Each year, around September, I begin brainstorming that year’s holiday decor. Moodboards are pieced together on Pinterest, showing topiaries made of tangerines, Aerin Lauder’s New York home, gifts wrapped in a multitude of coordinating papers… This year, my heart settled on really decking out our mantle, using fresh, flat cedar garland, simple wooden ornaments, and a bevy of white pillar candles.
Bryan and I headed to our local market late last week to grab a ridiculous amount of cedar garland, then jaunted home to unwind it all, bend part of it into a wreath for the front door, and somehow- somehow- drape the remainder across our living room mantle. After getting things somewhat drapey and decorated with the wood ornaments, I looked around to discover pieces of the branches buried in a ridiculous way in our shag rug.
I began to question my decorating skills, and looked up working with live garland- was there something I was doing wrong? Were the rumors about needles being everywhere true? Surely enough, had I taken the thirty seconds needed to google working with live greenery during the holidays, I would have seen that although the garland was fresh, green, and damp when we purchased, an additional 24 hours of soaking in our bathtub was needed. So was an application of something called Wilt-Pruf, which essentially turns fresh greens into non-needle-shedding plastic.
Frustrated with myself and my impatience, I decided that the next day, I’d take everything down and leave it in the tub to soak and start over. Only, by the time I got home from work the next day, things were already dried out, and the few needles buried in our rug had multiplied. When I tried to pick up the boughs on the mantle, they shed even more, and for several days, our living room was just a mess of deteriorating cedar greenery. I finally took the time to grab a contractor bag and clean things up and neatly and quickly as possible, but it was while I was on my hands and knees picking tiny pieces of tree out of my ridiculously shaggy rug that I had a slight meltdown.
Not too many years ago, Christmas looked so much different than the blog-ready, sparkly, and perfect version you see in photos. Throughout my childhood and teen years, Christmas Eve was spent at my dad’s sister’s house, in an almost-too-warm gathering of all of the nieces, nephews, and grandkids that made up that side of the family. Daddy was one of 11 children, so the crowd was immense. After a relatively early dinner, we’d head to my mom’s mom’s- my Mamaw’s- for desserts, some sort of punch, and presents. Here, I was the only grandchild of the only child, so the focus was on me and, as an introverted and awkward kid, I loved it. Christmas Barbies, beanbag chairs, and so many books were wrapped and crammed under an end table, which held one of those beautiful ceramic trees with the multicolored bulbs. It was Christmas Day, though, that I loved the most.
My dad owned a relatively large farm, and when I was very little, he ran a sawmill, sawing timber for his neighbors and customers, making tobacco sticks for the upcoming season, and using the scraps for our wood stove. When I was older, and Daddy had retired from his factory job, he started up the mill again, sawing the lumber for flatbed trailers, privacy fences, and tobacco barns. At a time when I was working full time for him, our days would be spent walking the property looking for the timber needed for the next project, but he preferred Cedar. It had a lovely scent and color, but didn’t need to be cured the way most woods did. After Christmas dinner at the farm, we’d round up his dogs and walk the perimeter of the farm, keeping an eye out for any trees that needed to come down near the fence line.
We were surrounded by Cedar trees, always, and it was that morning last week, as I was painstakingly nitpicking flecks of this familiar wood out of the rug that I realized there are certain elements that follow us through our lives, weaving together memories and heartache. Memories of my dad came flooding back, and I thought of how strange it is to see how different my life has become. From a quiet kid with no real aspirations growing up on a farm to where I am now… Simple live trees cut down and propped in a farmhouse living room to glittery and “perfect” china on a formal Christmas dinner table. Still, there’s the cedar, making me remember my roots, and my family, though still frustrating the heck out of me in this damn rug.
It was the rug that made me start questioning the choices I’d made. Daddy always warned that I should never put too much stock in material things, and I was worried that he’d judge me. Caring as much as I did about the condition of this now-cedar filled and sticky rug would have worried and disappointed him, I know. That was something I always feared- disappointing him. Even when he was in the hospital, at the end, just a day before he passed, I apologized for ever disappointing him. And that morning, I wondered if he was watching, upset that I’d chosen a hoity-toity piece of decor over the Cedar that was my livelihood for so long. I think that’s the moment I decided not to decorate this year.
Our tree is already up, circled with a new tree collar, and Bobo the Christmas Cow is under it, guarding the dining room. But, instead of worrying again about pulling ornaments and sit-arounds out of the basement, or ironing my tablecloth as I had planned this afternoon, I think I’m going to leave the house as is, with just a bare tree in the dining room and candles in the front windows. Truth be told, we won’t really be here to enjoy decorations this year anyway… we’re leaving this week for some fun things planned in Chicago before driving to Cleveland to spend time with Bryan’s family. We have so, so much to celebrate this year, and I don’t know that those celebrations are worth letting some stray garland in my rug make me doubt myself, my decisions, or the life we’ve built.
The last Christmas Daddy was alive, it was just he and I walking the property and he asked me to stop and sit down. While he rested, I wandered through the trees nearby, spotting some mushrooms growing on the side of one, despite the weather. As the dogs and I made our way back to him, he called me to sit with him. He said he hadn’t felt well in a while and didn’t know what was going on, but- being him- he didn’t want to go see a doctor. He was just getting old, he said. I wish I’d known that his end was so close, and that this was the last time we’d wander his farm together. Just us, in the quiet, with scruffy dogs, wide-eyed wandering deer, and mushrooms growing in the middle of winter.
This year, while I don’t have the heart to try out the Christmas decorations, I have so much to look forward to, and a huge surprise in the works. I feel, though, that I need to apologize for a lack of a holiday table or a post full of our home all jazzed up for the season. I’m sorry, sweet readers, that there’s no buffalo check or bedecked tablescape this year, but I’m so looking forward to celebrating with you, bare tree and all.