The Dripping of Winter Trees

From up north, my sister sends a photo of her husband. Not a short man, he stands waist-deep in snow. Living in the country, they were snow-bound for four days. In the city, my brother was shut in for three.

Here down south, the cold front brings rain. On the sofa, shared body warmth and hand-crocheted afghans keep us warm as we huddle around the television, the new hearth.

On my morning round, I meet two dog-walkers. One straggles behind me, the other walks toward me. Both have knitted caps pulled low over their brows. Both caps are the dull red of cranberries.

Going Home Again

This year I changed my Christmas tree. For several years now I have had a very elegant tree, all burgundy and gold. This year I went traditional.

I glue iridescence to the tips of pine cones, stringing them to the tree on red ribbon. I make cinnamon gingerbread men, with silver buttons and silver smiles. I pull red and green calico bows off the wreath my sister made for me one year and nestle them among the artificial needles of pine. I stitch a new tree skirt, one of unbleached muslin printed with holly leaves and berries.

I sit for two days, stringing popcorn and cranberries.

When I was a child, we always made popcorn strings for our tree. The light bulbs then on trees were large and, unlike my current set of twinkling white lights with the twelve settings of fade and run, colorful. The lights on my childhood trees were red, blue, yellow, and green. My mother lusted for some years after a metallic tree with a projector that rotated colors. Thankfully, we never had the money for one.

We would sit in the living room, my mother, sister, brother and I, and we would string popcorn. Carols played on the stereo and at some point my mother would make cocoa while I would argue with my brother over whether tinsel should be hung or thrown.

The popcorn breaks more easily than I remember. I separate the firm cranberries from those that have started to go soft. I double my thread, rolling the ends between my fingers to make a knot.

After I loop the popcorn strings branch to branch, I add the white ceramic sleigh bells with the red ceramic ribbons which I found in my mother’s house after she died. Next, I hang the porcelain angels, one for each family member no longer with us. A name tag hangs down the angel’s back, between her wings.

At the top of the tree, I place a red feathered cardinal. Wings spread wide as if caught in the moment before alighting, its crest glitters.

The Sound of Christmas

Christmas at my grandmother’s house was a tiny pink Christmas tree, bowls of ribbon candy, and a wreath on the kitchen door. It was always the same wreath, hung year after year. Small, made of yellowed translucent garland, and adorned with a small silver bell.

Up North, winters are cold. We children would pound up the steps and throw ourselves against the kitchen door. The door would put a mock resistance, then yield gracefully. We would spill into the warmth of that room, its windows steamy from cooking, accompanied by the soft tinkle of the bell.

Now, every Christmas, I hang a wreath of fresh pine and cedar on my front door. This year a friend makes a wreath from the boxwood and bayleaf in her garden. She adds cinnamon and red ribbon.

I add the bell.

At every opening and closing of my door, somewhere, an angel gets its wings.

First Cup of Tea

With the first cup of tea, you are a stranger, goes the Pakistani saying. With the second, a friend. With the third, family.

This week I took son the younger to Dallas to meet Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. We listened, fascinated, as he told his story, showed his slides. (The powerpoint, he said, was done by my nine year old son. If something goes wrong, I can’t fix it.)

It’s been cold. Last week it even snowed. Son the younger says his classmates ran outside and took pictures with their cell phones. I took pictures too. The snow melted so quickly the flakes became drops of water.

On the way home from Dallas, we stopped at Starbucks for hot chocolate. Son the younger curled up in his seat. I double check his seatbelt, then turn my attention to the road.

The sky lightens slowly. For the first hour, I drive in darkness.

The windshield mists. Next to me, son the younger sleeps. From time to time, I sip my cup.

It warms me like tea.