Last year I shared this private memory for the first time. With Christmas week upon us, I was again reminded of the secret of the tree...
I have never, ever, been a good sleeper. Even when young I slept very lightly and would awaken in the silent, early morning hours, my mind busy with my own version of instant replay. Sometimes I’d tiptoe out of the bedroom I shared with my sister to curl up on the couch and enjoy a few rare hours of privacy and quiet. If it was close to Christmas I would plug in the tree lights and that gentle, multi-colored glow illuminated my thoughts.
When I was nine or ten years old I was awake but warm in bed when I heard a scrape and muffled thud. I slipped out from beneath the blanket and met my mom in the hallway. Together, we peeked into the living room. The Christmas tree had tipped over and ornaments now decorated the carpet. The two of us quietly pushed the tree straight, tightened the screws that pressed into the tree trunk to hold it upright, and used a couple of dishtowels to sop up the water that had spilled from the stand. My dad, three brothers, and sister slept on.
The silver angel atop the tree tilted drunkenly to one side as she supervised our efforts. She’d been pulled sideways by the fall and the weight of her power cord. Mom carefully straightened our cherished tree topper as I scampered behind the tree to plug in the cord. Haloed now by faint blue, the angel smiled down at us, her heart glowing.
That angel is with us still though a hole now pierces her bodice, the heat from the bulb having melted through the old plastic decades ago. So the angel has retired. Each year she briefly supervises my sister’s decoration efforts when fragile old ornaments are unwrapped and admired, reminding us of our youth, of our mother taken from us, too young. The angel’s smile is as sweet as my memories demand, yet it was long ago that she plummeted to the carpet and long ago that my mom died. My tears, though, are as fresh as the day we lost her and the hole in my heart is as real as the angel’s. It shall never mend.
And now, with the holiday season upon us, I thought I would share the secret of the tree, of that long-ago adventure I shared with my mom. In a few days I’ll visit my darling sister. We’ll hug and weep a little and our love will take flight as we cherish the memory of our mom’s gentle smile, now the smile of an angel.
by Janet Fogg