Thanksgiving was a time to drive twelve hours from Kalamazoo, Mi to New City, New York to visit my closest relatives. We sometimes stopped along the way to spend the night in a hotel in Tennessee. Most of the time we drove straight through. We would pick up our daughter at school on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and head on down I94.

It was a time to spend with family, the Italian side of my father’s sister, Irish married to an Italian. He was so much fun to be around. He died much too early with cancer.

We would arrive in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving day. We stayed in a hotel. Sumio was not one to impose on others by staying in their home. His ideas were different than mine. I would have liked to stay in the house of relatives. We would eat dinner, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, dressing, and corn. For dessert we usually ate pumpkin pie with a big glob of whipped cream on top. We returned to our hotel around 9:00 p.m.

In the morning we would go into the “city” by train and walk around Manhatten, visit a museum, eat lunch (oysters in Grand Central Station), go shopping, walk a lot, and return to my cousin’s house in the evening. We sat around and hung out, played cards, and ate leftovers. We left early on Sunday morning and returned to Kalamazoo in the evening.

The weekend after returning to Kalamazoo, we would get in the car and drive to a tree farm. It was usually freezing. We got out of the car and wandered around and closely surveyed the available trees still growing. I chose the fullest one. I sat in the car while Sumio cut the tree with his saw. Lisa, our daughter, always stood close to him. They drug the tree back to the front of the farm. The workers bound the tree with a net and threw it on top of our van. We paid for the tree and were very happy with our treasure.

We took it home. Sumio and Lisa helped take it down from the top of the van and carefully bring it into the house. I got the tree stand and Sumio positioned the tree in the stand while I directed him. “It’s too far to the right. No, move it to the left. Ok, now it is ok” We filled the tree stand with water. The tree was always so thirsty we had to fill the stand again in less than two hours. The tree was happy.

My responsibility was to decorate the tree. I loved decorating the tree. Lisa helped me until she got bored. It was tedious at times. I would hand the ornaments that my grandmother sent to us each year. She made them from antique style clothespins. She painted faces and made clothes for each cloth spin. She made individual ones that were unique for each of us. My husband liked to play golf, she made a golfer for him. I was a teacher, she made a teacher for me. Lisa played tennis, she made a tennis player for Lisa. She made many more. I would hang red and white striped candy canes on the tree. There were also red, green, and gold bulbs. Sumio would untangle the Christmas lights from the year before and carefully string them around the tree. I liked the small white lights, not the bigger colored bulbs.

I would pop popcorn and buy a bag of fresh cranberries. I threaded a needle with some thread and strung the popcorn and the cranberries. This took about three days. It was tedious. I loved the look and the smell. I didn’t want my Christmas tree to look fake. Everything I hung had a meaning.

Two weeks after Christmas the tree was dragged out of the living room leaving behind its dead needles. Sumio drug the tree out to the curb where the recycled Christmas tree guy came around to pick it up. I used the vacuum to pick up the needles left in the carpet. The vacuum cleaner was not to happy. We were left with an empty corner space that would stay that way until the next Christmas.

Those times are over. I live in Arizona. My living room is small. Sumio went to heaven. Lisa lives in Tulsa. I can’t bring myself to decorate a tree or put up any Christmas lights in my house. It is too sad. I have placed my nativity scene in the living room. The shepherds, Mary, and Joseph wait for the baby Jesus to be born. We have never put Jesus in the scene until December 24. It was Lisa’s job to place baby Jesus in his crib. This is the only tradition that I continue to observe.

Christmas is a sad day if the ones you love are not nearby. Watching people laughing makes me cry. I don’t do any Christmas shopping. I sometimes listen to Christmas music, and I cry. The Christmas season is not as happy as it was. I still continue to honor the birth of Jesus. That is what Christmas is all about. I will be reading a book on Christmas Eve. I might even be writing because that is what keeps me going.

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