By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Rooms always reach their full potential with Christmas trees in them. Before that, they are missing something.
I sat late last night and stared at the Christmas tableau I’d put together with a Sam’s card, bubble lights that lost their bubble, consignment-store decorations. And it was good. The little living room was shining. Artist Laura Reilly’s nighttime painting of an old downtown theater, The Peak, and more ordinary objects gained an ethereal glow. I’m in Colorado, a little out of my element. But I love a Christmas challenge.
My decorations are back home in Mississippi, all but my favorites, anyhow, those being the straw critters my old buddy Edwin Gray gives me each year. I hauled those across country, a Bambi’s forest of dear friends riding shotgun.
Most of my lights were lost in a move from Louisiana, but at the last moment before heading out West I remembered the old bubble lights in the shed. If you thump them just right, the hot oil will bubble for a few wonderful minutes and take you straight back to childhood.
The day I was supposed to go into the forest to cut a tree with my sister and our dogs and husbands, it snowed. Westerners, if you want the truth, handle snow the same way Southerners handle mosquitoes. They are used to it, all right, but not all that much better at coping.
The live trees at Sam’s Club were cheap but frozen. Tied up like a turkey, the tree’s limbs had to be pulled one by one from its trunk. The freeze-dried tree was brittle and lost more than a few needles during the process. But its shape was good. I’d been stubborn about getting the tree at Sam’s. Quantities at that market make sense only for those who routinely feed a big family or a football team. For days I’d been pondering some purchase that would make my membership fee worthwhile. The tree helped my feelings.
I won’t be feeding a crowd. I don’t yet know many people here. The ones I’ve met are friendly and resourceful. Two octogenarian neighbor women were both out shoveling snow last week. The young couple on the corner has an LSU flag and a big yellow dog that makes them seem like some kind of distant kin.
In nearby Old Colorado City I’ve met an amazing photographer named Kathleen McFadden. She took a picture in Morro Bay, Calif., that hangs in her shop window and may be one of the best photographs I’ve ever seen. “Rhonda’s Trailer” shows us the humble home of a woman who works in a fish market unloading boats and cutting up fish. Rhonda shares the tiny travel trailer with her boyfriend, daughter and cat. The home on wheels is bedecked with more Christmas lights than you’d see at the Biltmore House. It speaks volumes.
I miss my Mississippi and Louisiana friends, and I want them to have the best Christmas ever. I can almost see them. Jeanette and Johnelle are planning their family feast, I bet. Sue and Luke must have their perfect tree up and lights on all their shrubs. Bob has a bright-red artificial tree this year, I’ve heard, and Anne new wreaths on her doors. Barbara has the big cypress knee Santas on her steps.
I’m out here wishing for a white Christmas, which I might just get, and for the enviable enthusiasm of a fishmonger named Rhonda.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.