No More Christmas (Ghosts of Christmas Past)

(I wrote a similar story at Techography a number of years ago. Unfortunately the database back up does not have it so we presume it must have been lost when our then hosts Database crashed back in 2003. I have done my best to recreate the story here. Sadly memories fade over time, even a memory as strong as I feel mine is. I hope I did the original story justice as it was well received at the time.- BS)

Lloyd C. Bain. My Great grandfather. Taken around 1976

When I was a boy, my great grandfather took me to get a Christmas tree.

My mothers grandfather was a big man, even by todays standards. Standing over 6ft 8 inches tall, the former bulldozer driver was a product of the North Georgia Mountains and the Depression. He once frightened one of my mothers suiters so badly by merely shaking his hand the boy would not speak to her until after they graduated and she had moved out. That was almost 4 years later. I recall his hands being the size of a dinner plate nearly, and though I was very small at the time, compared to even most adults, including my own father he was a mountain of a man.

He lived in Blue Ridge Georgia, until that faithful day in 1988 when he left this world, at the age of 97. It took 8 men to carry his coffin. He was a lean, strong, sturdy rock of a man. I miss him dearly. He was my mothers hero, and mine as well at a young age.

Today when a person speaks of hunting a Christmas tree they go to a farm, where numerous trees are gathered and bound, cut and leaned against a fence.

At home we went walking in the woods, looking for a suitable evergreen, be it pine, cedar or even hemlock.

And so it was on this particular day, the season of the last Christmas I would spend with my great grandfather of whose name I bear as my own middle, he summoned me to his side for us to capture a tree for the family.

More after the jump

I was bundled with more clothes than I thought possible to walk in. The winters snow had covered the ground and the cold whisked over my face as if I had dipped it in the spring.

My great grandfather stood seemingly impervious to all this. Wearing only a flannel shirt, and a blue corduroy jacket, single jack axe slung over his great shoulder, it seemed more like a hatchet in his great hands.

His free hand enveloped mine as we set off down the ridge behind his shingled home. I can never forget that material. Asbestos siding, with shingles laid over them, tar paper it’s sometimes called. Nowadays the house would probably be condemned, the owner evacuated and the children sent off to some home in Atlanta, but I digress.

As we walked he sang to himself, an old song that my father and his father sang often, Little Log Cabin in the Lane.

Oh, I’m getting old and feeble and I cannot work no more
My rusty bladed hoe I’ve laid to rest
And my mama and my papa they are sleeping side by side
While their spirits now are roaming with the blessed

He never seemed feeble to me. I would be a liar if I did not say old. His hair was start white and his skin like leather from years under the Georgia sun. But he seemed infallible, unbreakable. My gentle giant.

Oh, the chimney’s falling down, and the roof is tumbling in
Letting in the sunshine and the rain
And the only friend I’ve got now is that good old dog of mine
And that little old log cabin in the lane

One of the many I received from Great Grandfather. This one August 1971. Through him, my education via reading began.

The chimney was most assuredly not falling down. That old wood stove would run all winter and almost right out of the house. Often I would sit in his lap and I would read from his collection of National Geographics. I have them still. They reside in where I think he would like them to be: my daughters bedroom. I own very little, that does not have meaning in my life.

His steps were long, and his pace quick. I stumbled in the snow often to keep up with him. His black glasses framing his face in the cold. “C’mon son. Get your billy goat climbing gear working we have a little ways to go still.” He said, his graveled aged voice on the wind. I nodded vigorously, both to get warm and to desperately make this man proud that I would do my best to follow his footsteps. Both now, and in later years.

There was a happy time to me, ’twas many years ago
My friends all used to gather ’round the door
When they used to sing and dance at night, I played that old banjo
But alas I cannot play it any more

My Grandfather, Arvil Stanley, how he remains in my mind: ball cap, cigar, and playing on his porch.

Christmas was a happy time. My mothers family would gather at his heart, and my fathers family would gather at my grandfather. Both were the patriarchs of the family.

When they passed the great gathering of the families traditions halted.

No More Christmas. No More Thanksgiving. No more New Years.

