Mama had little regard for Santa. She hated the New York Sun editorial “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” feeling it gave too much credibility to the rotund gentleman and cast aspersions on her good name (also Virginia). Except for church programs, carols, and the Christmas story, Mama endured Christmas with as little fanfare as possible. She stalled our badgering to get a Christmas tree as long as she could and got the tree down swiftly when Christmas was over.
Mama used to send Beth and me as the oldest girls to whichever rural farmer had agreed that we could hunt a cedar tree on his place for Christmas. She handed us the saw which “wouldn’t cut hot butter” and told us to be careful. Beth and I traipsed over the north Mississippi hills looking for and never finding the perfect tree. It couldn’t be taller than we were since we owned but a single strand of lights, and we didn’t want it to look too skimpy.
Ultimately, we’d find one that would do. (One year we actually had to find two and put them back to back to have a decent shape.) Being the oldest and responsible, I would start cutting with the saw and succeed only in creating a fringe in the bark. Finally, Beth would say, “Oh, give me the saw.” She was always more adept with anything requiring physical dexterity. Somehow, she’d work a trench in the trunk and eventually get it sawed in two. We lugged the scratchy cedar home, and Mama reluctantly got it up and ready for decoration. She left the rest to us girls.
The tree lights saga began with at least one of the bulbs burned out which meant none of the lights worked. Playing musical chairs with a new bulb was bad enough, but sometimes more than one light was out which made it even more frustrating. Going to get a new string was not an option. What joy when we got a working bulb in every socket and the string came on! Then we got out our sparse collection of Christmas balls, wrapped sweet gum balls that had a nice hanging crook for a stem with tin foil peeled from the back of gum wrappers we had saved, and pulled out a new package of tinsel – Mama’s only purchase every year.
We four sisters had a good time discussing correct placement of each ornament and sweet gum ball and admiring our work as we went along. I didn’t even say anything when younger sisters got tired of separating the tinsel into single strands for the best effect and threw them on in clumps. I just went back later when they weren’t looking and fixed them properly. We all agreed every year that the tree was “just beautiful.”
I’ve often been accused of being like Mama, but on this issue we part company. I love the Christmas story, carols, and church programs just as she did. But I am on good terms with Santa Claus and take it as a personal favor that the name “Virginia” is in the Sun editorial. I like Scrooge so much I married his replica (he goes around saying “Bah, humbug” throughout the season), and I think the Grinch is kind of cute. I could go on, but I feel a need to stop and get my annual fix of It’s a Wonderful Life with its reminder that anyone who has a multitude of friends is rich.