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. . .

coincidence or Spirit…

“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self.
It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome,
we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit,
that it is God, the indivisible.
And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world,
yet undisturbed by its multiplicity,
for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.”

Hermann Hesse

One year ago yesterday on March 19th, my dad lost his battle with cancer.
At the time, the last thing I was thinking about was what all was going on around me
let alone the significance of dates on a calendar.
I was just doing good by planning a funeral and dealing with the remnants of a lost life…

I was simply oblivious to everything else.

Moments of such loss tend to do that to us…

We freeze as if caught in a glitch of both space and time…
we’re standing still but the world, and everything else around us is still
spinning and moving.

This year as March 19th arrived on the calendar, with me marking both it’s coming and going
with a bit of inward melancholy, I couldn’t help but notice that throughout the entire day
I had been subtly reminded that March 19th was not just a day marking a sad milestone in my
small corner of the world, it also just so happened to be the day that the Church remembers
St Joseph…the earthly father of Jesus.
As in the feast day of St. Joseph

As in a ‘dad’ sort of day.

And like I’ve said before, I’m not one for the notion of coincidence as I am more about the moving
of the Spirit. Because with God, there is no such thing as coincidence…
just the guidance offered by the third member of the Trinity.

And so as I found myself fondly remembering my own dad, the man who adopted me when I was but
a few months old, for both good and bad, who stood watch over me most of my life while that role
was reversed during the last 5 years of his life…
I now recall the one who stood watch over a growing God made man-child …
a boy who needed the perfect earthly father to guide him as He prepared to lead us all
to our own Salvation…

So whereas I was feeling glum as I moved throughout my day, I found my thoughts being gently
teased outward as I have been reminded that God is always greater, ever mindful and deeply full
of thought for each and every one of us in our ups as well as downs…
no detail is too small, no event too insignificant that He is not everpresent.

reflective remembrance

“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty;
it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.”

― Coco Chanel


(a slice of the Mile High Pie from Bones in Atlanta / Julie Cook / 2017)

As long as I can remember, my birthday has always fallen on the weekend of the
Georgia / Auburn football game.
Never mind if my birthday was on, say a Wednesday,
the birthday has always been marked by this hallowed grudge match.

A grudge match rivalry game considered, by those who write the history of
collegiate sports, to be the oldest college rivalry
in all of college football dating all the way back to 1892.

So this past weekend was no exception when it came to birthdays and football games…
despite the actual day being a few days after the fact of said game.

And so it would have only seemed to make sense that my beloved Dawgs would have
stepped up to the birthday plate by delivering the best gift possible—
a defeat of this most ancient of foes…putting them one more game closer
to a year of perfection….
Yet alas…
it was not to be….

Yet defeat is not the intent of today’s thoughts but rather the musing of what was,
what is and what will be…

When I turned 21, way back when I was in college at this same beloved college of
which I speak of today, I had been invited by a young man who I really liked at
the time, to travel down to Auburn for the game in honor of my birthday.

But I had a conundrum.

My godparents, the priest of my church and his wife, had already invited me to come
home as they wanted to have a small party in my honor.

Now I don’t know too many 21 year olds who would spend even a second weighing out such proposals…as whether to stay or go—as most any 21 year old in their right mind
would have wholeheartedly opted to go to the football game…
excitedly ready to spend a great weekend with great friends
and a potential great beau all the while living it up as one’s team beats
up another—

I however chose the latter.
I went home.

I really can’t say how many 21 year old kids had the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta,
at the time, bake them a birthday cake, but me…

And yes it was indeed a small intimate gathering… yet one that was, obviously, most memorable.

The game would have been no doubt memorable as well…or maybe not…
because I couldn’t even begin to tell you who won that year…
and I can recall that that young man was only a beau for a short time…
but on the other hand I do remember those other particular individuals who loved me
enough to want to make a special day even more special in their own small way.

And so it is with this day of marking the passage of time,
that I find myself being a bit wistful.
Because isn’t that what we do as we age, we become wistfully reflective.

So in keeping with this notion of being both wistful and reflective,
I am poignantly reminded that this is the first birthday that is to be spent
in 58 years without my dad and aunt.

Mother has been gone since just before I was to turn 26, but Dad and Aunt Martha
have been around throughout of what seems to be the duration of time…

Each of them knew how to make a birthday celebration both special and memorable.
As I remain grateful in recalling the years gone past that they did make a special
day just that— special.
Just as I am sad thinking of a new year without them.

And whereas there will definitely be some sadness on an otherwise momentous day…
besides nursing what could have, should have, been with the Dawgs running the table
on a possible all out rout of a season of wins…
it will be a day marked with a sense of without…
of what was and of what is no more…

Yet as our dear friend Coco Channel so pointedly reminds us—
it is not necessarily a matter of what we may have once been or been given,
rather it will be a matter of who and what we will opt to one day be…

May we opt to be both wiser and kinder….


