We put on our most rugged gloves, and I picked up my rusty pruning saw because the handle on my axe was broken. Jeanne yelled for our son, Justin, who called his black and tan pup, Nesta, some mixture of beagle he'd named for Marley—no not that Marley—rather Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley, the reggae master. Then we climbed the hill above Herb White's farm, much as I've done for 20 years near winter solstice with some assortment of humans and canine company. Up there in sight of Mt. LeConte's three revered peaks we harvested shaggy cedars--one for our family, another for our minister and wife.
That night we strung only lights—red, gold, green and royal blue.
Sunday night a week later, my dear daughter Alexis stood in a doorway, looked at me and, with a voice adorned in disappointment straight from childhood, said, “This is the opposite of decorating a Christmas tree.” She'd set everything aside to spend an evening hanging ornaments with us. Now she stood watching me watching gray and balding men yak on, on TV, about how we should send more of our young to Iraq, and other depressing notions in this season of peace.
All sorts of plans had gone awry. Alexis' brother Travis had to work, and so he'd not made it in from Asheville, where he attends school. Her brother Justin, a senior in high school, had hit the hay, and Jeanne and I were dragging.
We'd made it to morning services at St. Joseph the Carpenter Episcopal Church, a modest place of ritual and devotion where singing and homilies are in harmony and no one tells you how to think or vote or express your faith or lack thereof in order to love Jesus. It had been a good service—informed by earnest celebration of great good news in the season of Advent.
Afterward we spent an hour in fellowship enjoying potluck by excellent cooks. We had to leave the annual state-of-the-church meeting before it ended, in order to give one of Jeanne's students a ride to work. After that we spent an afternoon and evening shopping, then dropped in to check on my mother, just as the stars came out.
Her yard and living room twinkled with lights on trees. Angels and other adornments graced her mantle. She was glad to see us. We talked and played with her super-charged shih tzu named Oreo and made it home in time to keep our date with our daughter and the cedar still wearing only lights.
It had been a long day in a long week, but when the phone chimed and Alexis began talking to her friend, Laurel, long-distance, we relaxed. It would be a while before we decorated the tree. I changed into clothes suitable for an evening at home, fed the dogs, toted presents from the car, ate a bite, and settled into watching TV. I cruised Book TV, the other C-Span channel, CNN, and even Fox, in order to get my long-delayed Sunday fix of news and talking heads. I admit it; I'm addicted, unlike Jeanne. She was straightening the house, writing Christmas cards, tidying up the cedar-fragrant living room.
By the time Alexis got off the phone, Justin was in bed, and I was arguing, sometimes out loud, with the usual suspects on TV. Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Tim Russert—hawks or former hawks all who'd parroted all the suspect reasons for Shock & Awe—based on postures struck long ago. There they were, mostly glossing over how wrong they'd been in beating the drums for war. Flip the channel and there was Colin Powell, trying to make up for things he got wrong, now urging a draw down of forces. Scoot over to Fox and there's a passel of chicken-hawks who got everything precisely wrong in most everything they'd ever had to say about the war.
Jeanne peeked in. “I'm going to bed.”
“Goodnight,” I muttered. She left and I cut back to Friedman, Brooks and Russert. “Why do they still let you on TV?” I said. “Put somebody on who got it right!”
Alexis walked in about then, looked at the TV, looked at me, sighed deeply, and that's when she said, “I wish I hadn't stayed on the phone so long. This is the opposite of decorating a tree.”
I had to laugh. “You're right,” I said, clicking off the television, “See if your mother's still up.”
We went into the living room. Jeanne was heating tea, breaking out treats. Alexis put our favorite carols on the CD player, and we began unpacking decorations wrapped in newsprint. Certain of the trinkets and treasures hailed from a time when Alexis, Travis, and Justin were not in the world. I picked up one that showed an idealized manger scene and thought of what it must mean to birth a child in a stable surrounded by animals, according to compelling language by Luke the Physician in the King James translation. “For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people….” This is news that never gets old. News of love, peace, fellowship and forgiveness. News that's in harmony with adorning a tree.