Mary Bogue

Mary Bogue is always wondering about how we walk through life, and sees it as a dance; sometimes we're wearing high heels and doing the tango backwards in a man's arms, other times we're line dancing in flats while picking up after kids, and when we're lucky, we're barefootin' it freestyle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

If you decorate a tree, will Christmas come?

Christmas has been my defining holiday all my life. As an adult, there wasn't a room untouched with a sprinkle of Christmas cheer for my family. The tree went up early so that we could enjoy it longer, presents were bought in September and tucked away, and our Christmas cards were actually mailed the day before Thanksgiving so that ours would be the first heartbeat of the Season.

Yet this year, I barely brought the tree from the garage. No cards have hit the mail. I never even bought any! Was it the winter cold that caught me and robbed me of enough umph, or had the meaning of Christmas lost its charm without a man next to me in bed to snuggle-in with, children to surprise with a little Santa magic or the thought that ham for one is just wrong?

Torn between putting it up or forgetting it altogether, I actually thought, maybe this is the first year I don't put up a tree and settle for a decorated mantel. Who will possibly notice or care if the tree stays in the box in the corner of the garage? And as far as that goes, I never even heard back from my over-the-top Christian sister and her family about the gifts bought in their name last year - shoes and a uniform for a little girl in Africa so that she could go to school, a goat for a widow with kids in Rwanda to start her own business and a well for a village to have water. You would think charity would be a cool gift.

Screw it, I thought. I had the Christmas blues. And then the realization hit that maybe I could be on my way to "old ladydom?" What's the point of hoisting your cleavage into a steel foundation, red 16 hour lipstick, or leopard high heels, if you start acting your age? No, I could at least put up a tree and best to do it before the anticipated rain storm hit. I ventured in the cold air to the garage, and there it stood on its end like a toy soldier next to the fortress of red and green tubs. I brought it in the house, plopped the three pieces together and plugged it in. Magic. Part of me was content to keep it just like that. It would be so much less work; just one, two, three and it would be back in the garage in a couple of weeks. Who cared in the end if my prized collection of Christopher Radko ornaments each took their designated place on the tree?

You see, over the last 25 years, this house has held 16 foster children, a husband and wife, father and mother, children, step-mother, step-children, adopted mother and father, and even a 'grand daughter." But times have changed. Life is like a Christmas box of ornaments, marked FRAGILE on the outside, and inside - breathtaking contents to be admired, but very breakable if dropped - even shattered.

The kids grew up and even grew away. My husband Rob passed away from a stunning accident doing what he loved, and even the family pets came and went. The number of presents under the tree dwindled, more Christmas storage boxes stayed in the garage than came out and even more left in garage sales. Away went the animated black angel doll, the moving Dicken's character of Tiny Tim on his dad's shoulders, and all the Santas and Mrs. Santas with their metronome-like rhythm of moving candles held in their hands. I slept on it overnight. Not the tree, the idea of keeping it as is. Screw the ornaments. The house was freezing, and I went to bed, bringing the covers up under my chin and falling asleep.

Somehow, I woke feeling better and with reluctance, dodged the raindrops and opened the garage again. Methodically, I brought in each box of ornaments and then I discovered something. It wasn't just decorating a tree with expensive blown glass figures meticulously painted over a weeks time in an Italian factory. My hands held the tattered brown construction paper bear made in my daughter's kindergarten class, and a picture of her five year old face smiled back at me in place of the bear's. I found the "Our First Christmas Together" plastic ornament with two swans engraved and remembered the joy of buying it for our tree. Our tree. There was Rob's white moose ornament with "Studmuffin" in calligraphy on it, and the one he bought me with "Sugar Britches," emblazoned (my God, Rob was irreverent) and there was a little cat ornament made of flour and baking soda and salt. It was the very first ornament in the collection, made by hand because it was all I could afford. I placed it next to the Radko cat honoring breast cancer survivors - my way of acknowledging my grandmother and mother.

