I sit writing this story early on Christmas morning and all is quiet and dark in my parents’ living room. As my family rests upstairs the only sound comes from a wall clock ticking time and the only light is from my computer screen and the Christmas tree in the center of the room. This year, like many over the past five, my dad has decorated the big tree in the living room with photographs. He calls the tree, “the heritage tree” because it is full of family history and memories.
As I gaze upon the tree I spy a portrait of my Grandma Freeman. In the photo she is young and beautiful and in her early twenties, a full life ahead of her. She is smiling at the possibilities. Another is a wedding photo of my Grandpa and Grandma Beatty. My grandpa standing tall and proud while my grandma holds a large bouquet of flowers in her arms. The photograph is a happy moment during the Great Depression, an otherwise dark time in our country’s history. A wedding photo from my mom and dad’s wedding forty-eight years ago hangs next to a photo of Ken and I beaming with excitement on our wedding day. There is a photo of my dad at the age of four or five sitting on a skinny Santa Claus’s lap and a joyous pig tailed little girl (me) smiling with a plump Santa Claus thirty-five years later. A more recent photo was taken two years ago when my daughter was an infant. Our talented newborn photographer, Shelley Hynes, captured this precious image of an innocent babe who was a mere six days old. The photo full of pure innocence reminds me of sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger on that first Christmas mourn.
The newest photograph is one taken of my daughter by a Belleville photographer, Larissa, a few weeks ago. Capturing an active two year old is no easy task but Larissa succeeded and now the photograph will forever be part of our family tree. The photo captures the magic of Christmas as my little girl delights in hanging a sparkling ornament on the Christmas tree. She is mesmerized by the sights of Christmas with the illuminating lights, the sparkly glitter and the shiny balls glistening on the tree. Just as she was with the light from the candles we held as we sang “Silent Night” at church on Christmas Eve. She is enchanted by all of the sights, sounds and tastes Christmas has to offer. Proudly singing “Jingle Bells” and bouncing along to “Sleigh Ride.” Smiling with delight as she opened a window on her advent calendar and tasted chocolate for the first time. Nana’s homemade sugar cookies in the shapes of trees and stars offered her another sweet taste of Christmas. Although she cried when she met Santa Claus this year she beamed with joy when she met Santa Cow at Chick-fil-a and gently caressed the figure of baby Jesus lying in a lowly manager underneath the Christmas tree. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a babe reignites the senses and offers me the possibility to experience the joys of Christmas all over again. It is a joy beyond measure for our family and soon the quiet living room in which I sit will be bustling with excitement when everyone awakes and my in-laws join us for a Christmas/birthday celebration later today.
The fact that many will be filled with sadness on this day is not lost upon me. For they will be experiencing Christmas for the first time without their loved ones. Two close friends, a co-worker and my father, who lost his brother earlier this year, will have heavy hearts as they celebrate the season yearning to have another Christmas with the ones they hold dear. Although most of my loved ones whose photographs adorn our “heritage tree” are no longer here to celebrate with us this year, they are not forgotten and they live on through the wonderful memories of Christmases past.