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. . .

Look closely….

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“Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.”
Soren Kierkegaard

My husband and I had gone on a hike early one morning while visiting Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Camera in tow, I was busy snapping images left and right. The scenery beautiful and breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve been in a more beautiful place (more about this visit later). Our adventure took us along a trail skirting the southern rim of the lake. As we climbed higher and higher, I noticed that so many of the trees, which had seen better days, giving up the ghost so to speak as a direct result, no doubt, to a life lived in an extreme weather local, were withered and gnarled–twisted and misshapen in violent contortions.

Later in the evening, once we were settled in from an exhausting day, I began looking over the pictures taken during the day’s journey. I stopped on the above image of the weathered tree, marveling in the ancient twisted shape, when I suddenly noticed a small little fellow who, unbeknownst to me, had been looking down on me obviously while I had been taking the picture. What a delightful surprise seeing this little guy.

This picture was a pretty potent lesson reminding me that even though I think I’m always aware of what’s going on around me at all times, I suppose this picture may prove otherwise………….
Maybe I get too caught up, being hyper-focused on the task at hand, that I tend to miss the extra little wonders. Maybe I think I’m too busy to slow down long enough to “soak it all in”–always being in a blasted hurry. Perhaps it takes a sly little squirrel to remind me that there is always more to life than meets the eye……

On this new day to a new week, may we all learn to keep our eyes and ears open at all times, may we take time to slow down, to really look, to really listen…who knows what we may be missing…………..

oh, and if you still don’t see what I’m talking about, check out the top left corner branch on the tree