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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

As we came to the last month in 2009 I could only heave a big sigh of relief. This seemed like one of our busiest, most stressful years on record. A lot of it has been good stress but some of it has just plain been STRESS. We had been living in a big older brick home with lot's of character, charm, -- and upkeep. We decided to to move to a town home last spring and quickly found one we loved. We went ahead and purchased it in March anticipating that we would sell our house within a few months. We are just now selling it...
My 95 year old father whom had lived with us until 1 1/2 years ago spent the last year in a nursing home and we've watched his mental state decline almost as quickly as his savings account. This fall we were faced with finding care for him that he could afford on his social security and veteran's pension. Finally this month he was accepted and moved into the Iowa Veteran's Home -- an hour away from us...
With all this, plus caring for my husband's elderly mother, the holidays just sneaked up on us. My husband and I talked about it. Two grown kids, five grandkids, ten nieces and nephews. They all get money I declared. I don't have time or energy to shop! Decorating? Did we even know where our Christmas tree was, I wondered? We still have stacks of boxes full of stuff for me to sort in our basement and a storage unit full of even more stuff accumulated over 34 years of marriage. I suggested that we get just a little pre-decorated tree at the Walmart and stick it on an end table in the corner and call it a day. I'd still "do" Christmas Eve for all the nieces and nephews but way pared down, I guess. In other words --
My husband, who is less prone to sentimentality than I am, surprised me. He insisted that he wanted -- needed to put up the Christmas tree and decorate it. He offered to go to the storage unit and hunt through the boxes and find everything. True to his word, last Saturday he came in carrying cartons, crates, and boxes of faux evergreens, stockings, candles, lights, and figurines. I sighed and put on some Christmas music and a fresh pot of coffee.
Carefully, I started to unfold newspaper wrapped ornaments. My husband held up a tabletop ceramic Christmas tree and asked did I remember it. Wow, I told him. I didn't know my dad still had this. Back in the early 1970's when I had the two boys fourteen months apart, I stayed home to take care of them and desperate for adult conversation and a chance to get out from the house, I took a ceramics class one evening a week, while my husband watched the boys. It seemed like with just one income we were living on a shoestring. Greenware, paint, and firing fees all added up quickly, so I decided that for Christmas that year everyone got a homemade gift. I picked out the tree for my mom and dad and carefully I sanded and filed out all the little holes where little plastic bulbs fit in and would be illuminated by a lamp base. I could only afford one color of paint, so I painted the whole tree, stand and everything a rich dark evergreen. They loved that tree and every year they brought it out along with the little METAL (tells you how long ago that was) Bandaid box of plastic bulbs and assembled the tree. One by one, I set them in the holes and turned the switch amazed when all the little lights sparkled just like the first year my parents opened it.

Next, I unwrapped my nativity set. I remembered how I much I had admired a Creche made by the Lenox china company and aspired to own the beautiful porcelain pieces someday. After my husband's step father died, my mother-in-law went into a deep depression and had such anxiety attacks that she basically quit going out of her house for anything but absolute necessities. She did seek counseling and the counselor suggested that she try going to garage sales. She could arrive early before any crowds and it would be out in the open air and less likely to bring on the terrible claustrophobic panic attacks. She was on one of these therapeutic outings when she spied the homespun ceramic nativity set someone was selling. Thinking of me and my remark that I always wanted a nativity scene she bought it especially for me. When she gave it to me and explained how she got it I was touched. My husband pulled me aside and said that I didn't have to display it if I didn't want to. He knew initially I had longed for the elegant set. No way! That beautiful little garage sale set from my wonderful mother-in-law who loved me and thought of me while she was working through a healing process meant the world to me and it still does.

My husband finished putting up our tree and we started hanging up the ornaments and memories. Most of them made by our children in school, sunday school, or daycare. One of my favorites, my daughter Angela's picture at age 5 glued in a felt ornament cutout and decorated with glitter. I smiled as I looked at her "Dorothy Hammil" haircut which she scornfully told me years later that she hated that BOWL haircut I made her have!

My husband pulled out a ragged square of colored yarns that had been woven on popsicle sticks -- one now broken. Did I want him to toss it?, he inquired. I snatched it out of his hand and said don't you dare. That's Joe's God's Eye. He proudly brought it home from school one day and "lectured" me on the meaning of the God's Eye. How it was a spiritual symbol from the peoples of northern Mexico and the four corners represented the elements of earth, fire, air, and water. HOWEVER, he told me, he preferred the Christian meaning that it was a devotional "process art" expressing a prayer that God would watch over the binder. I was blown away that an 9 year old would learn all this and be able to recite it.

