May your hearts be light

My brother and I returned home to our parents house yesterday to find that everyone else had gone out. We couldn’t remember the last time it was just the two of us in our childhood home and we reveled in the moment. We began to unload the firewood from the back of his car, our feet schlumping along in the wet earth after a recent rain had brought more flooding. Everything was beyond saturated. Heavy, stuck, sticky. I felt the wetness absorb through the soles of my shoes and into my socks. We stacked the wood on the deck and decided to bring the Christmas tree inside to let it adjust before we decorated it later that evening. My brother carried the tree to its designated spot while I anchored the tree stand and began to secure the trunk. “What an odd little tree,” my brother said after a few minutes. “What do you mean? How odd could it be?” I laughed. “You’ll see,” he said.

I shimmied out from under the tree and finally got a good look at it. It was the oddest, creepiest tree I had ever seen. Lopsided, yet full and lush. It’s trunk wasn’t straight yet the branches appeared to produce a classic Christmas tree shape. And there was no top. It looked like it had been beheaded. Except for this one bald, light green thing that stuck straight up where the trunk would have continued to grow. It was like an alien umbilical cord or strange body antenna or appendage. I was legitimately disturbed.

We hung the lights and surmised this was the best day of this weird trees life. We hummed Christmas songs fresh in our minds from the trip to the store to get the wood. “We’ll fix you up little buddy,” I said as if I could relate to its awkwardness. “You are going to be so loved.” Later that night, after dinner, we all gathered around this strange lumpy tree and began to hang ornament after ornament. Nearly fifty years of memories within each handheld decoration. We have a tradition where every year we add a new ornament to the collection. This year my brother had chosen a Charlie Brown Christmas ornament. When he opened the package, the ornament flew out and in one motion, Charlie Brown’s head broke off. Severed. Cut right off. Frustrated, my brother tried to glue the head back on. There he was standing in the middle of the kitchen, at over six feet tall, holding this tiny Charlie Brown body and head in each hand, trying desperately to glue the two pieces back together. It was like watching holiday triage. He even tried to create a neck brace of sorts to give it extra help to mend. The brokenness of it wasn’t lost on us. A close family member had just passed away suddenly three days prior and the rawness and emotion was right under the surface for all of us. For some reason even the amazing Gorilla Glue wasn’t sticking. “Oh, forget it,” my brother huffed as he flung the ornament in the garbage. He wanted to be angry but realizing the irony, he smiled and declared, “That’s actually perfect.” This Christmas would already be so different from every other one in the past, we all were just trying to go with the flow and embrace the moment.

We listened to the Muppets Christmas Album and decorated the tree as we have every year since my brother and I can remember. The tree is fairly small so the decorating was over fairly quickly. “Where’s the dove?” my father asked. Our tree topper was a well-worn, lopsided white dove that had been at the helm of our Christmases since 1971. No matter the tree, that dove always made its way to the top. This year it was nowhere to be found. My father seemed almost unsteadied by this, similar to how my brother felt when Charlie Brown’s head popped off. He started to rummage through the ornaments for a third time and called out to my mother again, “Leslie, where is the dove?!” In the meantime, my brother had built a fire and decided to create a new tree topper. It was a whiffle ball with red and green pipe cleaners coming out of it. Under the circumstances it was perfect. I chalked it all up to the strange mystery of life and the long, long year we had all just slogged through. Change is inevitable and the love and gratitude I felt for my wonky family was oozing out of me. My mom came into the room with tea for everyone. “Mom, what on Earth made you pick this tree? That weird bald thing sticking out of the top— It’s a bit disturbing to be honest.” She smiled and said with the warmest tone in her voice, “Isn’t it wonderful? That’s my favorite part.” 🎄

Happy Holidays. May your hearts be light. ❤️

maria carola