Tree of Life

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

Tree of Life

Joyce Kilmer said in his famous poem, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” And yes, Joyce was a man, which may come as a shock to some of you. He was born in 1886 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, wrote his famous poem in 1913 and was much criticized by his contemporaries for being sentimental and simplistic, another reason many think of this “Joyce” as a female writer – sexist, but true.

My favorite line in the poem is “A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.” That’s exactly the way I feel each year as I put up our Christmas tree. We carefully bend the branches of our artificial Frasier Fir so that they lift to the heavens as we string on hundreds of multi-colored lights. And even though this tradition is an all consuming, all-day ritual, the tree assembly is a bonding experience for my husband and I. Regardless of the blown out light bulbs and tangled tinsel that send most couples into utter rage, we see it as a time of remembrance and reflection thanking God for another year to face this hefty challenge together.

This tree has a special place in our hearts as my mom and dad gave it to us when we built our house back in 1995. They knew I was allergic to mold spores that grow on live trees so having a real one was nothing but trouble. They searched high and low for the perfect tree that would fill the rafters of our high ceilings and one that would last a lifetime.

Each ornament has special meaning. Some represent friendships over the years like the crocheted ring of gingham cotton given to us by Catherine who worked with us when we first met at WPDE-TV 15. There are ten yarn snowmen made by Rachel, a friend who now lives in Cameron, South Carolina, and the many original pieces of art created by my sister, Donna, like the one that depicts her children’s footprints. Given a nose and eyes, they look just like reindeer. My favorite of these feature their newborn butt imprints that say, “You are the best Aunt and Uncle – no BUTTS about it!”

Then there are those ornaments made for me by artists who were guests on my many TV shows over the years. There’s the clothespin angel, a clay clown, a white ceramic unicorn, knitted stocking and three gold paper mache kings carrying gifts to the Christ child.

Various theatrical performances come to mind as I gingerly hang Charlie Brown and Lucy on the tree, along with a bouffant hat representing Hello Dolly, a mask from Pippen, a baseball from Damn Yankees and two musical instrument miniatures we played while performing in I Do! I Do!

Now that our nieces and nephews are older we have quite a grouping of holiday collectibles handmade by them: School photos mounted on empty toilet paper rolls with wings to simulate angels, paper clip sleighs, clay stars made at a local pottery studio and festive hand prints all lovingly adorn our memory tree.

A dear friend Bill, who I have known for over forty years, has given us the most beautiful of all our ornaments. They are made of heavy glazed porcelain created by a Florence, South Carolina, artist and sold to benefit charity every year. They are exquisite, but still proudly hang right next to the finger painted Santa face given to us by a friend’s daughter who refers to us as “Aunt and Uncle.”

And no one has given us more ornaments for the tree, and decorations for the house, than my mom, who loves Christmas more than anyone I know. Each time I hang one of her colorful selections on the tree, I thank God that she is still here with us to celebrate and enjoy another Christmas.

Joyce Kilmer’s poem ends with “only God can make a tree,” and we all know that is true. And God gets total credit for OUR tree as well. It was God who brought all these wonderful friends and family into our lives. Our tree would be so cold and commercial without the cherished keepsakes they have all given to us. And when folks say that the Christmas tree is not a religious symbol, I get very feisty because it is very religious to me. It’s the tree of life – my life, the one my husband and I have built together, and the one that “lights up” my grateful heart with a gazillion memories every single year as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

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