“Come in and sit down,” Mom said, holding the door open for us. She was still in her robe, despite it being late afternoon.
My brother embraced her, while our sister, Annie, removed her coat. “Actually, Mom, we wanted to get something out of the garage,” he said.
“Well, you know where the keys are,” she said, going to each grandchild for kisses.
I followed Geoff through the kitchen, into the breezeway, and waited while he fumbled with the old lockset. When the lights came on, it was like a step back in time. The garage looked much as it always had; a cluttered place where treasures might be hidden in the old boxes.
Grabbing Dad’s old stepladder, I ascended to the familiar cartons in the rafters, stored safely away where they could be found each December. I slid the long, narrow one out of its place first, and handed it down to Geoff. Then, with a strange sense of reverence, I reached for the first of the two red boxes. From his expression as he accepted it, I knew my brother felt the same way about the contents.
With the help of our oldest children, we carried our load back into the house and set everything down in the living room.
“I wasn’t planning on putting the tree up this year,” Mom said, seeing what we had retrieved.
“We know, Mom,” Annie said, standing behind her. “But this was one of Daddy’s favorite things, and he wouldn’t want us to forget it.”
Geoff kissed Mom’s cheek. “Dad made me promise we would do this; if you aren’t up to it, we understand, but please let us do this for him.”
She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and nodded, and took a seat on the couch.
The artificial tree went up easily. Dad had resisted the idea of getting one, but as the cost of real trees climbed each year, he’d finally relented. With it standing in front of the picture window, we appreciated his insistence on quality. Even undecorated, it looked good.
My wife queued the Christmas music on the stereo as Geoff and I knelt by the first box. Dad had always opened the boxes, taking a moment to make sure everything was intact before giving us kids leave to start sorting the ornaments. He would meticulously arrange the lights while we divided the rest of the decorations up. Somehow, even with the control he’d exerted, the annual ritual had always been fun.
No one said a word as we looked in on the neatly-wound strings of lights and the carefully wrapped ornaments. Dad’s touch was all through the box, and the thought that, for the first time in our lives, he wouldn’t be there to oversee the trimming of the tree was sobering.
My brother and I put up the lights; funny how it took two of us to do what Dad had always managed alone. I plugged them in, and their multi-colored glow brightened the room.
Annie had ornaments out of the box, but still wrapped. She smiled as she handed each of us one, and together we removed the protective paper. Each was a memory; the generic ornaments had long ago been displaced by special ones, commemorating an event in the family. Mom and Dad had ones for each of the first Christmases we kids had been married, and special ones for each grandchild’s first Christmas. There was one for their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary, and even ones for the various pets we’d had over the years. They’d even kept the strange-looking ones we kids had made in school.
Dad had told us once that the tree was the “Spirit of Christmas Past”, and as we each took our turns placing the old ornaments on it, I understood what he meant. Hanging from its branches were mementos of our family’s history. Like all families, we’d had our share of good years and tough years, and through them all, the Christmas tree had been an annual place of joy.
Dad’s funeral was still a fresh memory, and the pain of his loss seemed more poignant as we undertook one of his favorite traditions without him. Yet, as we placed the final, new ornament on the tree – the one with his smiling photograph – we knew.
There were still good tidings of great joy. Dad was with his Savior, and we still had his tree.
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