(my husband with his birthday girl / 2017)

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,

Isaiah 42:2,3,4

9/11 remembered and the garden on a hill

“What separates us from the animals,
what separates us from the chaos,
is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.”

David Levithan


(the sign outside of the Remembrance Garden in Kinsale, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

16 years have passed…
and yet our hearts still mourn.

In 2015 when on a trip to Ireland, I had the privilege of visiting the small
picturesque fishing village of Kinsale.

Tucked away off the beaten path, perched high on a hill overlooking the harbor,
is a humble and unassuming memorial garden park.

This however is not any sort of average garden nor an average memorial….
certainly not what one would expect to find in an Irish fishing village.

It is a living memorial to the American tragedy of 9/11.

The following link is to post I wrote, almost two years ago to the day,
after returning home regarding our visit to the garden….

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/out-of-the-darkness-has-come-a-great-light/

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4

acknowledgement

“When twilight drops her curtain down
And pins it with a star
Remember that you have a friend
Though she may wander far.”

L.M. Montgomery


(my mom’s camp autograph book from the summer of 1947)

“Society is neither my master nor my servant,
neither my father nor my sister;
and so long as she does not bar my way to the kingdom of heaven,
which is the only society worth getting into,
I feel no right to complain of how she treats me.
I have no claim on her; I do not acknowledge her laws–hardly her existence,
and she has no authority over me. Why should she, how could she,
constituted as she is, receive such as me? The moment she did so,
she would cease to be what she is; and, if all be true that one hears of her,
she does me a kindness in excluding me. What can it matter to me, Letty,
whether they call me a lady or not, so long as Jesus says “Daughter” to me?”

― George MacDonald

The importance of acknowledgement.
To be thought of, recognized, considered, remembered….
it’s all any of us want.

It seems as if we are wired to vie for attention, affection, place, prestige, recognition…
For who among us doesn’t remember the grade school moment of being passed over
when teams or sides were chosen.
That demoralizing trauma of childhood of being ignored or considered less than
and unworthy…

As children we wanted to be able to count our friends as we would marbles…
creating our own special royal court…
or…
we wanted to be a part of a special court…
a part of a group of cohorts, the proverbial band of brothers..or sisters….
We yearned to be acknowledge just as much we desired offering acknowledgment.
Even the quietest and most shy among us secretly desired to be acknowledged,
albeit in more simple and subtle ways.

So why should we assume that the God of all Creation, He who calls us His own,
would be impervious to also wanting to be acknowledged by those He deeply loves
and adores…

For I am His and He is mine…

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:6

remembrances

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time,
and your government when it deserves it.

Mark Twain

DSCN3224
(the flag I fly at home / Julie Cook / 2015)

Today Americans will pause in order to celebrate Memorial Day.

A day many assume was put on the calendar in order to mark the unofficial start of summer.

It’s a day for day’s off…
for family gatherings,
for picnics,
for cookouts,
for ballgames…
and basic idyllic enjoyment.

However it would behoove us, on this unofficial day of all things festive,
to recall the original intent of Memorial Day…

Originally it was not a day set aside to commemorate the opening of the seasonal door to summer…
rather it was a day set aside for Americans to remember the thousands of lives lost,
as well as the thousands of bodies forever broken, during America’s darkest days of the Civil War.

It was originally referred to as Decoration Day.

Over the years, Memorial Day has taken on a life of its own.
It has become a day of celebration, an excuse for a party, a shift in the seasons, …

Yet as we celebrate, we must also remember…

We remember the countless numbers of men and woman who have served
and continue to serve in our armed forces.

We remember the lives taken.
The sacrifices made.
The limbs lost.
The souls shattered
The minds altered.
The hearts broken
And the children who have grown up and continue growing up never
knowing the parent who was called to offer the ultimate gift
to their fellow man.

So as you work in the yard,
fire up that grill,
play in the surf,
build that sand castle,
watch that ball game,
sip that lemonade,
eat that hot dog,
and just enjoy a special moment to be lazy…
Offer up a thank you…
to those men and woman who have given, and continue giving, their all…
allowing you to say “hello summertime”

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.

Luke 9:24

Mother’s day

Thou hast made us for Thyself,
and we cannot find rest until we find it in thee.

St Augustine

RSCN3042
(new, albeit late, peach blossoms / Julie Cook / 2016)

Whether you approach this day for Moms and Mothers everywhere with….

Appreciation, gratitude, a spirit filled with joy…

or

You find yourself feeling a sense of melancholy, sorrow or even dread…

No matter….may you simply find peace in your heart….

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5