Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday Warmth [CCR]

Thanksgiving was a little colder this year in Alabama than in the last few years. Saturday the Smith family gathered at Tishomingo State Park. By the time we turned off the Natchez Trace the mist had thickened. The leaves squished instead of crunched and the dampness allowed the cold to penetrate to the bone. Inside the lodge Uncle Doug was sitting by a glowing warm fire. We were coming home to celebrate our family in our annual tradition.

The next day I sat with Mom and Dad to reminisce after seeing all the relatives. Dad told of a colder holiday season. Christmas 1957 Mom and Dad had returned from Chicago and were celebrating their first holidays together. Their car plowed through the snow making its way to Granddaddy Daily’s house. Having not quite reached their destination, the car could no longer overcome its icy path. Dad would have to find a way to get the car to the house. The next day Uncle Ezell and Dad removed the starter from the old car and placed it near the fireplace to thaw. It had frozen beyond use overnight. The return trip to Tuscumbia proved almost as difficult and included a tire repair.

Listening to their struggle made me think I would have been ready to give up. But in their eyes you can still see the glow of a couple in love. I’m not sure if their life had seasoned them for the experience or if time has allowed them to resolve the struggle. The story was much more than a story for me. It is a lesson that no matter what life throws our way we will continue. In their fifty years it seems they found the secret to taking the difficult wool and spinning a web of good thread.

Mom continued the story of their early holidays and one of their first Christmas trees. She had walked down to Elmore’s Five and Dime to purchase a small collection of Christmas ornaments to adorn their small tree. As Mom mentioned they used those ornaments over many years I remembered them hanging from the tree when I was a child. There is something special about older Christmas ornaments. They have an offset sparkle, dimmed but not tarnished. It gives the ornament a warm, sentimental glow. If you look in the big box discount stores many new ornaments try to copy this look. The more expensive stores attempt the look and try to sell them as future heirlooms. Nobody can duplicate the love built into a sacrifice purchased for a first holiday memory.

As a child our annual Christmas tree was topped with a bearded Santa with a light inserted to make his cheeks glow cheerfully. As each year passed Santa lost of little of his beard, but he still looked special to me. He was an emblem of Christmas magic. But alas the year came that Santa was replaced with a Christmas angel. The angel had the new fangled miniature lights. The angel heralded our way through my teen years, but that tin and plastic Santa still holds my heart from childhood.

This year we exchanged tree ornaments at the annual gathering again. Many of the family now include items that aren’t necessarily ornaments, but are desirable for Christmas decorations. Aunt Donna brought a tree ornament painted with an image of Granddaddy Smith’s house in a winter scene. I look into the ornament and can see Granddaddy waving from the porch as we all arrive for Christmas. Luckily, and probably to the envy of other family members, we were the recipients of the ornament. I’m sure anybody else would have treasured the ornament. I am not sure if it could reach nearly as deep into their soul as it does mine. That ornament will be in my treasure case as another way of keeping Granddaddy and Grandmother with me all year long. If you drop by the house, take a moment and gaze into the ball and there will be Granddaddy smiling, ready to welcome you home.