
to see if he remembered where my plastic treasure came from and as to its
magical importance….

As I was all ready for my sentimental walk down memory lane,
full of a cherished warm glow from recalling those oh so happy days gone by,
all the while anticipating that long awaited kiss from my very own prince charming…

He looks over in my direction, away from the football game, then practically screams—-
“OH MY GOSH!!
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T SEND THAT WITH ME TO THE STORE….CAN YOU IMAGINE THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT CRIES IF I HUNG THAT UP IN THE STORE?????????!!!!!!!!!

And so goes another cherished memory right out the window….gone to our overtly and
off its freaking rocker society….

Sigh…..

And so on that note…I figured since we’ve all probably been taking ourselves just
a wee bit too seriously as of late—-
I wanted to share a story I read yesterday out of the News….
a story coming out of Fort Walton, FL….

It seems that a possum…of which you must know I do find cute and always have, as
I hold a soft spot open in my heart for these poster children of all things
roadkill ever since I can remember….

It seems a possum found its way into a Liquor store in Fort Walton.
Or actually found its way into the ceiling of the building.
Yet it appears that this possum fell out of the ceiling….
Falling onto some bottles of whiskey—of which broke.

When the proprietor of the store opened up the following morning,
imagine the surprise of finding a staggering, foaming at the mouth and
obviously very drunk….possum…
a possum who just so happened to have lapped up all that spilt liquor.

So the kind and caring folks from the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge had to come get
the staggering and very sloppy drunk marsupial.
They in turn had to give the sot possum a bag of IV fluids to flush the alcohol from its system.

Once the hangover had passed and the possum had sobered up,
it was released back into the woods…as it was heard to exclaim,
before it went out of sight…
Merry Christmas to all and to all no more bourbon tonight!!!!

http://www.fox13news.com/news/florida-opossum-found-drunk-after-liquor-store-break-in#/

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy,
all you upright in heart!

Psalm 32:11

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

Recollections

“Remembrance and reflection how allied!
What thin partitions Sense from Thought divide!”

― Alexander Pope

DSCN8821
(my mom’s little trio of antique carolers / Julie Cook / 2014)

It is at this particular time of year that our memories of times and loved ones long past, now seemingly forgotten, seem more clear and potent than at any other time.
Waves of melancholy collide into the crashing tides of joy leaving us with both tears and warm smiles mingling lightly upon the heart.
Recollections of the vignettes of a life once lived, a life which once seemed so far away, races rapidly now to the forefront of thought.

A tacky plastic ornament.
A cherished family heirloom.
A tattered and torn old card
A musty copy of A Christmas Carol
A fragile figurine
The sound of much beloved carols

Whether we are fortunate enough to be able to gather with those special and dear people of our lives
or merely recall their presence in our hearts, the often endless expanse of space and time miraculously narrows each year at Christmas.
No longer does death nor distance separate us–
For “God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His Heaven”
As that which was, and that which is and that which is yet to be are sweetly
united and are “met in thee tonight”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim thy holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Lewis Brooks and Lewis Redner
1868

Traditions

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
― Gustav Mahler

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
― L.M. Montgomery

DSCN8694
(a very old “ornament” / Julie Cook / 2014)

Each year it’s always the same.
As the musty dusty boxes are brought down from the attic, a grand anticipation, filled with the buzzing of electricity, sweeps throughout the house. And despite the fact that I am the only one usually around bringing the boxes down from the dark recesses of the attic, praying I don’t fall down the stairs breaking anything vital to life and mobility, as that is now not merely a remote possibility but a more plausible concern, the anticipation is still just as grand.

The decorating of Christmas, or any holiday for that matter, has never been the great family affair as I suspect it is for other households. No helping hands or delegating of assignments here. The trimming of trees and the placing of festive garlands and boughs of holly was first the responsibility of my mother, and now the task has fallen to me. Of which is just fine and dandy by me as I enjoy the oohs and ahhs of family once they venture homeward feasting their eyes on my handiwork.

Yet I should confess that often there can be heard a bit of fussing and cussing on my part as I labor to “make merry”—all the while mumbling “what is the point of this. . .why do we do this every year. . .I’m getting too old for this. . .yada, yada, yada—the litany of complaints goes on and on. . . that is, until I finally plug everything in and flip every switch, standing back to bask in the glittery, sparkly, twinkly wonderment known as holiday magic.

I suspect a very big part of the reason as to why we, you and I, continue on with traditions such as tree trimming and decorating has a lot to do with a much deeper and more intrinsic reason than merely the marking of a particular day on a calendar.

For me there are three tiny important pieces to the holiday decorating puzzle, otherwise known as ornaments, which must always be the first to be pulled out from their tomb–otherwise known as their storage box. There had once been a few more of these “puzzle” pieces but the ravages of time, heat, cold and humidity have all taken their toll.

