shuffling in from the tree lot––the Christmas tree lot––with the littlest tree that nearly ever there grew, and once i’d kerplunked the pitiful seedling in its far-too-big tree stand (the yuletide equivalent of a saggy pair of dungarees slipping down to the knees of an undersized tot), i sat right down to pen my apologia to my faraway boys.
my mea culpa unfolded thusly:
sweet boys, we have adopted this year, from the neediest Christmas tree farm, the wee littlest tree you ever did see. he very much wanted a home, and we shall be taking name nominations starting now. he’s an inflationary victim, the poor little sprout (there’s a name, Sprout!), as trees are in short short supply (and they’re short!). we’ve gussied him up with a santa cap, cranberry ropes (don’t tell him they’re wooden), and the lovely quilted skirt that will soon be an heirloom. a standard-sized tree topped 200 bucks this year, and for two weeks of Christmas that is not allowed. (just think, your tree funds will be shifted to the beef tenderloin fund, which is much more delicious anyway.) the little fellow smells just like the woods, and i am certain a bird might land in him soon. i beg your mercies in embracing this little guy. he tried with ALLLLL his might to grow like the big guys, but he just didn’t have it in him, and here in this house we love the ones on the margins, even the trees. xoxoxox deepest apologies if you are duly disappointed…
didn’t take but a minute for the one i might forever call our “little one” to ping right back:
I like underdogs
This tree seems like a underdog
and so my upside-down day was snapped into crystal-clear focus: the message of Christmas delivered, and echoed.
it’s all about heart, and dimensions don’t matter. nor superlatives. nor getting it right. nor any of the vexations that sometimes tangle me in my own unlit strands.
never mind the panting toward some imaginary finish line, as once again our festival of lights and our feast of nativity wedge their way into the same single overbooked week. never mind the slab of brisket i need to fetch from the butcher, or the welcome-home mac-n-cheese i need to slide in the oven, while dashing to an incoming plane at an airport many miles south (after picking up grammy plenty miles north, making for a 78-mile loop on a holiday weekend afternoon). and never mind the onerous chore that just yesterday had us signing last wills and testaments, which i can assure puts something of a damper on the jolly spirit of christmas. (one of those “responsible-grownup” tasks right up there with root canals!)
all of it vanished, the panting, the worries, the how-will-get-it-all-dones, in the flick of a text (the modernday spin on a wink of the eye, and a twist of the head, as clement c. moore immortally put it).
the kid needed no convincing. no need to shovel lament. he was ready to love the littlest tree.
in years past i’d taken some ribbing––and serious protest––for my proclivities toward picking the spindliest trees. so i figured a misshapen midget of a fraser fir might have me taking my Christmas out in the doghouse (and since we’ve no dog, the fair equivalent might have been sheltering under the seed trough).
thus, i’d decided to nip protests in the bud, devised my long-winded defense.
and the lightning-quick reply––I like underdogs––made me see what should have been clear all along: the kid with the very big heart needs no convincing, no urging to consider the plight of the nearly forgotten.
This tree seems like a underdog
he’s the kid who long, long ago taught me to watch out for worms, who led me on moon walks, and insisted he stand on the very same spot where abraham lincoln once stood so he could recite the line from the gettysburg address that made him break into tears every time: “we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.” and, on that gray pennsylvania day in 2009, when we asked why the tears, he choked out what to him seemed blatantly obvious, “it’s the soldiers.” a sadness too big for his second-grade heart.
he’s 21 now. old enough to drink, drive, and drop a vote in the ballot box. and that heart, it only grows bigger.
hearts have a way of finding each other, the truest hearts anyway.
so, once again, he’s pointed the way to the bright heart of the season. and the littlest tree, the tree with no name yet, will stand tall and stand proud on its upturned crate. because in this old house, underdogs are always, always the heroes.
and ours is now dressed in mighty regalia: santa cap, blinking lights (they’ll be switched out, soon as i get to the Christmas light store), and string upon string of bright wooden berries. and up on the milk crate, he’s gotten some inches. our sorry old tree isn’t so sorry, hauled in from the cold, given due glory.
here’s a beauty of a poem, just because it stirred me. . . a poem about rising up, about beauty from ashes. . .
such beauty from ashes
by carolyn marie rodgers**
and we are singing our hearts out, and
our souls are in our eyes,
and they are beautiful souls.
they are souls of truth.
they are souls of love.
they are souls of faith.
they are souls of hope.
and we have conquered a little corner in the
world of fear.
and we have stepped up and forward,
and we have torn down walls.
we have smashed sound barriers between us.
we have dared again and again and yet again to dream,
and our dreams have finally taken material form.
we have changed our hearts.
we have altered and changed our minds,
and because of this, we now have some
valor and strength,
and we are threatening to change the world.
that it might be a better place.
For us and for all god’s children.
for all that we are.
for all that we might be
we have done it.
And we rise now as one voice, with many harmonies,
Through the mystery and beauty of harmony.
Though many, for one, for all.
For all the earth to grow and know,
From the mounds of ashes of our dead, our martyred,
Our lambs, our sacrificed, those who died and have been dead
So long, so long they are no more than, nor any less than,
Sacred memories. Mountains of ashes, of our sweet, beloved,
Today, what beauty we now have, to gain strength from to continue on,
**Born in Chicago on December 14, 1940, Carolyn Marie Rodgers was born to Clarence Rodgers, a welder, and his wife, Bazella. The last born of four children, her family had moved from Little Rock, Arkansas to Chicago’s South Side, where Rodgers grew up. Early in her career, Rodgers was associated with the Black Arts Movement, attending writing workshops led by Gwendolyn Brooks and through the Organization of Black American Culture. Rodgers’s poetry collections include Paper Soul (1968); Songs of a Black Bird (1969), which won the Poet Laureate Award of the Society of Midland Authors; her best-known book, how i got ovah: New and Selected Poems (1975), a finalist for the National Book Award in 1976; The Heart as Ever Green: Poems (1978); and Morning Glory: Poems (1989).
Rodgers’s poetry addresses feminist issues, including the role of Black women in society, though her work evolved over time from a militant stance to one more focused on the individual and Christianity. Other themes she explored in her poetry include mother-daughter relationships, relationships between Black men and Black women, street life, and love. In addition to poetry, Rodgers wrote plays, short stories, and essays. She worked as a book critic for the Chicago Daily News and as a columnist for the Milwaukee Courier.
Rodgers founded Third World Press in 1967 with Haki Madhubuti, Johari Amini, and Roschell Rich and began Eden Press with a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. She was as a social worker through the YMCA and taught at various colleges. She was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2009 on the campus of Chicago State University. She died in 2010 in Chicago, at the age of 69.
—abridged bio taken from the Poetry Foundation
and here is the heavenly late cartoonist George Booth’s last New Yorker Christmas cover. . .
i seem to be reverting to smorgasbord here at the chair, leaving more than one thing, as i meander through the week collecting my morsels. likely comes from thinking a little isn’t enough. making sure there’s at least enough. today, a tale, a poem, and a drawing. oh, and a question, always a question:
has a little bit of Christmas leapt out from the cracks or the corners of your life, surprised you, taken your breath away just a bit because suddenly, amid the blur, you saw crystal clear the beating heart of the season?
merry almost everything. . .