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The tree and me

The tree and me
The tree and me
An artificial Christmas tree purchased at second-hand store makes a statement for Judy O'Bannon that she has 'not given up on myself or life.'

I guess one would have to see it to understand what I am going to tell you about my Christmas tree this year. But the season is past and mere words will have to do.
A brightly lit tree is just a given for me at Christmas time. We have boxes and boxes of old decorations both at our pole barn in Harrison County and at my Indianapolis home. Going through these ornaments is like passing through a time machine. They show the progression of changes in style and use of such ornamentation over the years.
Why, I still have unbreakable plastic balls purchased when our children were toddlers and prone to grab at anything dangling in front of them. Packed away carefully are paper Santa faces still smudged with the paste handed out to eager artists in grade school. There are some rather fancy delicate glass ornaments purchased and used when we were, as a family, out of the ‘rough housing’ stage. Closer to the top of the boxes are clothes pin dolls made by Beau, Chelsea and Demi to remind us of the first nativity. Who could ever throw out decorations created by grandchildren? We still have some cherished ornaments that we brought from my mom and dad’s home after they died. It is as though they join us as we hang them on the tree each year. And the stack of storage boxes keeps growing.
So precious is the tradition of the Christmas tree to me that I even delight in the ceremony of taking it down on New Year’s Day. It is a moment of reconnecting with my past as I wrap, fold and sort these small objects.
As I have morphed into a two-town resident, I have made the concession of replacing the practice of putting up a live tree with an artificial version that won’t drop its needles if it doesn’t get taken down immediately. This year, I found that I was on the interstate quite a bit and never seemed to land one place for long during the holiday season. In the rush of things, it does cause one to stop and ponder the merit of putting up a tree at all if you find it difficult to even get it into place, let alone have a chance to just sit and gaze at its twinkling lights for hours.
In Indianapolis, I had asked my daughter, Jenny, with whom I work daily, if she would put up some decorations while I was out of town. I came home to a tastefully appointed home (Jenny’s forte is visual presentation). It looked great, but the tree was a small and pretty preestablished sort of thing. I looked at this display for a couple of days. It gave me a rather incomplete and queasy feeling every time I passed it. It did make practical sense to just consider it done and go on my way. I am not home much and, when I am, I’m either working in the office or dead tired which would certainly have an appreciation for simplicity.
Then, about a week before Christmas, I saw sign in a second-hand store that read: Christmas decorations 50 percent off. Mmmmmm, I did take notice even though I hadn’t even invaded the boxes of the stuff I already had.
Near the door was a giant box with green wires and fake greenery sticking out. Jenny and I rummaged around in the box for a while looking for all the parts. It was too hard to determine if it was all there, yet the price was a giveaway. So when I was told someone would put it in the back of my car for me, I paid the fee and drove off.
When I got home, I felt too pooped to go to a party that was scheduled and canceled out on the affair. That night, at about 9, in my rather droopy mental and physical condition, I looked at that big box and my small, tasteful in-place Christmas tree and realized I had to tackle that big unknown, impractical boxed bundle of tree parts. I had to put up the tree not for guests, not for beauty but as a statement to myself that I still had gusto for life with all its traditions, both easy and difficult.
The answer to ‘Was it all there?’ was obvious immediately. About midnight, the replacement stand I had rigged up gave way under the weight of this huge tree. As I lay under it, looking at my ceiling, I felt like my mother was standing over me asking me what I thought I was doing.
Then I found in the box three strands of old lights. They were the kind found in drug stores in the mid-1970s. They did all sorts of entertaining things. In fact, they have a small green box attached with a button you push to get a variety of flashing results. Plugging them in, I realized the normal conditions of old lights, one out of three strands worked. I was to have none of that and did the next expected thing one does; I fiddled, twisted and attempted to get those babies going. Amidst it all, I had a flashback of Frank going through the same exercise years ago. He always liked gadgets and, when these fancy new lights first came out, he just had to get some. Well, one of his strands failed to work also, and I remember him doing just what I was doing, including taking a screwdriver after the back of the green box of controls to no avail.
I accepted the inevitable in Frank’s memory and hung the only good strand on my big, gangly makeshift tree. By now, it was really late and it didn’t seem necessary to get some orthodox trimmings. I had some leftover fake poinsettias, which I crammed into the spaces between branches before calling it a day.
As I sat looking at this goofy tree and wondering why I hadn’t felt compelled to shape it up, so to speak, I realized it was just right for me now. In it, I sensed the whole human experience and how I fit into the scheme of things. No need to be what I am not. Life isn’t perfect. The message of Christmas time is that our Supreme Eternal God is active in this life on this planet. A Creator who is still creating in a very real everyday world. For me as a Christian, I envision a God of love who accepts me as I am with forgiveness and grace. People who come from different faith backgrounds may speak in different terms than I do, but most acknowledge the presence of the Devine in this our imperfect world.
My unbalanced, half-adorned symbol of this religious season reminds me that I’m definitely not perfect. But it is OK as long as I open up to a Power that is and humbly try to serve where I find myself planted.
Putting up this unnecessary tree became for me a statement that I had not given up on myself or life. I needed and would ask for Devine help in having the stamina to keep striving to be really involved in this God-given opportunity we call life.
Happy New Year!

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