For quite a few years now I have had a Christmas Tradition with my OFTP. She comes down from the Buckeye and we traipse around a small corner of the Magnolia visiting cemeteries and placing festive trees on the graves of our sleeping ones. The day usually starts with me picking her up at her mother’s house. We visit for awhile, and end the day in the same way. Now that her mother is one of the sleeping my friend isn’t coming this year, something I’m not thinking about and certainly not writing about. Writing and thinking make it real, and I live in a pretend world full of fairies and unicorns all seen through rose-colored glasses.
So, let’s just say she’s going to be late this year.
Since she can’t be here in time I decided to go ahead with the Tradition because these souls depend on us. Luckily, I had some trees left from last year, OK, I recycled them, but there’s nothing wrong with that, right? I did buy two new arrangements for our mothers, swanky gold glittered star-shaped Fancy Trees with red sparkly apples and berries, pinecones, and gilded ribbon. Our mothers would be so excited to be gifted something so fancy. I loaded my car with the ornaments, wire from my husband’s trash pile, and wire cutters and off I went.
I like to start my errands from the furthest point and work my way home, so my first stop was my maternal grandparents on the far side of town. Here’s something I should have given more thought to before I decided to go it alone - with company, I am like granite. I can visit graves, clear them of debris and place flowers all with a wink and a smile. Alone, I melt into a puddle of tears. The first tears poured at the foot of my Granny. I gave thanks to God for my heritage and giving me such a wonderful woman to be my grandmother. I thanked her for the Christmases past, and I left her a shimmering tree that reminded me of the aluminum one she used to have in her tiny living room, the favorite room of my childhood. As I prepared to drive away I dug a Sonic napkin out of the glove compartment and blew away my sadness.
Stop number two, my parents. Why doesn’t grass grow on their plot after nine years? I’ll never know, but the Christmas Miracle, the heart-shaped patch of rye grass planted by a Good Samaritan, was there again. I placed the Fancy Tree making sure to secure it firmly in place with wire, just as my OFTP taught me. More tears. More thanking God for parents who gave me a wonderful life and Christmases that I’ll never forget. I wished them a Merry Christmas and walked across the street to my brother-in-law and left him a manly tree. Glittery, yes, but in a manly color. He would be pleased.
On to the next stop, my paternal grandparents. The puddle got deeper as I regretted never spending a Christmas with my grandfather and telling my grandmother that I miss her. Really, I do. She wasn’t the warmest person in my life, but I have good memories of her. I think she liked me fine.
Then onward across the road and down a little to the founder of the tradition, Mr. S., my OFTP’s father. And even though I bought a Fancy Tree for her mother’s first year there, I was still startled to see it, that space that hasn’t settled quite yet even after six months. I had to take a breath. In my happy world, she is still out there in Purvis, waiting on me to come pick up my OFTP for the Tradition. I want to visit her there, not here. Reality sucks.
Needless to say, they got two trees, one from her and one from me. She got Fancy, he got Traditional. Glittery yes, but traditional glitter. He would be pleased. Her Uncle Burrell got one too, because she always thought of him and I was a mission. I apologized to the electrician side of him for the awful way I cut and bent the wire to secure his tree, but I told him I was sure he understood.
The final grave in that cemetery was one I have visited at Christmas even before the Tradition. His is in a family plot with matching rose-colored granite footstones. At Jimmy’s feet, the puddle turned into a small stream as I thanked him for making a little girl feel so special. Blah, blah, blah… (Look! A fairy!) He didn’t get a tree because it just wouldn’t look right with his family’s style, and because I only had one left and I had a special place in mind for it. Regardless, he had plenty of cheer because the Good Samaritan visited him, too, and the Christmas Miracle lives on.
Last stop, my aunt’s grave. She’s probably the only one I visit at other times of the year, and if I don’t stop I always wave to her as I pass on my way to mass. She was only 13 ½ months old when she died of an accidental overdose of prescribed medicine. Accidental because the doctor prescribed it wrong. In 2017 that doctor would be sued for malpractice. In 1920, it was an accident. My little aunt has no family near her, but she’s not alone. She is surrounded on all sides by other babies and small children who are also without families. I wonder if the cemetery was set up that way on purpose, or if it all happened by chance. I left a tree for all of those babies. My aunt only saw one Christmas in her life, and I doubt they even had a tree. Some of those other babies never even saw a week, much less Christmas. By this time the stream was a river.
I ended the Tradition with a dull headache and Sonic napkin that could hold no more. A sad day, yes, but a cathartic one as well. I needed today. These feelings have been welling up inside me for weeks, so it was better to release them this way instead of a breakdown over something stupid like burnt cookies.
Christmas is a time for remembering, good as well as bad. In all of the places I visited today I relived good memories of Christmases past. The sadness was not in the memories, only in the process. I hope I will be a source of good Christmas memories for others in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll even merit a Fancy Tree. I can only hope.