Bittersweet Christmas Memories Last a Lifetime

Sometimes the most lasting memories are bittersweet. That’s the way it is for me with Christmas.

When I went off to college in 1975, my father was suddenly taken ill and soon diagnosed with cancer. Although no one told me, I knew that the coming Christmas would be his last. I eagerly awaited the end of my first semester at the University of Maine in Orono and rushed home to our little town of Springfield, Maine, as early as possible — arriving in the midst of a blizzard.

To my surprise, no one had gotten a tree for Christmas, so I set out against my mother’s pleas to “wait another day when the storm has passed.” With a handsaw in hand, I began the journey into the woods to find the perfect tree. Wind whipped and snow blew — but I was on a mission and there was no turning back. My father needed a Christmas tree.

Wading through knee-deep snow and fighting the biting wind was the least of my concerns. After hours of searching, I found the perfect tree and cut it down with relative ease. To my surprise when I turned to make my way back home, my tracks had disappeared. But, it didn’t matter. I knew the way.

Upon return home, I again ignored my mother’s wishes to “wait another day to set up the tree.” A driving force — that I can only now begin understand — propelled me as I prepared the snow-drenched tree for the home. With hammer and nails, I secured it to our old wooden tree stand and set it in place.

Strings of miniature blinking lights, handmade ornaments and tinsel brought the tree to life. Placing the tinfoil star on the treetop, and draping the tree with my father’s favorite orange-red garland completed the tree.

I proudly announced that the Christmas tree was ready for viewing. My father got up from his bed, walked slowly into the living room, and seated himself on the couch. A look of pure wonder overcame his face as he gazed at the tree. A sense of peace overcame the room as he visually inspected the tree.

“Ain’t that purdy?” he murmured in awe.

We sat in silence as he sipped his glass of orange soda, gazing dreamily at the tree before him. Neither of us spoke for fear of breaking the magical spell that had overcome us. When he began to tire, I helped him back to bed, where he slept comfortably for the rest of the afternoon.

My father passed in the wee hours of dawn and never met another day.

I don’t know what force propelled me to get the tree in the midst of a blizzard. I do know that it allowed me to give my father one last gift and share a magical moment with him before his time would end. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Other work by this author:
Christmas of Yesteryear: When Traditions Die
Favorite Childhood Christmas Memory: Too Young to Understand
Decorate a Maine Winter Garden with Garlands and Wreaths

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