When I was in high school and college, I spent a lot of my spare time doing needlework. There was cross-stitching and crocheting and some embroidery and needlepoint . . . and a whole lot of Bucilla felt kits. For the uninformed, these were complete kits that allowed you to create three dimensional Christmas ornaments or stockings or tree skirts. The pieces were printed onto appropriately colored felt (so there was a lot of cutting . . .) and each kit contained all the thread and sequins needed to complete the project.
Probably the most complicated one I ever tackled was a scalloped tree skirt featuring the twelve days of Christmas. Each scallop held an oval which held something symbolic of that day’s gifts. My mother thought it was magnificent and anytime I was home and she had company, I was required to pull out the unfinished skirt so she could show it off. With a lot of hard work I managed to finish it by Christmas—and since she loved it so much, I gave it to her. And she cried.
When they moved into the apartment at the funeral home she used it in the center of the old dining room table that had been repurposed as a game table in the upstairs sitting room. She would drape it across the top (and my dad would come along behind her and make certain it was exactly the same distance from each end and each side . . .) then set a small, decorated Christmas tree in the center. The last four or five years of her life, decorating had been minimal, especially upstairs since stairs had become an unnecessary hazard to be avoided at all costs, and the skirt had disappeared into the recesses of the apartment. Now she’s been gone for over fourteen years (which seems impossible) and for some reason, I had the tree skirt on my mind.
The apartment still holds many of my parents’ belongings, boxed and bagged, stored in closets and drawers, just waiting . . . so the tree skirt had to be somewhere inside those walls. With that knowledge, I walked into the apartment, climbed the dreaded stairs, and turned left, going across the sitting room where the old dining table once lived and into what would have been my room had I not married before they moved in . . . my room that now serves as a storage place for all things Christmas and about a million pictures, most of whom are of people I don’t recognize.
Knowing they held many of her Christmas decorations, I started in the large plastic boxes that were stacked four high in the corner. Although they were labeled as to their contents, I didn’t trust that . . . so I opened every single one. Meaning I also moved all but the bottom ones in each stack. There was the garland for their tree that was always done in peach and beige and gold, with cords and mesh ribbon and all the ornaments, carefully wrapped to protect them from the ravages of Time and rambunctious grandchildren. One container held what must have been every Christmas card they’d received in the 28 Christmases they’d spent there. And that was a lot of Christmas cards. There were the folding candle holders that stretched out like an accordion made of open picture frames and all the greenery and star-studded garland that had accompanied them . . . and another tub filled with Byer’s Choice carolers and miscellaneous decorations meant to spread Christmas cheer in every nook and cranny while gathering all the dust. And the container that held all the Santas she’d been given by one of the employees at the funeral home in Waynesboro . . . years and years of thoughtful gestures, now all packed away. Finding them reminded me of what he said when he came to my mother’s visitation . . . “I’d already bought her Santa for this year . . .”
Despite all my searching and digging and moving of stuff, there was no tree skirt to be found. As I stood in the middle of the room, surveying my surroundings and trying to decide where to go next, I spied the chest of drawers that once lived in my brother’s bedroom. Opening the doors at the top I found stacks of sweaters. The drawers in the second section held the same for both my parents, except for one that also contained two pairs of Izod pajamas, still in their original packaging, never opened because either my dad didn’t believe the ones he was using were tattered enough to discard, or because his physical condition made them impractical. That only left one drawer—my last chance before moving to *sigh* the closets that were still full of everything. I knelt down and pulled on the handles. The drawer easily slid out, revealing the tree skirt my mother had always used for their tree . . . a beige ruffled thing covered with large peach colored poinsettias and soft green leaves. It filled the drawer from end to end and side to side . . . but not from top to bottom. Beneath it I found the peach and beige stockings that my father meticulously pinned to the stairway each December. They had been handmade by a friend of theirs, one for each member of the family as the family had been at that moment, our names sown on in tiny peach-colored beads against the beige cuff of the stocking. There were eleven of them . . . my mother and dad . . . her mother . . . my brother and sister-in-law and their two children . . . and my husband and me and our two. And beneath those stockings, neatly folded, was the tree skirt I had made.
I gently lifted it from the drawer, allowing the folds to open so I could see my handiwork from so many years before. And then I looked around at the stockings and the poinsettia covered skirt, at the pictures and the Santas and the unopened Izod p.j.s . . . and there was a yearning and a sadness that I cannot begin to describe.
This is the time of year for gathering—for family and friends and celebrations. But it’s also a time of memories and longings for the past and its tangible reminders. Holidays like Christmas never fail to combine the two. And that’s okay. After all, today’s memories are simply the moments that made our yesterdays special.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.