Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Tannenbalm

Here it is Christmas Eve and I'm wanting to share something with you. Joe and I really aren't about things and stuff although we have many things and lots of stuff. But one of the things that I truly love we only see for a few weeks a year. I'd like to take you on a tour through the branches and give you a glimpse of our life.

This probably looks like an ordinary Christmas tree to you, but a picture can fool you. What you see before you is a history of my relationship with Joe. We do not take photographs (thus all these pictures have the distinct air of amateurs) and thus we do not have an real chronicle of our life and our travels, well except for this tree.

It sort of started with this ornament. It was given to us by our adopted dad, Ron Shearer. Many remember Ron's partner, George Hislop, but for those of us lucky to have been part of the lives of these two men - Ronnie was a powerful force in and of himself. He worked for a Christmas Decorations company and sometimes brought us copies of ornaments that were attempted but not then adopted for use. The blue ornament in this picture was one of those. We have many such Ron ornaments. Other people, over the years, have given us ornaments. So we look at the tree and see our journey and our friendships.

Then we went to Boston, back when we were boys, and I had just begun to work with Behaviour Management Services as a consultant. We were there for a TASH conference, Joe came along and we snuck away to do Boston things and see Boston sights. This was the first big conference I ever attended and I couldn't get over having someone pay for my flights and hotel room - for someone to pay for me to attend sessions and learn stuff. I was awestruck. I never dreamed I'd speak at a conference or even, years later, keynote this very conference. But, one evening, we were going through shops on a small side street. Snow had fallen and Boston looked beautiful. One of the shops had a beautiful ornament that we both fell in love with. It cost $30.00 which was an outrageous amount of money. But we decided that it would be a good souviener of our trip and the conference. We did not yet know that the beginnings of a tradition was being borne.

I was invited to come down to New York state to speak at a conference. I was a brand new speaker breaking onto the scene. We drove through a town called Elmira and stopped for lunch. As I'm a dedicated shopper when I saw a small gifty style store I wanted to go in. But it was Joe who discovered the Teddy Bear lights. He loved them and bought them for our tree. Over the years he's picked up vegetable lights, cow lights, Betty Boop lights, fruit lights - and the tree is covered in both ornaments that hang and ornaments that glow. He can tell you each place he's found the lights and is proud of every string.

Going to Acoma was one of the high points in my life. I had been there once, alone, and wanted to take Joe there to see this incredible place not far outside of Albuqurque. Acoma is the site of one of my big lecture stories and is a place of incredibly fond memory. Sitting on a mesa overlooking desert on all sides, Acoma is the longest ongoing inhabited settlement in the United States. As we wandered through an artisan was sitting painting tree ornaments. I stopped and spoke to her. Even though she typically didn't sell from her home she saw how much I loved her work and she let me buy it from her there. By now our tradition of buying a Christmas ornament in every city or town we went to was firmly established. Even so, this one from Acoma is particularly special.

This star has huge significance to me. It was the first that I bought after becoming a wheelchair user. I was terrified that, now in a wheelchair, my entire life would change, that I would no longer travel and no longer lecture. After leaving the lecture site we stopped for tea in one of those cute tea places that dot the landscape. They sold a few artsy kind of things and I saw this star and fell in love with it. The audience had made me feel like a star that day, a star undiminshed by sitting down - so it had real meaning for me. It meant that my life would continue, that disability was just a new wrinkle in old fabric. Everything would be ok. I love this star because it demonstrated to me that the tradition continues - that I could continue to expect a lifetime of expectations.

Speaking of stars, Joe and I were always really unhappy with our tree top. We had the 'holy whore' for a number of years ... she was supposed to be an angel but she was painted such that it looked as if she wore layers of gaudy make-up and we dubbed her thusly. Then we got a star with lights that changed colours and it just seemed, well, tacky. On a trip to England I was rolling down an aisle full of decorations at a Tescos and suddenly I saw this star. It looked like it had been designed by Dr. Seuss and seemed like it would be a perfect addition to the tree. I grabbed it right away and showed it with pride to Joe, who took a second to 'get it' and then 'got it'. We both think it's the perfect topper to the tree.

The whole tree is covered with people and places. Joan and Robert and Alfred and Ruth and Lisa and Ian and Marge .... Los Angeles, Glasgow, New York, Vancouver, London ... they're all there. Our memories on each branch, a journey through a life of purpose and a life shared. No, it's not a photo album and no, no one really understands it but us ... but that's ok. The gifts under the tree don't match the gift of the tree ... the history of lifetime spent in love.


Anonymous said...

Thank-you for sharing the intimate story of your tree. I feel like I am sitting personally in its glow. May you and Joe have a wonderful Christmas and Thank-You for the wonderful presents and joy you both bring all year to my life and the lives of all at Vita. The stars are shining brighter....MDN

wendy said...

Wow. What a fabulous tradition and how lovely to decorate each year with memories and love!

Lisa said...

Thank you for the Christmas present Dave. I myself have a couple of those "Dr. Seuss" ornaments, they appeal to my happy side do I appreciate your star.


Teresa said...

I love your tree! I collect different ornaments that mean special things and special times! I love the star too!

Merry Christmas!!

abby said...

Thanks for sharing, and the glimpse into a tradition. We spent Monday night with my husband's grandmother, who has a story for every ornament herself. I never tire of hearing them told, the glint in her eye on the mischievous ones, the nostalgia for her childhood ones. She brings everyone into her 89 years of memories for an evening,and it is a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Merry Christmas, and thanks again for letting us in.

Anonymous said...

If you can, ask your husband's grandmother to write down or record some of those stories. (Same goes to you too, Dave.) That kind of history is beautiful and all too easily lost.

Linda said...

no one really understands it but us

I understand you. I too have stories and memoires of those past with my christmas tree decorations.
I especially love decorations that are hand made. I also love to give christmas decorations as gifts to family and friends.
I bought me sister back a glass christmas tree from Italy in July! Go figure!
Nollaig Shona.....Happy Christmas Dave and Joe!

theknapper said...

Merry Christmas Dave & Joe
from very snowy Vancouver Island!!!

Amy said...

It's beautiful! We have the same tradition - everywhere we travel, we bring home an ornament for the tree. Now that our daughter has begun traveling with us, it's become her tradition, too. It's wonderful to reminisce as we decorate.

Merry Christmas, Dave and Joe! I hope it's a warm and wonderful day for you both.

gracie1956 said...

Thank you for telling your Christmas tree story. I have one too that I would like to share. Three years ago, when our home burned, we lost everything we owned, including a lifetimes accumulation of Christmas stuff. Rather than getting new things we just went to family and friends homes for Christmas these years since the fire. I just didn't think I was ready to replace all those beautiful things yet. They all had a story attached to them just like your stuff.
This year is different though. Two friends showed up with a tree one day and then another friend brought ornaments. Then the lights came from someone else and lo and behold...Christmas has returned to us! The memory of this Christmas will remain in my heart as the year of healing and the wonderful love of friends. Merry Christmas to you and Joe from the great state of Texas. May God bless you more than you can stand in the coming year!

Melissa said...

That's so awesome!! Merry Christmas:)

Rosemary said...

What a beautiful tree and an even more beautiful story. Thank you, Dave, for sharing.
Gracie, your tree story touched my heart, too.

Louis de Pointe du Lac said...

I don't have anything new to say that Wendy didn't already cover, but wanted to thank you again for this post. It is beautiful, and one that I will be sending to my mother. It will make her cry, but in the very best of ways. Thank you for taking the time to write it, and to share it with us, and to add the wonderful pictures. I am also still smiling at your Dr. Seuss star.