Roots and Branches: Sharing the spirit builds our own

Christmas break is fast approaching and the minions of mice scurrying about the house are getting restless. Five little ones can hear the sleigh bells ring with little or no prompting. Thank goodness I don’t have a cellphone. The lights on the tree make them squeal with delight and illicit similar squeals from meema when they start a tug of war with the ropes of lights draped around the tree.

Finding names on their own Christmas stocking is enough to restart nonstop questions about Santa Claus’ estimated time of arrival. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer replaces Someday My Prince Will Come as their nighttime lullaby.

Whenever they become hyper-holidayed we burst into the chorus “He knows when you have been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

Everything about the holidays is designed to test the patience of children and parents alike, sugar highs, sensory overload.

The Nutcracker gets tweens, Kendra and Aunika in the holiday spirit. The oldest dreams of Clara and the sugarplum princess year after year, yearning for pointe shoes that will arrive in the next dance season. The other watches the traditional scenes unfold year after year, at first entranced, but now barely feigning interest. Having sat through at least 20 rehearsals and performances in the last five years, she knows the routine as well as the thousand other siblings, parents and grandparents seated in the hard wooden auditorium seats. Ballet is not her thing; although creating magic for her classmates is worthy of an annual talent show performance.

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The sound of music rings in the holiday for our oldest grandchild, Katie, who has been singing carols in the high school choir, performing at the school and at Riverside Community Church. The sounds of holiday bells, Christmas carols and The Nutcracker’s familiar melodies all stir the emotions of sharing and caring with family and friends.

Cooper is into giving, which is an awesome trait for a 5-year-old. Mac and Ray love getting dressed up in velvet gowns, twirling round and round so their glitter-covered Mary Janes sparkle in the tree lights, the words to every Christmas song ready on ruby lips.

When that first snowflake falls, all but Scrooge are on the same page, holiday hormones pumping. It is time to pull out the mittens and mufflers, garland and stockings, find the pruning saw and head out to the woods in search of the perfect tree.

This year Flip picked out a butterball of a tree which we have nicknamed snowball. We return to a roaring fire where we can warm our fingers and toes, icy red from their first exposure to winter, wrapped around mugs of steaming hot chocolate capped with a marshmallow cloud.

The cold triggers the baker within, filling our home with the aromatic memories of Christmas past. Recipes of aunts and uncles, ingredients scribed in faded pencil lead, letters marching across the yellowed note card at a perfect slant, Spencerian swirls punctuated with drops of molasses and chocolate.

Mildred’s warm molasses cookies, pungent with viscous molasses, soft enough to wrap around a rolling pin to form a cone for Oscar’s hand cranked ice cream. The smell of warm gingerbread cooling on the counter, Elma Jakku’s of course, awaiting a dollop of the thickest of cream whipped into peaks, punctuated with a dash of nutmeg.

Esaja Alajoki’s hot buttered popcorn dressed for the holidays in molten toffee. Yeasty homemade cinnamon rolls rising on the stove top and crusty brown bread baking in the oven. The burst of orange zest as you peel a Satsuma, each section a perfect crescent. Olfactory senses on overload, drawing family together like bees to a hive.

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Lights across the valley deck homes and cars, rooftops and sidewalks. They sparkle like diamonds against the winter darkness an artificial aurora borealis. The promise of fire trucks and boats decked out in their finest light show beckon us out into the cold.

Yet this season our senses are dulled. We feel almost guilty for experiencing pleasure. Man’s inhumanity to man, woman and child has cut to the center of our being. While warfare on far-away soil seems commonplace, it is that inhumanity on our own shores, in our shopping mall and schools that we feel most deeply.

I have placed my faith on the first snowfall to soften the violent intrusion that has bombarded us. On its gentle sloping shoulders I place the burden of grief we are dealing with from Clackamas to Sandy Point.

The loss of innocence, joy and belief in our fellow man. We search for reason in these irrational acts. The softness of the first flake, the innocence of a pristine white blanket that settles softly on the ground, covering all imperfections with an angelic whiteness that casts its glow in the darkest of nights. The utter silence of falling snow quiets the throbbing of the world around us.

This first snow is magical, but not miraculous. It needs all of our efforts to restore the innocence, the laughter, the love that children bring to our lives. This happens when we put others before ourselves, when we give from the heart, share our spirit with others.

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There are so many worthy efforts here in our own community. We make giving easy. Drop a check off at the high school to help feed the hungry and nurture the spirit of giving in the hearts of our teens.

Volunteer at the warming shelter as it moves from church to church in downtown Hood River. Donate food to FISH food bank or send a check for the future food distribution center. Leave a gift for the Christmas basket or the giving tree. Stop in at the senior center or one of our homes for seniors or veterans and visit with the residents. Send a care package to our troops.

Become a SMART reader in the elementary schools, volunteer at St. Francis House, The Pit or The Bridge. Help our high school students find a future through ASPIRE or donate to the education foundation or our service clubs who provide scholarships for those in need.

Become a CASA, a foster parent, or a Big Brother or Big Sister. Pay it forward or pay it backwards on the bridge or in the checkout line. Random acts of kindness can cleanse our hearts and raise our spirit.

Finally, if you know someone who is struggling with depression, experiencing mental illness, contemplating suicide, reach out your hand, listen with your heart. There are many capable, compassionate counselors and ministers in our community who can help heal the mind and spirit.

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