I have never, ever been a good sleeper. Even when young I slept very lightly and would awaken in the silent, early morning hours, my mind busy with my own version of instant replay. Sometimes I’d tiptoe out of the bedroom I shared with my sister, curl up on the couch with a crocheted throw across my lap, and enjoy a few hours of privacy and quiet. If it was close to Christmas I would turn on the tree lights and that gentle, multi-colored glow illuminated my thoughts.
One night, I was awake but still in bed when I heard a scrape and muffled thud. My sister slept on so I slipped out from beneath the blanket and met my Mom in the hallway. Together, we peeked into the living room. The Christmas tree had tipped over and ornaments now decorated the carpet. So, with my Dad and three brothers and sister still asleep, the two of us quietly pushed the tree straight, tightened the screws that pressed into the tree trunk to hold it upright, and used a couple of dishtowels to sop up the water that had spilled from the stand. The silver angel tree topper, older than I was, tilted drunkenly to one side as she gazed down at our efforts, pulled sideways first by the fall and then by the tangle of her heavy power cord. Once the tree was secure Mom carefully straightened the angel, our cherished tree topper, and I plugged her in to test her blue bulb. The angel smiled down at us, her heart glowing.
That angel is with us still though a hole now pierces her bodice, the heat from the bulb nestled there having melted through the old plastic decades ago. So the angel has retired. Each year she briefly supervises my Sister’s decoration efforts when fragile old ornaments are unwrapped and admired, and tremulous smiles capture our lips as we remember our youth, of our Mother taken from us, too young. The angel’s smile remains as sweet and gentle as my memories demand and it was long ago that she plummeted to the carpet, and long ago that my Mom died. But my tears are as fresh as the day we lost her and the hole in my heart is as real as the angel’s.
And now, with the holiday season upon us, I thought I would share the Secret of the Tree, that long-ago adventure I shared with my Mom. In a few days I’ll visit my darling Sister and we’ll scamper downstairs to unpack the old angel. We’ll hug and weep a little and our love will take wing, flying beyond the top of her Christmas tree into the night sky, as we cherish and share the memory of my Mom’s gentle smile, now the smile of an angel. Folio.