Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Sweetheart's Tree

For weeks prior to the 25th, my PawPaw would spend every available non-cotton-mill-working moment stapling lights to the house. They’d be on top of the house, on the side of the house, around the front porch, and if he still had a single strand of brightly colored orbs left, by jiminy something was getting lit up.

When he wasn’t going about the business of stapling, we’d spend hours upon hours, my PawPaw and me, talking about Christmas. I’d tell him in detail what I wanted Santa to bring me and he’d tell me in detail how his plan to finally catch that fat man in the red suit was all coming together once and for all. “When ‘ern I git my hands on him, I’m gonna take over and I’ll be the richest man that ever were.”

Even up until I was practically grown, his Santa nabbing plans seemed to me to possess all the necessary elements for success.  He knew his target well and he was all up in his head. If anybody could catch Santa, it was gonna be my PawPaw. While I felt some sadness for all the other little children around the world who would certainly be sad at not finding anything under the tree, I could never really contain my selfish delight as I knew my primo status as the apple of PawPaw’s eye ensured I would get to lay my hands on the whole pile of loot for myself.

Being a good Southern Baptist girl, it did cross my mind a time or two that Jesus might not look too favorably on me for being so selfish. That’s why I’d usually toss in a disclaimer meant strictly for Jesus’ ears. “PawPaw, if you catch him this year, I thank we should still take presents to all the other kids anyway.”

On the other hand, the public-North-Carolina-elementary-school educated side of me said if someone of Santa’s considerable training and experience could be nabbed by a chain-smoking, coffee-swilling, PawPaw, surely I could not be held responsible in this life or the next.  Just in case this kind of thing was covered in the Book of Revelation though, I felt it best not to take chances.

I have to say, if my sense of humor came from somewhere along the path of my blood line, it was from C.J. Willis. He was a clown in every sense of the word. He was quite handsome, too, my PawPaw. He kept his blond hair swept straight back  and he fancied himself a snazzy dresser.  He enjoyed looking good and smelling even better.  I can still picture him, getting so tickled about something, that tears would pour down his face and he’d shake all over. Lord I loved that about him.

“Why you so purty, PawPaw?” He loved for me to ask and so it became a running joke between us.
He’d flash those teeth, clench his Lucky Strike tight in his teeth and hold up his favorite coffee cup, stained from years of use, “Coffee makes you purty. If you wanna be purty like me, you need to learn to drank coffee.” He especially loved it when I’d ask him that question in front of company.

“How you gonna do it this year, PawPaw?”

“Let me tell you something, Honey,” he’d say. “That old man is gonna come down that chimney this year expecting to find cookies and when he does, Ima gonna jump right out at him, slap my hands around his belt and hang on fer dear life. I don’t aim to turn him loose until he hands it over. Ever last bit of it. Won’t we be fine with that sled parked out there in the yard?”

I thought to myself we surely would be fine. The nicest thing I’d ever seen parked in front was the long, black, shiny, hearse that would carry our people home after they’d passed away. I was almost positive the sleigh would be bigger.

Year after year, no matter that I wasn’t seven years old any more, PawPaw and I would spend countless hours talking about kidnapping Santa Claus and what in the big, wide, world we were going to do with all those presents. MawMaw would sit smoking and listening and every now and again, if she felt like PawPaw was getting too carried away, she’d shake her head and say, “Daddy.”

“What is it, Mother?” That’s what he called her. She was Mother, or if he was willing to risk her pretend scoffing, it was My Sweetheart. He was Daddy. “Can’t a man sit in his own living room and plan to kidnap Santa Claus with his grandbaby?” She didn’t argue. Anything that entertained Sherri Lynn was always OK.

I was a princess in their eyes, and although we never had much money, come Christmas time they’d break the bank on my behalf.  Every candy, cookie, toy, shiny tinselly thing was rolled out for me.  Of course there were other grandkids, but no one in the family had any doubt about what was what.

The last Christmas I spent  in my PawPaw’s house I was eighteen years old and it was the only Christmas we didn’t plot or plan. On December 10th, fourteen days before their 50th wedding anniversary, My Sweetheart went home to be with Jesus – as C.J. would say if he were telling this story.  I lived with them by this time, and so it was just the two of us who came home from the business of burying MawMaw to live in a house that still smelled of the carnations in funeral arrangements instead of Christmas pies and cakes.

I didn’t know what to do, so I laid down where she had always slept and I hoped to drift away to wherever it was she’d gone. The pain in the house seemed almost loud to me.

Three or four days before Christmas I heard the front screen door slam and the sound of something being dragged across the floor. I drug myself to my feet and when I walked in the front room, I saw PawPaw pulling behind him a cedar tree he’d chopped down that was so big it just almost didn’t fit through the door.
“Your MawMaw would not rest if she thought her baby did not have a Christmas tree,” he said through tears. “You know how much she loved you.”

Christmas was rough that year and the year after and truly, for several years to come. She’s been gone for many, many years now and still this time of year always brings memories of her.  I wear her Poinsettia apron on Christmas Day – even though I’m not 1/100th of the cook she was.

I have no doubt that if I live to be one-hundred years old, I’ll never have another gift given to me that was so much from the heart as that one. I was truly, truly blessed to have had such a precious, pure, love in my life.
Merry Christmas C.J. & Rosie. I love you.

Copyright © Sherri Bailey
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Jami said...

Dammit, woman! Here I finally get back around to visiting and you up and make me all weepy! Thanksgiving does it for me because my Daddy died on Thanksgiving 7 years ago. You've got the right idea, though: it's the love that they gave us that matters, not their absence.

I'm not blogging or tweeting again but I am noodling around on Facebook now, so stop by and say "Howdy" if you have a spare moment. And a Merry and a Happy and Joyous to you and all of yours!

Sher said...


So nice to see you! Thank you for your kind words. I've missed connecting with you.