The Memory Tree

We made the drive to the Birmingham Zoo to pick out the Gainey Family Christmas Tree as is our tradition (way too many bad Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation jokes fly around here at this time of year) after yoga on Saturday. I am usually so excited for this day, but as we walked into the wonderfully fragrant sea of Fraser Firs, I started feeling blue. This time of year especially makes me feel my mother’s absence- she embodied everything Christmas to me from my earliest memories. This will be our fourth Christmas without Heavy D, and the pangs of loss still ripple through me at times like these.

The one!

Loading up the chosen one onto the Mini…

Shiva meets the tree…pray for us…

We debated whether or not to even get a tree this year with the addition of Shiva to our family, knowing that it might be a challenge to keep the tree standing with that wacky, inquisitive, and crazy feline around. The Christmas spirit won the day, however; as the daughter of Dorothy Williams, I can’t even fathom not having a tree and decorating for the holiday. I began to feel my spirits rise as we put the tree in the stand and gave it time to relax before decorating. Thankfully for the most part, Shiva seemed to be more interested in the bird feeder outside of the sunporch window.

I helped Dan put the lights on the tree, and then he left me to do the ornaments, knowing that I like to savor this process. As I opened the tub, my eyes began to prick with tears as I saw the box that held my most special pieces. Each ornament is filled with memories of Christmas Past, and as I touch them one by one, the years fall away and I see scenes from long ago. The tinsel-laden tree from the house of my childhood on Westwood Lane next to the old and very out of tune mahogany piano. I feel the yellowed ivory keys under my fingers as I play Christmas tunes, Mom sitting next to me on the piano bench, both of us simultaneously singing as loudly as we could and laughing in the wee hours of Christmas Morning. I hear the hiss of the gas heater and can see the stocking hanging from the mantel. No matter what else was in that stocking, it always always had an orange, an apple, an English walnut, and peppermint patties. I remember the magic of opening my bedroom door to find a wonderland, somehow created on a wing and a prayer by my mother, who rarely had two nickels to rub together. I will never know how she did it. She kept the wonder alive, sharing her own childlike love and enthusiasm for the holiday- her joy wonderfully infectious. What a gift she gave me.

I see myself as a young band director as I pick up ornaments from former students, I remember beloved pets long gone, trips we have taken, gifts from friends. Snowmen from my mother’s tree, ornaments from those first trees in the house I grew up in. The ornaments reflect the memories of my life, through touch and sight and through my mind’s eye. The tree is the holder of those memories, and placing each one is a precious ritual that keeps those memories alive, and allows me to build new memories to add to that fragrant treasure chest.

How grateful I am for this ritual, for the healing tears of remembrance that come as each year passes along with the changes that time brings. Love and loss, joy and sorrow, all a part of the patchwork of life. Each ornament on my memory tree is a treasure, filled with gifts that are burnished by time. I hope that I never lose that wonder and joy that I inherited from my mother when I open that special box and place those ornaments carefully on the tree, memories filling the room and filling my heart.


6 thoughts on “The Memory Tree

  1. Your tree is absolutely lovely! Isn’t it funny how these simple objects carry such memories? This year I will go pick my own tree. My kids are older and have their own busy lives, so instead of the 3 of us trooping through the tree farm woods, I will go and pick one off the lot. And that will be perfectly okay. I don’t want to get stuck in the past, thinking of what we used to do, and feeling sorry for myself; in the middle of a divorce, it’s time to make new traditions and just enjoy things. We weren’t able to do that for so long….

    I can’t believe your mom has been gone for 4 years. I remember reading all your stories about her and her friends and trips for milkshakes. But she’s always with you!

    1. Thank you, Elle. Good for you for moving forward and making new traditions. We always add something new each year (a tradition that my mom had), so that the memories keep growing and reflecting your life as it changes over time. I hope that you enjoy every moment of your holiday as you forge a new path. Sending good thoughts your way…I have been there. ❤️

  2. Your tree is so beautiful. It looks like you found the most perfect tree, worthy of
    holding all of your sweet memories, of years past…….💕🎄

    1. Thank you, Catherine. It’s funny how we always see ‘the one’ in the tree lot and know that it is the perfect one for us. Hopefully it will withstand Shiva’s curiosity. 😂

  3. Wonderful post! We have the same kind of special ornaments. For many years (15) we couldn’t put any of them on the tree due to our dog Ranger (the destroyer) who generally was a great dog but had a compulsion to destroy any decoration on the Christmas tree. It got so bad that we decorated the tree with bows and a ton of those CDs that used to come in the mail for AOL! Had those for a long time… Last year and this year my grandfather’s glass ornaments from Germany are gracing the tree (they used to fascinate me as a child).

    1. Thank you so much! The things we do for the animals we love. 😊 So glad that you can add some memories to your tree with your grandfather’s ornaments. Mom had some from Germany, too (Dad did two tours there in the Army), but they sadly didn’t make it over the years.

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