Art Clayton, my great grandfather. Not sure when this was taken. He stopped the house clock when my great grandmother passed.

When my great grandmother on my fathers side passed, I recall he reached up and halted the clock on the mantle in the living room for one hour. For the clock was the heart beat of the house. They were the giants of my world, not only physically, but in my life. These men were the heart beat of the families, just like those clocks.

But the heartbeats have never been restarted, sadly. I digress, again.

Well the footpath now is covered o’er, that led us ’round the hill
The fences have all gone to decay
The creeks they have dried up where we used to go to mill
And things have changed their course another way

The home place has been sold now.

My Uncle Glenn had inherited it, and restored much of it. Sadly he passed away a few years ago ( He was a veteran of World War II, serving with the 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal and other islands in the Pacific.) No one, including myself had the means to acquire it. Located off what is sometimes referred to as 515 North going in to Blue Ridge, I have a cousin whom lives beside it. I hear the old home has been since torn down. But that is not what this tale is about.

The snow blew around us, and to my young eyes it seemed to touch everything, leaving nothing uncovered. The wind managed to find every crevice, every seam in the what just a few minutes ago seemed like every piece of clothing I owned, and now seemed like not enough. My breath was visible with each gasp for air as we hiked up and down the ridge line where in summer pear tree’s and pines grew.

Finally we stood before what seemed to be a magical tree to my eyes. Almost 6 foot tall and as wide across its base. While not a perfect triangular shape, it’s wide branches seemed to spread, and the cedar smell wafted even through the cold.

“I’ve had my eye on this one for a while.” He said. He patted my head.”Take lesson in that boy. We wait for things, and they come to you. We teach them, we let them grow. Good earth, fresh air, clean water, good for a tree and a lad.”

“Yes sir,” said I of the frozen feet. I huddled in to my coat ever deeper seeking shelter from what I thought to be the coldest place on earth.

In only a few swings he had fell the tree. He laid his hand upon it and closed his eyes. He opened them to see me staring at him in confusion.

“Never take a living thing without reason, boy. Some folks might say a real tree is a waste of a tree, and maybe it is. But for us its a place to gather as a family. Many folks ain’t got a family to go to this time of year. Gotta remember that. Keep things in perspective. This one will be used for us to gather around, and you’ll remember it I think. We’ll make sure another one has good earth for later years to make up for it.”

“Next year can I cut it down?” I asked, as all boys want to use their parents axe’s, chainsaws, and other implements of destruction.

He looked off over the snow covered ridge with a hint of a smile. Little did I know that within the next two years this man, this rock for my mother, and man who gave me his name, would be gone. Perhaps he knew as he kneeled in that snow leaned against that axe over that felled cedar. Maybe he knew what my young mind could not grasp, even after long hours in front of the fireplace with him pouring over pictures of Africa, Europe and Oklahoma. Even after he tried to tell it to me that day in the snow in front of a Christmas tree. That all things in life must end. No matter how much we love them. But their memories, their stories, those people themselves live on within us for as long as we can give tale to their lives.

Well I ain’t got long to stay here, and what little time I’ve got
I’ll try to rest content while I remain
Till death shall call this dog and me to find a better home
Than the little old log cabin in the lane

He trimmed the tree flat. He offered me the axe but i could not lift it, he laughed out loud for the first time that evening. It was almost dark when we arrived back at his home. My mother fretted over my clothes but my tiredness was gone, the ache in my bones a memory as we gathered around the tree to decorate.

I look now in my own living room. A plastic tree, a plastic stand. There is no wood stove, there is no smell of a living thing in the house. I have no clock on my mantle, no heart to my home.

But it has a young child’s laughter, and I know what he tried to tell me, was true. I have done my best to give her good air, clean water, and I hope I am good earth.

For each Christmas is special and each one gives us a tale to tell to our youth if we live them right. There is no more Christmas for me, because of a lesson I was once taught by a gentle giant of a man that holiday season. That every day is Christmas and every day special.

As special as one old man, and one young that faithful day in Fannin County over twenty years ago, looking for a Christmas tree.

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