Thursday, December 24, 2009

Strengthening Marriage: Evergreen Christmas

It was hard to fit our Christmas Spirit into our one-bedroom mobile home. We were the new kids on campus, married in September, and excited to start our own brand-new family traditions. They were bursting out of us.

Could we fit a tree in our 8' x 35' home?

We celebrated our 3rd month anniversary with a visit to the doctor's office where we found that I was, indeed, with child. Thrilled (as only first-time unsuspecting parents can be) we dashed out to buy a full-sized evergreen tree: symbol of our ever-growing, everlasting little family.

Prickly and green, it perfumed our tiny home with the smell of the forest. It was tucked into the corner where it fit perfectly, and only needed a little embellishment. Since we couldn't afford lights, or new ornaments, we were creative with strands of popcorn, tissue-paper-snowflakes, and Christmas cards tied with little bows. We borrowed a few shiny blue ball's from Dee's mom, but I still thought we needed a touch of red.

Our first Christmas, 1969

The cost of a package of cranberries stretched the budget too far, so we accepted our tree for what it was and went to bed. The next morning I was surprised to see beautiful red swags encircling the tree. Dee had strung red pyracantha berries that he picked off the bushes outside our trailer. Shiny and red at first, they shriveled up very quickly, so every morning until Christmas, Dee threaded new strands for fresh garlands. (Leaving me a little kindness-surprise in the morning is still a Dee trademark.)

I have to admit, I wanted to stay at my mom's that year. I couldn't imagine being away from my family on Christmas morning. Mom's Christmases were something from a fairytale, and the presents were always stacked to the rafters. It took us a couple of hours to open them all. There were fires in both fireplaces, sweet rolls for breakfast . . . how could I miss all that?

Dee, however, was very excited for our Christmas, so I decided to be excited, too. My parents were urging us to stay. It was the first time they had to recognize that I had new loyalties, and it was hard—I felt a little guilty choosing my family over theirs. There's a great quote for parents in this situation: "Hold your loved ones to you with wide open arms."

As newlyweds we didn't notice how cold our trailer got at night. Christmas morning we woke up to find that our shower curtain was frozen into it's folds. The moisture had turned into ice! To save money we usually left our little coal oil furnace off, so Dee jumped out of bed to light it while I stayed under the covers. I told him to open his first Christmas present before he lit the fire. His new fireplace matches (in a decorative box) took up residence on top of the fireplace (as we referred to it) as on object d' art after that.

When the room warmed up, we went into the kitchen and made hot chocolate with our candy canes, and real whipped cream. Dee lit a few candles we'd put on the tree (which was dry by then, and a huge fire hazard, I'm sure.) A few presents were piled underneath.

We had agreed to a $10 budget for each other, but both of us had overspent. Dee gave me a book of Bruegel art, an ivory lace slip, and a tiny hymn book. Besides the matches, Dee got some 4711 cologne. I had made him a collage of our 11 months worth of memories, and also a red flannel nightshirt. (He only wore the nightshirt once because it stuck to the sheets, and turned them red.)

Our opening ceremonies took about five minutes. There we were at 7:05 am on Christmas morning with nothing else to do. I think we reminisced a little, and probably fixed something fun for breakfast. I can't really remember the rest of the day.

Dee's priority that year was for the two of us to establish ourselves as a family. I cherish that about him. He has always put our family above anyone or anything else since the day we were married. It has given us strength and unity. At first I would have been happy to return to my parent's home several times a week to get waited on and pampered. In fact I remember thinking about a month after we were married, "Well, this was fun, but I want to go home where my mom does all the work, and my dad makes all the decisions." Now I realize that would have diminished our abilities and self confidence. I'm glad it was only a fleeting thought.

It's our 41st Christmas, and we stroll through the aisles of our memories like we would a Christmas festival. Some years blend together, and we sort out which aisles we've visited twice and which ones we've accidentally skipped over. But our first Christmas and the tree without lights is my brightest memory. It represents our hope for the future, our willingness to sacrifice the frills of past Christmases and start fresh, with nothing but each other.

Nowadays we're still stringing our life together, day by day. But every Christmas reminds me to be excited about the season of life I'm in, and the need to be evergreen.

Art by Guy Untereiner


Anonymous said...

I think you might have been our neighbor! Did you live on Columbia Lane in Provo? My name is Linda Johnson.

Travelin'Oma said...

Yes, we did live on Columbia Lane.

The Grandmother Here said...

Our first Christmas was also in a trailer. No credit cards then so we had to wait for payday to shop. I wanted tinsel icicles for our tree. All the stores were out of icicles! Since that year, in a depression era mind-set, I buy more icicles every time I see them on sale after Christmas, and I've given them to our children as a wedding gift so they never have to do without like we did.

Michelle said...

That was simply beautiful Marty. Beautiful.

Diane said...

"Hold your loved ones to you with wide open arms." What a great quote! Because my mom constantly kept track of every second we spent at my in-laws I have tried very hard to be generous in hoping my children feel free to spend time where they want. My mother-in-law was always saying, "make sure you spend enough time with your family." That's how I want to be.

Bev said...

So sweet Marty -- may you have many more Christmas memories in the future!

Merry Christmas


Lovely. Happy Christmas.

Katie H said...

What beautiful memories! I am glad to have stumbled on your blog this have inspired me & uplifted me (& others, I'm sure) more than you probably realize. Thank you for that!

Merry Christmas & may you be even more blessed in 2010!