The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Last Christmas Tree

By Marion Schoeblein © 1991

Issue: December, 1991

When you're young and happy, it's hard to think of death. We were far away from it in thought, so we had no way of knowing it was Grandmother's last Christmas.

My mother did not like picnics, so Grandmother took me to all the Sunday School picnics, filling up a basket of potato salad and hard-boiled eggs and cheese sandwiches, not to mention the chicken and chocolate cake. Grandmother was responsible for me being overweight, but I didn't care. At that age, I was so in love with life, I didn't mind tipping the scales at ten pounds more than I should.

Grandmother was also the most religious woman I ever knew. Her husband had been a minister. His sudden death at fifty made her a widow, but she was never bitter. She went right on, continuing Christmas for us in her little house.

We loved the little tree she decorated with the ornaments from Germany. We never got tired of looking at their unique fragility.

Her cookies were special, too. Mostly anise, rolled out with a rolling pin from Germany. Some were soft, some were so hard you had to "dunk" them in coffee for a long time.

The last Christmas was no different from the others, only Grandmother looked like a trapped bird. She wanted to be off, I guess, finally into Heaven. She was eighty-eight years old.

We all noticed how rickety she walked, but she didn't use a cane.

The last Christmas Eve she was with us, everything was as perfect as it had ever been. She must have known that everything old, everything beautiful, was gradually vanishing.

She sat at the table with us, nibbling at her food, turkey, potatoes and gravy, mince pie. We noticed that she hardly touched it, while we ate as if it was our last meal. Grandmother kept looking at the Christmas tree. Feelings from everywhere must have gathered in her heart.

"Grandma, your hand made ornaments are prettier than ever," someone said.

"I know. I still wash and starch them every year." The birds and the angel faces and the other ornaments from Germany were as sparkling as ever, too.

Then Grandmother did a strange thing. She got up and went over to her old upright piano and told us to gather around.

"I still remember 'O Tannenbaum'," she said and her fingers caressed the old yellow keys in something like the tune. Her eyes shone. She seemed young again, as we sang above her whispering piano.

The warm winter sunlight fell on her, shadowing a halo. The spirit of Christmas danced in her trembling fingers. Then she got up and went over to the tree.

"It is more beautiful this year than it's ever been," she said.

Nobody said a word. We wanted this moment to last forever - forever in our memories. The fragile, eggshell old Grandmother giving us her blessing in her own way. At that moment Grandmother looked to me like the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her tree seemed to come alive. The pine branches glistened. The real scent of the pine needles were so good to smell. Underneath the tree stood the tiny manger her husband had carved in his spare time.

Grandmother knew it was her moment. Her tree. Her Christmas. Everything and everyone that had love in them belonged to her...