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Trimming the tree on a white Christmas

The Jacksons from the Dec. 17 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…” Bing Crosby’s wistful yearning drifted across the room from the iPod dock on the fireplace mantel.

A fire crackled merrily below, the smell of pine and birch filling the room with the rustic smell of imagined cottages and campfires, mixing deliciously with the aroma of the freshly baked Christmas cookies that still sat on the counter in the adjoining kitchen.

Multi-coloured lights twinkled on the tree that stood in the corner near… but not too near… the fireplace. Outside, through the window snowflakes could be seen drifting softly down to the ground in the still night air, sparkling like diamonds in the bright light of the moon.

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cartoon image of a family seated at a table
cartoon image of a family seated at a table
cartoon image of a family seated at a table

Rose Jackson stood back and gave the Christmas tree a critical once-over. Perfect. No dark areas, and no areas too crowded with lights. Santa couldn’t have done it better, she thought to herself. Mrs. Santa maybe, but who would know? No information in Christmas lore about the Santas’ tree-decorating abilities, although one would assume those abilities might be considerable. But hardly a match for Mrs. Jackson’s.

Rose picked up the tattered cardboard box that had been home to the Jacksons’ special ornaments for more years than she could accurately remember, and set it down beside the tree.

Reaching down she removed the strips of masking tape that held the top flaps of the box together and opened them up to reveal the treasures inside. Just the way she had left them, but that’s what one would expect, unless the little red and black nutcracker ornament had come to life at some point and reorganized the contents of the box from inside. An unlikely scenario unless life itself had turned into a fairy tale or a ballet.

Reaching into the box, Rose removed the tree topper first, the glass star with its rays spreading upwards and outwards to the sky. She laid the star carefully on the chair next to the fireplace. Christmas never passed without someone remarking about the improbability of that star, in its crystal fragility, having survived another year and yet here it was, ready to lend its light to another season. Best to let Andrew and his six feet of height deal with that one.

Rose returned to the box. Peeking out from under the cushioning layer of tissue that had protected the star were the three most special ornaments. She picked up the first one, Randy’s. Crafted beautifully out of a solid piece of dark walnut, the ornament was a delicately carved reindeer figure standing next to a sleigh filled to overflowing with boxes and packages of every shape and size.

For all the delicacy of the carving the reindeer stood with an air of confidence and strength that was in no way diminished by the bright red ruby of its nose. Just like my Randy, she thought, except for the nose. The strong one. She hung the ornament near the top of the tree and returned to the box.

A shiny red locomotive lay next to the empty space where the reindeer had been. Brady’s little train. The metal locomotive, carefully painted with the finest golden accents and the logo of the Northern Rail Company, was a work of art in itself, but it was the engineer who really caught one’s eye.

Not content to ride inside, the laughing black bear, wearing a white Hudson’s Bay coat and a fur hat, straddled the coal bin at the rear of the locomotive, leaning merrily forward, a long red and black scarf streaming behind him in the wind. Rose picked the ornament up gently and looked at it in silence for a moment. So like Brady she thought. Always having a good time and all the better if there was a little risk involved. She hung the ornament not far from Randy’s, and turned back to the box to pick up the last of the three, Jennifer’s.

She cradled it in her hands, enjoying the exquisite smoothness of the ceramic figure. A little girl, her lovely painted eyes wide with delight, lay on a sled that raced downhill at what appeared to be breakneck speed. The little girl’s blonde locks escaped from under her wool hat, in just the way Jennifer’s did when she was that age. It seems like such a long time ago, thought Rose, and the lights on the tree blurred suddenly.

“Are you crying, darling?” Andrew spoke from behind her. She hadn’t noticed him come in.

Rose reached up to hang the third ornament and she felt his arms envelope her as she did so. She leaned back against him and let her head rest on his shoulders. “Only because I’m happy,” she said.

Andrew said nothing, and that was perfect. There was nothing she wanted him to say.

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