Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Little Christmas Amid the Heat

With the intense heat and humidity that so many of us have endured this summer, my thoughts will at times take me back in time to cooler, gentler days.  One such memory involves, once again, my grandfather.

My grandpa was the world and everything in it as far as I was concerned.  He was a man of deep principles and an amazing discipline.  He was a hard worker who took great pride and even greater pride in his family.

We were a small family living in a home of simple pleasures.  We enjoyed Sunday dinners together each and every week.  During the summer, the happiest part of the day came when my mother arrived home from work.  We ate dinner, waited the appropriate amount of time for the food to settle, and then we were off to the pool for a swim.

But one of the greatest pleasures I had was the annual decorating of the Christmas tree.  My grandpa enjoyed the season but one of the traditions of the season that he didn't look forward to was the purchase of the Christmas Tree.  He put it off for as long as he could and then, finally, at the insistence of my grandma, he headed out on a usually inclement night, to pick the family tree.

What he brought back usually, could barely be called a tree.  Because he waited so long, often the only trees left in the Christmas Tree lot were the "orphans."  These were the trees that had been rejected by everybody else because they just weren't quite good enough.

Our tree was usually scrawny.  There were holes and gaps where most trees had branches.  Its needles seem to drop off at a mere thought.  And its trunk was usually rather serpentine, making it very difficult for my grandpa to line it up in the stand so that the tree would appear straight as an arrow.

Below, you will find a poem that I wrote many years ago about this annual ritual in my home when I was a child.  In the poem you have my grandpa and grandma, along with me.  While there is no mention of my mother, rest assured, she was right there, helping to decorate this poor creature with the rest of us.

But the main character in the poem is not my grandpa or grandma.  It isn't my mother and it certainly isn't me.  No, the main "character" of the poem is love.  That is what my home was filled with and it was no more powerful and evident than at Christmas.  And that is what I hope you get from this little piece.  I was fortunate to have grown up in a home of love and peace, the same kind of love and peace that was bestowed upon the world with the birth of Jesus Christ.

So, now, as we all await some fresh, cool, and dry air to break the awful heat of this long summer, allow yourself to be taken back many years to that little living room in my home as the four of us, grandma, grandpa, my mother and I gathered 'round "The Old Man and His Tree."

The Old Man
And his tree

He was a proud man
Who year after year
Brought into our home
A sad, misshapen fir.

He was happy to shelter
Those poor misfit trees
Giving them a place of honor
With dignity and ease.

Proudly he set the tree
In its proper place.
Adjusting to the right, then left
Till it filled that corner space.

“gaps and branches Must be covered,”
Said his wife of many years
As about the tree she hovered
Concealing her laughter’s tears.

Dutifully he twisted
The oh so crooked boughs
Until, upon inspection,
It passed my grandma’s browse.

From the basement came boxes
Filled with ornaments and lights.
They were thoroughly examined
With anticipation and delight.

Carols of the season
Warmed the room
As he took his seat
Taking in pine perfume.

Lights were first
Upon the orphaned tree.
And as they were strung
Something began happening magically.

His cigar smoke circled
Above his old bald head
As the tree took shape
The homely, now somehow beautiful instead.

He smiled and hummed
As the ornaments were fixed.
And we were cheerful
To have the right color mix.

Tinsel was then hung
As the lights danced to and fro.
Christmas filled the room
With its special kind of glow.

I climbed the shaky ladder
And reached for the tree top.
I placed a shining star gently
And all came to a stop.

Oh, for those days
When an old man and his tree
Became a powerful symbol
Of his special love for me.

Silent night, holy night.
The gentlest night of the year.
I fondly remember grandpa
With a sentimental tear.