Each of these remaining treasured ornaments are handled as if by a curator who might be cradling some ancient manuscript or long past treasure merely minus the white gloves. Delicately unwrapping each sacred piece from the tissue paper, which has tightly protected these heirlooms for the past 11.5 months of the year, lovingly removing and now freeing each one.

The first precious treasure is a fragile tattered yellowing piece of paper which had been “colored” orange by a certain Crayola toting 3 year old sunday schooler from very long ago. It is marked with the printed words “Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday”. This is the first ornament which must don the tree each and every year as it proclaims the very reason as to why there is a tree for decorating in the first place.

The second treasure is a tiny broken plastic manger complete with a little bitty teeny tiny Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus joined by a couple tiny sheep thrown in for good measure. The manger is accented with a small gold shooting star which is now haphazardly reattached with wire. It is the first “gift” I can recall receiving outside of family gifts. A small token of a long ago and far away preschool sunday school Christmas party.

DSCN8692

And lastly there is a small pink clay heart, complete with the prints of tiny fingers and thumbs now frozen for all eternity, topped off with a makeshift copper wire hanger.
My mother, in her inestimable wisdom, wrote my name across the heart along with the year, 1965 in a ball point pen. I was all of either 5 or 6 and we had made the clay ornaments at school as part of our Christmas festivities. It is a simple air dried old school brown piece of clay and therefore very fragile. As to why I would make a heart, painting it pink as a Christmas ornament, is beyond my soul, but the fact that it still survives is testament enough.

DSCN8695

After I had moved away, married and started my own holiday traditions, I asked Mother if I could take those couple of ornaments with me as they were my link to all of my Christmases past. The life line connecting what was, what I was and to the now growing present and future of who I am and who I was to become.

That’s what Christmas is. . .it is a tie that binds.
It is the link to our past–it is our heritage as well as our inheritance—as adopted children, adopted through and by Grace, Christmas joins us, unites us, binds us to and with the birth of our only hope, our future, our salvation. And because we are an often forgetful lot, we need reminding of this, year after year as the joy becomes overwhelmingly new, refreshingly clear and abundantly miraculous.

And so, as I continue placing these dear treasures and precious pieces of my holiday puzzle on our tree after tree, year after year, I continue by adding new links to this puzzle of my life, pieces both past and future. One of my favorites being the dorito chip shaped reindeer made by my once 4 year old son. Each year, as I gingerly place this happy little reindeer on our tree, I feel the presence of a little boy, now grown man, excited, proud and awed to have his little pieces added to our puzzle of life’s continuum.

DSCN8696
(Brenton’s dorito shaped reindeer ornament / Julie Cook / 2014)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
Ephesians 1:4-10

The stories as told by a tree

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

DSCN2889
(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. . .

Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

DSC00153

When visiting Vienna this past Fall, I wandered into a small shop sitting in the shadow of the great Stephansdom or St. Stephens Cathedral. St Stephens is a romanesque gothic wonder that stands on the same site in which it was first consecrated in 1147.

The shop’s name is Cecconi (http://www.cecconi.at/) and it’s a shop specializing in arts and crafts, particularly woodcarvings. There is a huge selection of German hand painted metal ornaments. Wood carvings of animals, nativity pieces, decorative ornaments as well as religious pieces. I actually visited the store twice. The Christmas ornaments were all so pretty, meticulously hand painted and beautifully displayed. Wonderful small treasures to take back home as a reminder of Wien (Vienna).

It was however a beautiful image of the crucified Christ which caught my eye as it hung on the wall behind the counter. I had never quite seen this type of particular “take” on the crucifixion. There was no cross, just a hanging, distorted torso, twisted in agony and at the exact moment of death–delicately carved from a piece of wood. It was captivating as well as moving.

I asked how much, and knew I must purchase it. The young man whose family owns the shop told me that it is actually a copy of a larger “Christos” on display in the Alps. He told me that when I get home, I need to find the “perfect” piece of wood on which to display it–perhaps a piece of drift wood. He wrapped the carving in a mountain of tissue paper and I proceeded to carry it as if it was a baby for the remainder of our journey abroad.

Once home, I scoured the woods and area around my house looking for a piece of wood. I opted to “distress” a piece of oak, as I don’t live near a place where I could find any drift wood. I added some broken nails for the carving to hang on and hung it in my dinning/ kitchen area so that those entering my home would immediately see it up on the wall. It is one of those things that holds your attention and doesn’t quite let go.

As today is Good Friday I am reminded of what this small wooden display actually represents. It is a day that you and I all stand before the Cross–There is a vast heaviness as we stand today contemplating this very Cross.

I want to share with you not only my small treasure from Vienna, not only a piece of beautiful artisanship, not only a unique display, but the very reason as to what brings us all to this particular day— the Agony and Death of One which gave, and continues to give, way to Hope and Salvation for All.

There is a haunting old “negro spiritual” that we would sing in my church when I was younger during the Good Friday service:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

DSC00001