If it was up to me I’d cancel Christmas this year.  My dad died in May and it seems easier to just let the holiday pass without a glance.  I’m content to listen to silence rather than carols on the radio in the car on the way to work every morning. The beautiful Christmas cards I bought last January at seventy-five percent off are still in the box in the attic, and Grandma’s cookie recipes lay dormant in their file box.  December 25th is thirteen days away and the only shopping I’ve done is for my boys.  They gave me the list I asked for and I didn’t deviate from it, shopping online.  My children are older now, and they seem to understand my mood.

Christmas is less than two weeks away and my energy is funneled into the 1910 buggy shed attached to the house that originally belonged to my grandparents. We’ve gutted it and I’m building a room.  I’ve traded in my holiday sweaters for overalls and work gloves.  I sweep sawdust, prepare rough pine boards to be planed, hold the level, and read the rule. I’ve learned to show a hammer who’s boss, and I stand back to admire the recycled window that takes up almost an entire wall. I breathe in the scent of pine boards and feel the spirit of my grandpa around me. He was a carpenter.

On Christmas day, I’ll stop working in the backroom long enough  to prepare a Christmas meal of country ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, waldorf salad, and dinner rolls. Then, I’ll pull out Grandma’s rum cake recipe and prepare it just the way she did.  We’ll welcome our family, share a feast, open a few gifts, and enjoy a cup of egg nog and a piece of rum-soaked cake. We’ll miss my dad.


While I measured and helped cut boards tonight, my boys dragged the artificial Christmas tree down the attic stairs and rearranged the living room to make a space for it. They plugged in the lights and fluffed the branches, then decorated it with their individual glass ornaments, the ones I’ve ordered each year from a crafter who specializes in paper cuttings sandwiched between two round pieces of glass. The boys choose the highlight of their year for each of their ornaments. They keep these treasures in a box under their beds.  All the other ornaments are stored away in the recesses of the attic.

Ben and Ryan stuck their heads around the door to the backroom. I stood holding a beam in place as Bruce worked the hydraulic jack to raise the roof a few inches higher to level it.

“The tree’s kind of plain Mom,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it could use some color,” Ben agreed.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad years ago. He told me the story of when he was a little boy and my grandma didn’t have money enough to decorate the Christmas tree. She tied string to their Christmas cards and trimmed the tree with them. He said it was the prettiest Christmas tree he’d ever seen.

I shared the story with my boys. They turned and left the room.

I’ve done all the work I can do for the night. I’m ready to fall into bed. I dust off my jacket and walk back into the house. To my left is our Christmas tree adorned with the highlights of my boys lives and the Christmas cards we’ve received so far this year.

I have to agree with my dad. It is a beautiful tree.



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38 Responses to “Building”

  1. Reserved Love Says:

    This was very lovely to read.

  2. Nikitaland Says:

    What a lovely and heart touching post, thank you so much for sharing it with us. I wish I sent you a card so you could fill a spot on your tree with it and then you would smile! Happy Holidays to you and your lovely family!

  3. OldMack Says:

    C and I are teetering on the brink and this fine tale holds us back. My foster grandpa was also a carpenter; he built his last house at age 95. When I have time to dig for it, I’ll send a snapshot of him in overalls and nail apron on the porch of that last house; the Confederate Cavalryman’s hair brushes the porch ceiling.
    Beautiful Tree.

    • train-whistle Says:

      I’d love to see the picture Mack. I have a similar one of my grandpa in a nail apron. Such a brilliant man, self taught, a mathematical whiz and very well read (he left school during the elementary years to help support his family). He insisted on a good education for his children, and they in turn passed on the expectation to his grandchildren. I could not have asked for a better role model. I hope you and Chris have a wonderful holiday together with AJ. Am thinking of you often.

  4. Southern Sea Muse Says:

    How beautiful that the aches of emptiness are filled with renewal and hope – truly, the real meaning of Christmas. Thank you for this touching piece.

  5. SocietyRed Says:

    From your pain comes this amazing story. Very powerful. Very beautiful.

  6. SocietyRed Says:

    Reblogged this on SocietyRed and commented:
    I wanted to reblog this post to share it with those that haven’t seen this blogger. I think she’s a great writer, you will too.

  7. vyvacious Says:

    Thanks to SocietyRed, I’ve stumbled upon your blog. I think your boys did a great job with the tree, it is truly beautiful. Best wishes to you and your family this holiday season.

  8. allthingsboys Says:

    TW, as I read, I am reminded of the strange black void associated with the absence of a loved one. Such a lovely story, and the tree looks lovely as well. I would love to see your workshop! It sounds marvelous–a wonderful place of solitude. The holidays are never the same. I am missing my dad as well, though it isn’t as raw as last year. Thanks for such a great post!

  9. jotsfromasmallapt Says:

    Thanks to Red for sharing.
    Thanks to You for your words….

  10. aFrankAngle Says:

    Over from Red’s …. and thanks for sharing a wonderful story about one way to enjoy simplicity.

  11. ly Says:

    Society Red sent me here, too. Thanks to him and thanks to you. Didn’t mean to form a rhyme. It just seems to happen sometimes.

  12. billgncs Says:

    Don’t know how I got here, but I’m glad I did. Excellent tale, thanks for sharing

  13. lingeringvisions Says:

    Is this one true to your life?

  14. Paul Says:

    You paint an almost Norman Rockwell existence, then go and ruin it with a fake tree? My dad just reached 90 and I’m dreading that first Christmas without him here, even though we don’t spend it together. It would mean that I am then the eldest in my family. Not the wisest, just the oldest.

    • train-whistle Says:

      thanks Paul, yeah, when it comes to decorations, fake beats vacuuming up all those pine needles! Oh well. Yep, my mortality started to show in May, and suddenly I looked in the mirror and saw an adult staring back at me. It’s a strange feeling. Thanks for stopping by and come back when you can. –tw

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