This story was published several years ago in the News Journal, and I thought maybe it was time to share it with some new readers and friends.
About 1955 my mother had a brainstorm about Christmas decorations. She loved them, and she wanted to make them. Lots of them! Seeing as how it wasn’t used in cold weather anyway, the living room became Mama’s workshop. The living room was so cold with the door shut, it was easy to store greenery in there. She hauled in holly branches heavy with berries, long lengths of ivy, pine boughs, magnolia leaves and pyracantha stalks, all from our own yard. As the yard was stripped bare, the living room got more and more crowded…
In the middle was her work area, the floor protected with newspaper. Jars contained buttons and beads, brass fasteners and glitter. I recall a square of chicken wire, but only the Lord knows what it was used for. There were round bowls and square ones, plates and saucers, goblets and pitchers. It’s a wonder we had any dishes to eat from by the time Mama got through. Scissors, wire cutters, and pliers vied with pins, nails and thumbtacks atop her work table.
Entering into the spirit of the season, brother Harold and I decided to make decorations too! Circle crumpled, balled-up newspaper with glue. Sprinkle with glitter. Attach shiny ribbon. Hang on tree. We soon tired of our lop-sided creations. It was too much like work. Thereafter I mostly helped Mama with hers.
Soon all the books came down from the shelves beside the fireplace, and Christmas went up. Lamps were circled with something Christmassy, garlands, berries, and tiny brass balls. Tinsel was twined into nests for tiny presents. Magnolia leaves interspersed with pyracantha berries were used to wreath square candles, home-made from paraffin in milk cartons.
The stacks of music books atop the upright piano were replaced by a manger scene, complete with camels and sheep, shepherds and angels, and of course Mary and Joseph adoring the baby Jesus. Every doorway, every table top celebrated Christmas.
Still, the main attraction was the Christmas tree. If there had been artificial trees back then, we wouldn’t have had one. The smell of Christmas had to include real pine needles from a real pine tree! That didn’t come out of our yard, thank goodness.
The lights took a long time. If one bulb was out, the whole string was out, and of course you didn’t know which one. That’s when Daddy went to work. Take a bulb out of a good string, so you knew that bulb was good. One by one, replace bulbs with the good one until the culprit was found. My favorite and the most beautiful of all were the bubble lights. When they warmed up, you could see and hear the colored fluid circulate up and down the glass cylinders. Of course, once the strings were all shining brightly, they had to be meticulously draped, round and round, up and down.
Next was the tinsel, then the glass balls, large ones on the bottom, medium ones half-way up, and small ones on top. Harold’s assignment was the bottom branches. I took the middle. “Don’t put two green ones together, now. Balance!” Next came the icicles, and Harold and I could help with that too. “Just one at a time, please, don’t bunch them up, don’t leave any naked spots, there’s plenty to go around.” If Mama could have, I bet she’d have made those icicles, too. Finally it was time for the angel hair. We couldn’t help with that; Mama didn’t trust us quite that far. At long last, Daddy stretched up on a kitchen chair to fasten the star to the very tip-top, and it was really Christmas!
Soon after the holidays, most of the house returned to normal. The living room was a different story. Mama would go in there once in a while, look at everything and smile, stay a few minutes and come out again. Oh yes, the living room was very different. It had taken a long time to get that room and that tree just right, and Mama wasn’t tired of it yet by New Year’s – or by the middle of January, or by the middle of February. After all, the living room was cold and the pine needles couldn’t fall very far with all the stuff holding them in place…
Daddy mentioned the tree now and then. I recall his patience wearing a little thin, and his puzzlement at Mama’s attitude. Eventually he gave up nagging about the tree, and eventually Mama felt it was time. The tree came down at Easter.
I don’t have many clear memories of that year, the weather, the politics or the family situations, but I do have a clear memory of Christmas, and Mama, and Mama’s Christmas Room, and it’s the best memory of my childhood.