Just before Christmas, my daughter Katie and I went over to my dad’s place to decorate.
While we worked on the tree, grandbabies Decie and Johnny entertained their great-grandfather Papa Cox. Their laughter and occasional squabbles must have reminded Papa of bygone days when my brother and I were just their size because I saw a twinkle in his 80-year-old eyes.
Hanging the familiar ornaments on Papa’s tree, I couldn’t help gently caressing the very oldest of the glass balls. Those I made sure to suspend from the uppermost branches, safely out of reach of tiny hands.
When the tree was beautifully dressed and glowing, we bid my dad goodbye with lots of hugs and kisses and headed for home. Later that night, in the quiet darkness, I pulled my memories up close and snuggled down to rest and remember.
The Christmas of my 16th year, while decorating the tree with Mama, I accidentally dropped and broke an ornament. The old glass ball was blue and peeling; it had been on our tree for as long as I could remember.
Ruefully, I knelt to pick up the shattered pieces and was surprised to find a small slip of paper among the shards. Unfolding the tiny note, I recognized my father’s crudely penciled writing. Lifting my eyes, I saw my mother’s fond expression.
“Your daddy wrote that and stuck it in that blue ball during our first Christmas together, just before you were born,” she said with a smile.
I wouldn’t have believed it, except for the proof there in my hands. The daddy I knew always looked upon getting the tree decorated as a chore he wanted little part in. In fact, sometimes he could be a bit of a Scrooge around the holidays! And yet this bit of yellowed paper proved that long ago my daddy had done something downright romantic at Christmas.
Carefully laying the note aside, I cleaned up the shattered fragments, wishing I could somehow reassemble the pieces. “It’s OK,” Mama said, reassuring me with a hug. “Just pick out another of the old ones and tuck the note back inside.”
Now, as we celebrate the holidays without Mama, who we lost to cancer, my discovery becomes more poignant. Each year as I decorate Papa’s tree, I relive the moment I shared with her that winter afternoon and blink away a tear.
As I carefully handle those old ornaments, I love knowing that one holds a secret between Papa and Mama—a secret that was obvious to all who knew them.
The note inside one of those old glass balls on Papa’s tree holds the heart of my parents’ marriage in three little words: “I love you.”