Today was busy: we not only did some decorating, but I had a wedding, had to take the Eucharist to someone in the hospital, celebrated a Baptism, and offered the Holy Eucharist. So here I sit at the end of the day in the living room. A couple candles lighted and the tree. Some beautiful celtic harp music playing. And as I look at the tree, such overwhelming sadness.
You see, on the tree are ornaments that tell a story to me, because they remind me of those whose faces are vanished and whose voices are silenced. Ornaments on the tree from my great Aunt Gee (Julia Lee nee-Mastin Embrey). What a lady she was, and how very kind to me when my father died. I see the ornaments that were on our tree when my family lived on Munson Street - happy days when all of us were still alive. Joe and Peggy lived across the street; Sis and Jimmy just a few miles away; Butch and Bonnie not far away in Virginia; Maup and Nancy not far from where Sis and Jimmy were. Mom and daddy and I at home. How little we realized then how few and precious were the years, how fragile human life.
The tree recalls to me the trips down to Richardsville to hunt out our own tree, to gather holly and running pine and cedar. The frosty air on the backporch, and the warm furnace blast of Aunt Emma's kitchen with the woodstove and the wonderful smells. Hot coffee - black and strong in the morning - and toast with home-made butter melted in that oven. Or the warmth of Grandma Bess's kitchen on the day Daddy put up the plastic around the windows of their backporch to seal out just a little of the cold. The stories mom would tell of Christmases past. About how her daddy would get up extra early on Christmas to get all the farm chores out of the way so he could devote the whole day to playing with the children on Christmas. About how Aunt Fanny and Uncle Leon once visited with Aunt Ada and Uncle Archy and coming home a little tipsy from the eggnog. The family gathered in the living room of that old house and singing carols around the parlor organ.
Now Munson Street belongs to who knows, and the old house in Richardsville - always so full of children and life - sits empty. Likewise Grandma Bess' and Granddaddy Chance's place: empty and the wind howls through the broken windows. Peggy and her kids in MD, Joe long in the grave. Butch and Bonnie and children out in Montana. Sis and Jimmy and their kids and Maup, Nancy and their children, still holding forth in Richardsville on the same property that Grandma Bess and Granddaddy Chance used to live on, but in new houses up on the road, not down that long road into the little hollow. Gone are Grandma Bess and Granddaddy Chance, Mom, Daddy, Aunt Emma and Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Fanny and Uncle Leon, Aunt Ada and Uncle Archy, Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Betty, Aunt Connie, Aunt Kitty and Uncle Al, and my beloved Joe. And I sit here in Illinois, miles and miles, years and years away from what was home. And from the people that I knew and loved so much.
It gets me everytime. And no amount of the joy in God's present gifts - my dear wife and children - can ever quite take away the sorrow and grief of this day. May God have mercy on the souls of my departed relatives and bring us all to the joy of a home that death cannot diminish ever. After all, that's what the tree is there to remind us of.