Hearts Hold the True Magic of Christmas

I can still hear the clicking sound the Christmas lights made as my mother lifted them from the cardboard box that she took from underneath her bed. It was the same every year. Magic.
After my sister and I had gone with my dad in our old jeep into the forest to look for a tree, my dad would fashion a stand out of scrap wood, and a beautiful silver tip – if the snow wasn’t too deep – or a white fir would transform our tiny living room.
Dad would put up the lights, making sure that they all worked. Then mother would pull the ornaments from the box and hand them to my sister and me to place. These were delicate dime store ornaments that my parents had bought when they first married, as well as ornaments that my sister and I made in school.
Then my mother would position the tin foil icicles that were saved every year, strand by strand.  Our house stood at the edge of the valley where the forest wrapped around us like a cloak. Winter seemed never-ending and winter sun had to fight its way to reach the ground. Storms would turn the sky gray and dark, and fog would creep from the mountains into the valley like a river.
christmas tree lights
But our tree and its lights held the winter at bay. In the dark winter mornings my mother would rise early and build a fire and plug in the lights.
Soon the house would fill with the smells of my mother’s applesauce cake, my dad’s fudge and a turkey roasting in the oven. Then the sound of friends and relatives would fill the tiny house with laughter. In our house Christmas lasted for weeks as we cooked, baked and planned.
Christmas joy
I knew that as happy as we were in that little house, my mother had wanted a bigger finished home. She would laugh as she would say, “This was supposed to be the garage and the bigger house would come later.”
But later was postponed when a brother who needed help with a young son came to stay, as would a series of children who needed a home, including two children who would be adopted and invited in as family.
The dreams of the big house would fade away as life happened. The little house we lived in never was quite finished, but it always had room for a friend. My mom died when I was 20, and the many people who came to her funeral all told me the same thing. She always had time to listen to me. She would put the coffee on and bring a slice of her applesauce cake and just listen.
Later, I would aspire to have more than a little house in the woods. I would tell my friends that someday, I would have the house on the top of the hill with the best tree. I laugh at those dreams now, like my mom did, because life truly does happen. Children come; some yours and some borrowed. They come with laughter; family dinners with new neighborhood children who seem to need a home-cooked meal, ski trips with teenagers, and the dreams of the new bigger house fade away.
I never did get the big house, and just like my mom, our now house needs a bit of love.  Level floors would be nice, but I would not trade them for the giant tulip tree that shades us in the summer and fills our yard with flaming yellow leaves in the fall, and the laughter of teenagers as they pick up walnuts and try to hold reluctant hens.
What new house can give you those things?
It took me a while, but like my mom I understand that the lights of Christmas do not grow brighter with more, but rather they grow brighter in the caring hearts of people. People like my neighbor’s friend who is a single mom and could not afford to give gifts to her clients, so she sent each of them a Christmas card to tell them of her pride in how hard they were working to make a better life. People like the Happy Valley 4H Club that spent Saturday morning wrapping presents for families in the community, people like the Salvation Army Bell Ringers, and people like those who cooked dinner for the veterans on Saturday. People like my friend Kim, who makes sure that wreaths are laid on the graves of our Veteran’s in Igo. People like so many others who perform more good deeds than we could count here today.
People are the true lights of Christmas. We are so blessed in this community of so many caring people, to shine so brightly.
The rain is falling gently now and the gray morning would like to creep into our home. But like my mother I am up early and have turned on the Christmas tree lights, and the gray moves back outside where it belongs.
I think I will put the coffee on and bake an applesauce cake. And listen.
Nadine Bailey was a homemaker and business owner with her husband in Hayfork until 1990, when a change in public policy for federal forest lands propelled her into the public eye. Her grassroots, heartfelt advocacy on behalf of forest families made her a sought after speaker and grassroots leader. She spoke on behalf of forest families to President Clinton at the 1992 Northwest Forest Summit and was credited with giving a human face to the issue of Owl vs. Loggers. Nadine is a tireless advocate for those who live and work in rural America.
For six years Nadine served as an Executive for the Timber Producers of Michigan and Wisconsin and 13 years as legislative staff for State Senator Sam Aanestad, Assemblyman Dan Logue and Assemblyman Brian Dahle.  Nadine currently serves as the Chief Operations Officer for Family Water Alliance, Inc. in Maxwell.
Nadine was previously named Woman of the Year for California Women in Timber, Citizen of the Year and received the 1993 Forest Activist Award from the American Pulpwood Association.  Nadine was a speaker at President Clinton’s forest conference in 1993 and has organized events for such dignitaries as Sarah Palin.  Nadine is a published author and holds a B.A. from Simpson University in Organizational Leadership. She and her husband Walter have two children, Justin and Elizabeth, and a grandson Donald. Nadine and Walter live on a small walnut farm in Anderson, California. 
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