My collection of ornaments, it turned out, is more than that. It is a time capsule. A little gold castle from San Simeon reminded me of our family trip there, a cable car from San Francisco, an Eiffel tower for our Parisian vacation, and Tinkerbell from a trip to Disneyland. The family of elephants circle the tree because Rob so loved them that each year I would buy a special decoration for him. The year he died, I "accidentally" found a little tin elephant with a halo. There were angels and mermaids from my sisters, a glass bee and honey comb for my brother the beekeeper, a clown with an AIDS ribbon reminding me of friends long gone, and at the top of the tree the religious ornaments and the star. Jesus and the gang looked down at me, and my hand-made stained glass window of Mary and the Baby Jesus - too heavy for the tree - stands on a easel next to the computer monitor.

Now, maybe this trip down Christmas Tree Lane would be enough to suffice, but truthfully, it wasn't yet, and there was no way of knowing if Christmas would show up. That is, until yesterday. Christmas came on December 15 in the way of a phone call. Out of nowhere a voice announced itself after a little more than ten years. "It's me, Charity."

You see, about 25 years ago a little two year old girl showed up in our lives. Rob's son Jeffrey (now estranged) came through the door holding in his arms a tiny bit of a toddler with platinum blond hair. Turns out his girlfriend was doing drugs and busted, was now in jail. Jeff couldn't keep care of her and rather than see her go into foster care, Charity came here to live for a while. Rob became "Grandpa" and though 32 years old, I became "Grandma." You should have seen the scrunched up faces of women in the supermarket trying to do the slut-math when they heard her call me Grandma. Off and on for many years, Charity would call this home until her mother would get out of jail - again - and whisk her home with her. Then those teen years came and Charity moved on. Life goes on.

"How are you guys doing?"she asked. I had to tell her that while I was fine, her grandfather had passed away seven years ago. Both of our voices were filled with that gasping for air thing and punctuated with sobs. I could hear in her voice the invisible sound of remorse for time gone by and the chance for reconciliation and renewal gone. "Charity," I told her, "You were the reason your grandpa said yes to foster kids. Because of you and the love you brought into our home, we had 16 foster kids. You did good, kid. You did good."

There's no fooling ourselves that Rob would have loved to have seen the emails that followed our conversation, and the attached family pictures of her four children. There, right in the midst of those three young dark-haired boys was a little blond creature looking just like her mommy did all those years ago. The kids stand in front of their respective Christmas stockings, names emblazoned in silver glitter and in their eyes is the sparkle of Christmas hope.

So, if you're a quart low on faith this year, let me be the first to wish you a little Charity in your life. And with a pint of hope, perhaps our new year will measure up to what we create it to be. Find your own charity, make some calls, reconcile while you can and let's measure up to our potential.

Yes Virginia, if you decorate a tree, Christmas will come. And by the way, that Tinkerbell ornament - Charity bought it at the age of five with her little fistful of allowance and gave it to me to hang on the tree so I could always have a little magic. You did good, Sweetheart. Real good. By the way, if you're wondering, a little Charity is a cool gift.


  1. Ah Charity! I miss her. Speaking of cousions, how is Amber doing?

  2. Thanks for sharing your beautiful (and sometimes sassy) thoughts. Merry Christmas!

    -C and family

    P.S. I didn't get my cards in the mail until Dec 15th...

  3. Kris -
    Amber is busy being Amber, and honestly, I have no idea how she is doing. Keep her in your prayers.
    Auntie M.

  4. Oh, I cried a little.

    This is why you take in people and love them because the love always does come back especially when you need a little Charity the most.


  5. You are the Divine Ms. "M" this year. Though I decorated my place this year with "every" scrap of Christmas i owned (i even went to the library and checked out books and CD's with Xmas covers, I got to visualize my past, some good, some bad, as I read your beautiful writing. i cried, i laughed, i sang, i loved, and i thank you for your xmas wishes.


  6. This is an example of a great writer at the top of her game. Bravo, Mary.


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