Randy’s gift adorns top of Charlie Brown Christmas tree

December 23, 2011 05:18 pm
It is Friday, Dec. 23, and only another day until Christmas.

Hopefully the decorated tree is in place, the gifts wrapped, the cookies ready to be consumed.

Maybe there is a program to attend or last-minute food to be purchased for Sunday's family dinner.

How nice it would be to have the family gathered around, stories to be read, songs to be sung, a quiet time just to think about the meaning of the season.

Tomorrow will be last-minute catch-up, perhaps greeting out-of-town visitors, but in the evening will be the candlelight services at the churches and maybe a few family gift exchanges.

Armed with a bowl of popcorn, a mug of hot chocolate and a few free hours on my own, I may be attempting to finish the jig-saw puzzle started earlier in the month.

“The Morning After the Night Before Christmas” has been a fun annual challenge, one which I believe I mentioned about this time last Christmas.

Even though by now it is a familiar task, putting together the rooms of chaos still takes time and effort, but a fun way to build up to the special holiday through the whole month.

It is an Ambassador puzzle of more than 500 interlocking pieces, not overly contesting for a card-table, but the 10 cut-away room house, has engaging activity within the walls and must be separated to view each one.

Having reindeer on the roof as well as in the front yard adds to the fun.

Every year I have a new plan about how to approach building the house to reveal the story of what is going on.  Some years it is putting colors together- — snow white, blue sky, outside light bulbs.  Sometimes it is types of activity, sometimes it’s the lettering from the signs that hang in welcome.

However I do it, putting it together by size and shape of the pieces or the outside border never seems to work.

At any rate, once each piece falls into place, it gives a feeling of attainment so that one can laugh again over the antics of this one family and their holiday guests.

I remember the time when I wouldn’t have been free to sit and put together a puzzle with no help at all, so the quiet time is to be cherished in spite of the loneliness of it. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to give up the memory of a young, energetic body able to keep up with the round of activities governed by my family and friends.

While I work the puzzle I think of my own families so far away and I know that many other homes face the same absence of loved ones. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy and appreciate the offers of others to join in their family gatherings. My, no! Without them the loneliness would be almost unbearable. It’s just that at one time our own homes were filled with the preparations, secret packages hidden in the closet, decorations in repeated settings, fragrances of baking and scented candles.

It’s hard to catch the spirit in such a quiet house. No exhaustive recovery required afterwards.

In the midst of gaiety and laughter are the lonely hearts, some more padded against the pain of loss, some so freshly departed. Behind the smiling faces who’s to know the pain.  The music and colored lights can soothe, the happy spirits of others carry us through, but the ache of absence is individually our own.

Our house never had the craziness of these cardboard puzzle pieces, but we had our fun times, our times of laughing and sharing, our quiet moments of remembering. I miss them yet.

Oh, to be able to do it again, but time marches on and all things change or are modified.

My Charlie Brown Christmas tree in front of the window with Randy’s gift of the metallic red spire purchased by himself at 7 years of age once again at the top of the tree, casts reflections on the ornaments by sunlight in the daytime and by the string of electric lights at night. There are no ropes or ribbons or artificial blooms. Nothing exotic but beautiful in its own simplistic way.

I think of the popcorn strings and paper chains we used to make and the streams of metal foil tinsel hung over all, and memory fills in the empty spaces threading the needle of the past with the present.

As the hours wind down from my 65th anniversary with George on Dec. 21 to the observance in recognition of the birth of the Christ child on the 25th, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Veteran newspaperwoman Dorothy Swart Fleshman is a La Grande native.