He is now a professor of art at Judson University - a Christian university in Illinois...

Lastly, I pulled out a little box containing little snowman angel ornaments with names across their tummies. One for Jim and I, and one for each of our children and their spouses. I think I had bought them to hang on all our stockings. I lined them all up on our fireplace mantel, planning to tie them to each person's present that I was now deciding to buy. I came to one that said "James" and with a catch in my throat, I had to sit down. I held it in my closed hand and remembered the year that I had bought them. James came to me a few days before Christmas and asked if I was going to give him money this year and could he have it early. Knowing we had already shopped for family gifts together, I told him no. He was on disability for mental health issues and tended to blow through his money at the beginning of the month and come up short at the end. He volunteered with a homeless youth outreach program and a church sponsored lunch café for indigent people but other than his disability check, had no wages. He begged and bugged me saying he wanted to buy some presents for his friends. Finally, I relented and agreed to take him shopping at Target and he could spend $50. I made sure I told him repeatedly that it was coming out of his Christmas money. He was fine with that he assured me. Once in the store he went right for the men's underwear section and tossed in the cart some packages of thick socks, long johns, and tee-shirts. Next he found the winter hats, gloves, and scarves. He bought some bottles of lotion, petroleum jelly, and antibiotic ointment. He finished up with color books, crayons, cheap children's books, and a book of crossword puzzles with a pack of sharpened pencils. He begged for a little extra to get wrapping paper and bows. All right I sighed, I could see he wasn't buying frivolities. He spent the afternoon wrapping and I agreed to drive him to his destinations, curiosity getting the best of me. We drove into some the worst neighborhoods in our town and he would tell me to stop and I waited as he sprinted to different doors hand out the presents. We drove down under several bridges in the heart of the city and he distributed more wrapped packages to several men gathered around a barrel with a fire in it - holding out their bare hands to warm them. They smiled huge grins as they unwrapped gloves and knit caps. An old man came out of a tent and walked up to the car as we were about to pull out. My son introduced me to "Old Razor Charlie" and James explained that he wasn't sure Charlie would still be out in the tent. He handed him the crossword puzzle book and pencils. Later James explained that Charlie had a college degree and had taught before alcoholism had gotten the best of him. James feared he might not still be in out in the tent because Charlie would often go into the hospital to detox when it got too cold. Last stop was in a coffee shop and I thought we were stopping for a much needed cup of java. When we entered a little girl ran up to James and her mother followed closely behind suspiciously eyeing me. James explained it was OK because I was his mother. He gave the little girl the last two packages -- a book, color book, and crayons. She jumped up and down with excitement as she opened them and kept squealing that she had gotten presents. I bought a round of lattes and the woman told me that she and the little girl "mostly" stayed with her sister in a small apartment downtown but her sister often had boyfriends stay over that weren't too friendly. So when that was the case she would take the little girl and walk downtown all day until her sister got off work from her job at a Subway restaurant. She hugged us goodbye and prompted the little girl to thank James and I. She jumped up and hugged us quickly and sat right back down to her coloring. We were about to the door when she hollered across the coffee shop "I love you James"!!!
That was his last Christmas...

I gently hung the snow angel on the tree and turned to my husband, whom in his wiseness knew just how much we needed to keep Christmas in our lives, and I

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    James was truely an amazing man! What a blessing to have him as your son! emoticon
    2660 days ago
    You've got me crying. Merry Christmas, even if it is a few days late.
    3001 days ago
    I have been redefining my life and have just now gotten to this blog. I have one of those ceramic Christmas trees that I didn't pull out, and our ceramic nativity scene is huge (the camel is taller than my dog) so again I didn't pull it out, but now I know what was missing - grandma (she made these ceramics for us). Thank you for reminding me and now adding to the planning list a way to make the ceramics secure to display so we can enjoy them.
    3003 days ago
    Thank you for such a beautiful message. I had such a hard time finishing it because of all my tears. It was absolutely a heartfelt story. James truly knew the meaning of Christmas!
    3006 days ago
    3011 days ago
    Beautiful blog! Reminded me to post mine about "that" Christmas. May God bless you and keep you and may you have a very, Merry Christmas knowing James is watching and loving you!
    3012 days ago
    Thank you so much for posting this- you share from your heart and soul and it helps so many of us. You are a dear person, may you and your loved ones have a beautiful Christmas.
    3012 days ago
  • JAVAJO47
    Good morning Joanne~ Thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt blog. I was touched on so many levels. I could definitely relate to the heartache that goes into making housing decisions for elderly parents. We found a wonderful Christian nursing home for mom this last April and feel confident that she is receiving good care. It is hard to see their quality of life decline. I will keep you and your family in my prayers as you continue to care for both your dad and in-laws. The unwrapping of the very sentimental ornaments and all the memories. WOW...you have been blessed! I think I went through 3 tissues reading your story of James. What a special man he was...years ago after my first husband left me, I was living in government housing with 2 toddlers. I was fortunate to have a church that cared for me and people like your sweet James reach out in a time of need. This is what God's love is all about. Thank you for sharing his wonderful gift of sharing and love. Lastly, I adore the ceramic Christmas tree. My mom made one as well and set it out each Christmas. All of the special ornament reminders give us so much to be thankful for. There is no greater gift on this earth than to have experienced the love and joy that family brings us.

