You may recall that some time back I mentioned my grandmother. Well, I guess I have mentioned them both but this story is about my mom’s mom. She is the one that worked in a hosiery mill in Elizabeth City for 70 years.
Being an employee in a mill is not the kind of work that is going to make someone rich. My grandmother had a very modest house on a street surrounded by other modest mill workers houses. There weren’t a lot of flashy and elaborate Christmas decorations on her street. Actually, her Christmas decorations consisted of 4 things: A poinsettia, a nativity scene, a Christmas tree and a single, five pointed star that was completely covered in shiny silver garland. In my mind’s eye, I can still see that star hanging on her front door. I always knew that Christmas was getting close when I saw that star appear.
Every year the decorations were always the same. The live tree was replaced with an artificial one as was the case with most folks but other than that, nothing really changed. But as she began to get older it was harder and harder for her to deal with the tree. Eventually even the artificial tree gave way to one of those small ceramic trees. I’m sure you’ve seen them… the one that has a single light bulb inside it and each branch has a little colored transparent tip that the light shines through leaving the impression that there are many different colored lights on it.
So one year around 1980 I guess… when I was on my sabbatical from college (other story, for another day), I was sitting around her house and we started talking about Christmas as it was getting that time of the year again. The conversation drifted to the topic of the tree and I could tell by how she was talking that the little ceramic tree bothered her some…. it was a symbol I think… a symbol of her failing health and loss of abilities. I knew that there possibly wouldn’t be too many more years that she would be in that house so I ask her if she would mind if I went out and bought a tree for her. I was shocked that she didn’t put up much of an argument… but I guess that just shows me how having that ceramic tree had affected her pysche.
So I headed out to the local Booger Mountain Christmas tree lot and picked the perfect tree. Then I realize I had nothing else… so off to get a stand…. and lights…. and garland… and decorations. When I showed back up at her house, she had already cleared the space where the tree has always been before. She and I laughed and talked and had a grand old time messing with that tree. I remember that as the sun went down she said, “Come on, let’s go outside and look at it through the window… you know that’s what really counts.” While I have seen, bought and decorated bigger and more elaborate trees, I have never had one that meant as much to me as that one did. I stood there, staring at the tree with my arm around my granny’s shoulder. I could see the lights reflecting in her glasses as she said, “We done good, didn’t we?” I just smiled and replied, “Yes ma’am, we did.” As we walked back up on her front porch to walk back in the house… there was that star…. inviting us back inside to the warmth and comfort of our Christmases past.