Every year at the end of October, it started. We'd be in Walmart, shopping for whatever people shop for. And she'd tell me, "Oh look!! They have their Christmas trees up!" We'd go over to that section, browse the cheap ornaments.
When I was about ten, she bought a 3-foot-tall tree for my bedroom, and we bought ornaments every week. As soon as she felt she could get away with it, she'd pull out the old Christmas records. Elvis, Willie Nelson. Dolly Parton, The Chipmunks. It was an Occasion in my home. Not a holiday. Not gifts or obligations. She loved it. And she made me love it.
The tree was decorated on Thanksgiving day. Afterward, I'd sit in the dark and stare at the lights, reveling in the magic of the season. She'd bring me hot cocoa and we'd listen to those old records and sing. On Christmas day, she'd make a tiny cake and decorate it so we could sing happy birthday to Jesus.
We never had a lot of money when I was a kid, but I never knew it. She bought presents, but it wasn't obligation. She loved it. She loved to buy presents for people. There was none of the frustration and anger and rush. She loved to find the right presents. She never asked me what I wanted. She just knew. She made Christmas magical.
She's been gone for so long now. I don't remember her voice. She's flahses. vague memories, a part of me that I will never stop missing. As much as I try to hold on to her memory, she fades a little more every day. But not today. Not this season. I'm sitting here, looking at her tree. I got it when she died fourteen years ago. It's old. This year, a little piece of a branch fell off. But I can't bear to part with it because it's hers. Over the years I have changed the decorations, but I only to look at it to see in in her house the year I was sixteen, the last Christmas she was alive.
And every year, when I look at my kids on Christmas morning - when I see that I have managed to find exactly what they want without them telling me, when I see their faces shine with the magic of Christmas, I remember my mama, and I smile.