I have driven past this barn and silo hundreds of times. Actually I glimpsed it as I drove past the house that sits in front of it and all the trees that grow around it. It caught my eye because the new white eaves stand out in contrast to the aging wood. I expected that it would be a beautiful barn to photograph if only I could get to it – could get a clear shot of it without the cover of green leaves.

winter woods 150

Last week Julie and I drove in the driveway and I knocked on the door to ask permission to photograph the barn. No one answered so I snapped a photo of it before we backed down the driveway (okay, I know I’m on the ethical edge). There is an empty field next to the house and barn so we pulled over. Julie said it was a different kind of trespassing. Without leaves we were able to get some images of the barn but they turned out disappointing. Maybe it was because of the poor light of a grey day. Maybe I didn’t take enough time because of the cold. Maybe the barn wasn’t that great.

So often we anticipate something, we have great expectations only to be let down. This seems to be especially true around major holidays. We want to buy into the Madison Avenue and storybook tale of loving families gathering around the tree and fireplace to exchange gifts chosen with loving care. We can see the special beverages and homemade pastries on trays. We smell the cooking goose and multiple mouthwatering side dishes. The laughter rings in our ears of children play games with loving aunts and uncles. 

In so many families this isn’t reality. People who are living in alcoholic families know that holidays can be destroyed by anger and embarrassment. Unresolved hurts between family members can keep everyone tense – waiting for the eruption. Many face loneliness because of disrupted relationships or hunger because they lack sufficient income. So many in our community are receiving Christmas gifts and food from charity organizations but experience the unspoken shame and sadness that comes from not being able to provide for their family.

What seems to be needed is the ability to approach the holidays with expectations of joy along with a healthy dose of reality. My photographs of the barn aren’t as great as I had envisioned all those times I was passing by, but I had some fun while I was photographing, I coped with the very cold wind, and in the end I can feel satisfaction in being there. May you find satisfaction in creating some joyous memories during this holiday season, even if there are rough spots along the way.


Christmas Ornaments: Memories

New purchase!

What a joy! What a joy to decorate the Christmas tree this year. The past eight years have been difficult and there was one year when we didn’t put a tree up because I’m the one who decorates them and I didn’t have the energy. Another year I got the artificial tree up and the light on and I couldn’t go any further. The past two years I was healing from knee replacement. Both years I remember feeling sadness because I wasn’t enjoying decorating the house. In fact last year I only put about half the ornaments on the tree.

Not this year. This year I was excited as the day of getting out the ornaments drew near. Ohhh, the anticipation of opening the storage box and finding my treasures. I gently unwrap each from its blanket of tissue paper, not knowing what I will find. The paradox of knowing what is there, but not knowing. Being surprised when finding an almost forgotten ornament and feeling the warmth when seeing a well-remembered one. They have been out of sight and out of mind for eleven months.

When did I get this old, when did it happen? My ornaments chronicle so many years and so many experiences. I don’t remember our first Christmas trees – except that the very first one was really big. We cut it ourselves at a tree farm and they always look smaller under the endless sky. We had 10-foot ceilings and it went all the way up – and it had a huge trunk. As I was decorating it, it fell over towards me and I had fears of having to hold it for 6 hours until my new husband would rescue me. But I was able to lean it back in the corner. We bought a bigger stand that night.

I couldn’t remember how we decorated those first few trees so I got out my box of old pictures – the kind you hold in your hand. The first thing that struck me was that I didn’t recognize that young woman holding the baby in front of the tree. In my mind I still feel like her – it feels like just yesterday but my body has aged – so much. I can’t figure out when or how it happened. What stands out about the tree is that it was covered in foil icicles – the kind that hang down and shimmer when someone walks by. Our tree of a few years later also had strung popcorn. I liked popcorn garlands and after Christmas we put the tree outdoors for the birds to eat the popcorn. I miss not having a live tree but Jim doesn’t like the work of putting them up and taking them down – his body must have aged too but I don’t seem to notice it.

Crystal Ornament from my son.

Crystal Ornament from my son.

The ornaments we have now were collected over the next 48 years. I still have ornaments made by my itty-bitty ones in Sunday School and preschool, but I don’t use them because they are getting fragile. I did hang ornaments made by my three granddaughters – in a place where they will be sure to see them. I also have several ornaments that I made – back when I was a stay-at-home mom. Every year I smile as I think about splurging on a magazine about decorating for Christmas and then buying the supplies to make some of them. I still see the magazines at the checkout, and I desire the excitement but it isn’t where I’m at now. Maybe it is better to remember fondly than to long for what is past. Different things excite me now. (Click on any image for slide show.)

I also have many ornaments that were made for me by relatives and friends. Unwrapping them and finding special places on the tree brings me special joy. Every year the love that went into making them just for me is renewed in my heart. I also have two ornaments that could be well over 70 years old because they belonged to each of my grandmothers. Now I can’t be sure which belonged to whom but accuracy of memory isn’t important. What is important is that every year I unwrap them from their protective tissue and smile because I believe – I believe they hung on their trees and I know my grandmas’ love sustained me and filled my heart with enough love to give to others for my whole life.

Whenever possible I have purchased ornaments when I have traveled. As I unwrap these, I am able to remember the joy of these trips and many times remember the special people I visited or met. I am reminded that I have lived a very full life and am truly blessed.

I now feel confident that I’m glad to have lived all those years because they sure were full ones.