    Have a very wonderful Christmas my dear friend!! emoticon emoticon
    Jo Ann
    3012 days ago
    God bless us, every one!
    3013 days ago
    Thank you for such a wonderful blog! I had to go get tissues to wipe my tears so that I could finish it. For 2 years I did absolutely no decorating because I was so overwhelmed with stress at work. I decided to put up a tree this year and I just finished decorating it on the 16th. It is amazing how having the tree there with the lights glowing has a calming affect on the soul!
    Your son James had a very special heart and knew the true meaning of Christmas. What a wonderful memory to have of him.
    3013 days ago
    So many happy memories you have, thank you for sharing. emoticon
    3016 days ago
    and therein lies the true meaning of Christmas....I am so sure that James is watching you with a big smile and all that love he was carrying in his heart that day.
    It sounds to me like you have so very much to be celebrating this Christmas!!
    Big hugs to you
    3016 days ago
    Thank you, again for your insights.
    I have been having trouble getting my decorations out this year, and I had trouble last year. In 2000, I lost my mother on the 28th of December.
    It's not that I turned into a scrooge, rather that I was bothered by some of the memories. And, when you live alone it is a little harder.
    I do go to my brother's home, and he has kids & grandkids to celebrate with, as well as many other family members come there, but it is just hard at home.
    I will make an effort this week to get out the tree. Thank you.
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3017 days ago
  • TRINITY4001
    Joanne: Thank you so much for this post. It is beautiful and made me think of all of the women that I have worked with over the past 20 some years as they struggled with the addiction and mental health issues. They always looked out for each other and never failed to show me how God lives in each of us.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!
    Sue emoticon
    3017 days ago
    Wonderful blog and I can understand how seeing all these pieces have bought out the memories.

    I have been doing the same thing while decorating the tree, the first year without my husband. Each piece has a wonderful memory and I enjoy the time to remember. Enjoy.
    3017 days ago
    Wow. Thanks for sharing! Have a wonderful holiday season!
    3017 days ago
    Love it.
    3017 days ago
    Thank you for sharing such a sweet blog. *hugs*
    3017 days ago
  • LAURIE5658
    Joanne, there is nothing like Christmas to bring out the memories!! This is when I miss Mom the most and it just gets harder every year. Have a blessed and joyous Christmas season, my friend!

    Here's a toast to our loved ones who will be waiting for us for eternity!!

    3017 days ago
    Fantastic blog! Lots of tears running down my face right now-James had the true spirit of Christmas as Christ meant it to be. If only all of us(myself included) could be so selfless and giving.
    Merry Christmas!
    3017 days ago
    Thank you for this beautiful blog post, Joanne. It has helped me overcome a little of my own Bah Humbug with the hassle attitude. Our family is small and scattered and Christmas is not what it used to be.

    Christmas blessings emoticon Cindy
    3017 days ago
    Thank you for sharing such wonderful memories!

    3017 days ago
    What a wonderful story. What a wonderful husband to remind you of your treasured memories in this way.

    Merry Christmas indeed!
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3017 days ago
  • KITTYF54
    Thank you for sharing your Christmas memories. We all need them, even when, ESPECIALLY when we're just to tired to dig them out. praise God for your loving husband.
    3018 days ago
  • VXWALL1942
    Thank you for creating such a vivid picture of your memories - and the pictures were terrific. With your blog, I found myself reliving and remembering my own version of each of your stories. Amazing just how similar they are.

    God bless you kind emoticon

    vicki emoticon
    3018 days ago
    Soooo very touching. Thanks for sharing all this. Merry Christmas to you also.
    3018 days ago
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