Small Bright Comforts

By and large, it’s been a dark winter. Buck and I have been loath to give up the small bright comforts of the Christmas season. But we’ll be traveling some this month, and hosting a dinner party for our parish supper club in early March, and so today was the day we decided to deconstruct Christmas. Yes, I know it’s February 5, but if you were here you would understand the charm of our glittery forest and why we have halfway seriously considered leaving it up all year. 

The size and shape isn’t so large, physically: a couple of fake trees (well, three) that have become real over the years, cheap shiny garlands that shed red, gold, silver and green micro-slivers which work their way into the carpet and conspire to make it glimmer all year, and holiday baubles that go back a-ways; idiosyncratic ornaments that make us smile and go all misty-eyed with nostalgia, longing and some regret.

It’s the kind of thing that ought to be done on a bright day, a scrubbing, clean up the house kind of day, not today: gray, windy, damply cold. A day to invite melancholy. Especially when I look at the dear black Labrador Retriever angel tree-topper that we bought the year after losing our first lab, twelve-year-old Amanda Blackvelvet, to a terrible tumor that wrapped around her heart in an inoperable stranglehold.

Like most families, even where children no longer dwell, and grandchildren have begun having children of their own, we have accumulated an upstairs closet full of teddy bears and other stuffed animals. It became a tradition years ago to bring them downstairs during the Christmas season to cluster together under a tree known as the “teddy bear” tree. I shouldn’t be telling you this. You’ll know for sure what you’ve guessed: that Buck and I both are marshmallows. I don’t mind so much that I have confirmed your suspicions about me, but Buck is sensitive to accusations that he is sweet (in fact, he made me swear never to tell anyone, years ago).

There are cheerful quadruplets,

the “Gray  Sheep” who has special significance in our hearts,

and the inimitable “Snoopy.”

Each crochet snowflake, each long glass icicle, each carved bird was put away with the thoughts: “Where will we be next year? Will we see you? Will you be in your customary place, or in storage for us or someone else to find in some other year?” Not maudlin thoughts, but reflective, an acknowledgment that every stage of life has its rhythms, its season, and sometimes the season changes before awareness fully dawns.

The trees are put away. The long space in front of the glass window wall is clear again. We can see the forest out back with its mix of young and old longleaf and slash pines, blackjack and live oaks and the deep green, round-leaved magnolias. We take a glass of sherry and a small plate of vanillas wafers to bed. Maggie trots along and settles on her blue cedar-filled bed. At the first cookie crunch, she rises to rest her fine chin just where she can fix me with the steady gaze of  a champion beggar. Buck and I sip our sherry, share a cookie with Maggie and sigh with pure pleasure.

Small bright comforts. The great stuff of life.

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