Monday, December 20, 2010

A short story about my favorite time of the year - "Under the Tree"

Under the Tree
We drove up the mountain until Mama found the old logging road. Christmas was just a week away, and we were off to find the perfect Christmas tree. No artificial tree for us – this year, we were having an old-fashioned Christmas.
My Granny was raised in a little log house on this mountain. Even though she moved into town when she married Papaw, she made sure my Mama spent many childhood days exploring these woods. Today, Mama was taking me to the place where she and her Papaw always found the perfect Virginia pine Christmas tree.
Mama parked the truck and I hopped out. The mist clung to the mountain tops like a giant spider web spun across the silvery morning. Mama grabbed the canvas bag with our gloves and hatchet and we set off. The familiar perfume of coming snow drifted past me. Like the song, I was dreaming of a white Christmas.
We walked deeper into the forest, our feet sinking into the carpet of leaves. Autumn had deposited them soft and golden, but winter had toasted them dry and brown. All at once, Mama stopped. “It’s perfect,” she said.
A modest pine tree rested all alone amongst the bare hardwoods. It stood about five feet tall, but the branches were full and lush. It looked like someone had painted a splash of green in the middle of the barren trees so next spring, they’d remember how to color their leaves.
Soon the little tree was felled; then we half dragged, half carried it, back down the road to the truck. On the way home we sang Christmas carols, pulling into the driveway to the chorus of “Jingle Bells.” Still singing, we wrestled the tree into the house and placed it in front of the living room window. Then we stood back and admired it. Already, its scent had swept through the house leaving a trail of “peace on earth, good will to men” in its wake.
 I was on my way to get the box of Christmas decorations out of the hall closet when mama said, “Don’t get those. I have a surprise for you.” She was sitting on the couch next to an old cardboard box I’d never seen before. “Come open it,” she said.
I opened the box and removed a layer of yellowed tissue paper. Before me lay a menagerie of Christmas ornaments so antique and delicate, I was afraid to touch them. “Oh, Mama, where did you get these?” I traced my finger over an angel that lay on top. “They’re beautiful and so old-fashioned.”
Mama giggled like my girlfriends when they were talking about boys. “My granny, your great-grandmother, made them.”
I picked up an angel that looked like it was made of spun sugar. “How did she make this?”
“She crocheted it with a tiny silver crochet hook and white cotton thread, and then she starched it until it was stiff.”
“But how did she make it look like an angel?” I put the angel back in the box and touched a candy cane and snowman. “Or like this?” I held up a delicate snowflake and spun it around. “This looks like it’s going to melt any minute.”
Mama got a star out of the box and held it up. It twinkled in the sunlight. “When I was a little girl, Granny would start making these ornaments right after Thanksgiving.” She placed the star back in the box and picked up a bell. She continued. “After supper, she would sit in front of the fireplace and crochet. I never saw her use a pattern – it was like her fingers knew what to do. These ornaments are what I remember when I think of my childhood Christmas trees.”
She handed me the bell. It was three dimensional with a clapper made from a tiny pearl button tied to a slip of ribbon.
“You go make the popcorn and I’ll start putting on the lights.”
“We have to make garlands of popcorn for the tree,” Mama said. “Nothing else will do for an old-fashioned Christmas tree.”
I smiled. “In that case, I better get busy.”
All afternoon we strung popcorn until we had enough to drape it around the tree. Then we hung my great grandmother’s ornaments. At last, we stepped back to admire our old-fashioned Christmas tree.
Mama said, “There’s something missing.”
I stared at the tree. It was a splendid sight; adorned in its finery, it stood like evergreen royalty.
“I know,” Mama said, “there’s nothing on the top. Wait right here, I’ve got just the thing.”
Mama reappeared with a huge spool of wide red velvet ribbon. Like her grandmother, she didn’t need a pattern; her fingers just seemed to know what to do it.   She fashioned a lovely bow, climbed on a chair, and attached it to the top of the tree. She hopped down and said, “Well?”
I said, “It’s perfect.”
Tired, I went to my room and stretched out on my bed to read. I fell asleep and when I woke up, night was tapping at my window. I went into the living room where the only light came from the Christmas tree, so at first, I didn’t see Mama. I went over to the tree and watched the lights dance in the window’s reflection. I turned around to go back to my room and almost stepped on Mama. She was lying under the Christmas tree, her feet barely visible.
“Mama! What in the world are you doing?”
“Come down here.”
“I said, come down here. Get under the tree with me.”
I laughed. “You want me to crawl under the tree with you?”
“Yes, you’ve got to see this.”
“Okay.” I sat down on the floor, stretched out flat on my back, and inched my way under the tree until I was next to Mama.
“Now, close your eyes and count to ten before you open them,” Mama said.
I did as I was told, and when I opened my eyes, I felt like I was floating on a cloud inside of a rainbow.
“Oh, this is beautiful,” I whispered.
“It surely is.”
We lay there and listened to each other breathe while admiring the halo of lights. Mama slipped her hand into mine and I laced my fingers with hers.
“Merry Christmas,” Mama said.
“Merry Christmas, Mama.”

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