If you take an amount of something (such as coffee at the office coffee pot) and keep taking away half of that amount, the remaining amount will decline steadily, but, theoretically, will never reach an amount of zero. I found myself thinking of this recently as I face the first Christmas where there are only two people remaining in my immediate family of origin. Where there used to be four, there are now two. Of course, as I miss them desperately, this time of year brings back memories of many Christmases in the past. I was reminded of one such Christmas when learned of a particular Christmas tree in Reading, PA.
When I was a teenager, my parents added a family room onto the back of our house. At that time, there were four of us; me, my sister, and my two parents. I had known one other home, but our home was the only place where my sister had ever lived. With the addition of the new room, my parents struggled about what to do with the Christmas tree. After all, we had put up a tree in the living room for all of my sister’s life, and it just seemed wrong to move the tree to the new family room. In the eyes of my sister, still a child, it left an important question, made more pressing by the fact that the fireplace and chimney were in the living room. How would Santa know where to put the presents?
Still, a lot of love and work had gone into the addition, and so my parents put up the Christmas tree in the new family room. It stood decorated and beautiful, ready to host the season’s festivities, until, on Christmas Eve, my mother had a change of heart. There needed to be a tree in the living room, she decided, and so she went out on Christmas Eve to buy the last tree that could be found at one of the tree stores located, in those days, at almost every gas station. My mom came home with the most scrawny and lopsided tree we had ever seen, and proudly placed it in the living room. NOW things were right, she declared. I was horrified at the tree (I was, after all, a teenager, so just about everything my parents did horrified me in those days,) but, remembering the story of Charlie Brown and his tree, we had a good laugh and quickly named the tree “Chuck.”
Recently, the town of Reading, PA, also found itself the punch line of a joke about the tree standing in the center of that town. Scrawny and crooked, the city’s Christmas tree quickly reminded people of the tree from the cartoon classic. Recalling the story, the town’s response to those jokes was to hang one solitary red ornament on the tree, reminding everyone of the one ornament on Charlie Brown’s tree before his friends helped decorate. That special tree in Reading, PA, reminded me of that Christmas with my own family and the many Christmases we spent together, Christmases that now live only in my memories.
While I am horribly sad about the loss of half of that family I once knew, I know that the true meaning of the season can overcome even the deepest of losses. Recalling the last scene of that cartoon , set to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” I smile as I remember how I joined my fellow Bostonians on many occasions singing that very song, singing as if it began with the word “Hock.” Now a Midwesterner, I laugh to think that I would purposely make such mistakes.
However, such imperfections seem appropriate in these dark days of December. For the stories of this season; woefully too little lamp oil; a baby born to an unwed teenage mother under the worst of conditions, remind us that we- you, me, our students whose work we are grading, and even droopy evergreen trees, are much more than the worst of our imperfections. On my most difficult days of being a mother, I try to remember that.
Wishing all of my readers a Blessed and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
I’ll see you in 2015!
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