Putting Up the Tree — and Missing My Mammaw and Granny Like Crazy

Well, first I’ll get the mountain-snob snarkiness out of the way: It’s just plain weird to me to put up a Christmas tree in Colorado when there is no snow on the ground, no howling wind outside your door, no traipsing through knee-deep drifts to find the perfect tree, no fire burning in the wood stove. You get the picture. That was always our life when we lived at the top of a mountain. And I loved everything about it.

Down here in the foothills, we put up our tree today, and it was 60 degrees and not a flurry in sight. I wore shorts. We got our tree from a commercial seller.  It was too warm for a fire in the fireplace. Blah, blah.

But there are a few things that didn’t change. First, we made kettle corn to munch on while we decorated our tree (Grand Fir, $34.99. Ooops, snark returns.) We played Christmas music (on Pandora instead of CDs – hey, you can’t stop progress). And we pulled out all the same ornaments we use every year.

And that’s when I always start to miss my grandmothers, both of whom have passed away, so bad it’s a downright physical thing.

My grandmothers (Mammaw on my mother’s side, and Granny on my dad’s) could not have been more different, but I have such great memories of time spent with them both at the holidays.

I’m lucky that we lived fairly close to both of my grandmothers, and that both liked us girls to help them decorate for the holidays after Thanksgiving.

With Mammaw, it was fragile glass ornaments and shiny, gold-beaded balls she’d made herself. It was a pristine white angel with real feathers as wings as the topper. Some years, it was a full, lush tree flocked with fake white snow. It was white lights and a silver-trimmed tree skirt, probably bought from a department store. It was Eddie Arnold on the stereo. It was quiet and beautiful.

When my grandfather passed away (Mammaw left us years earlier), my mom shared some of Mammaw’s ornaments with me, and I cherish them. There are a couple of delicate antique ornaments in gold and red and silver, and two of her ornaments she decorated herself with old jewelry and tiny sequins and pins. They are as classy and lovely as she was. And they make me miss her so much. Our conversations. Our games of cards. Her Thanksgiving turkey and dressing. Her walking around with that kitchen towel on her shoulder as she cooked holiday meals. Her long, lean, soft hands that, as she got older and sick, she’d ask me to hold.

And then there are the items I have from Granny that take me back to the holidays at her house. She was a ranch woman, but she also loved to crochet. Those rough, calloused hands were like magic when it came to yarn. I have crocheted icicles and snowflakes she made – their hangers are old bread ties in green and red and blue. I specifically bought big, round, frosted bulbs this year to put on our tree, based solely on the fact that she had some similar on her tree every year. (They were from the 1960s, I swear, and we often worried that they’d get so hot, they’d catch the tree on fire.)

This is what a mesquite tree looks like, for you non-South Texans.

And her tree! Oh, I loved Granny’s approach to her tree. It was usually just a cedar tree we’d cut from the pasture, lopsided and wispy and perfect. She didn’t have a tree stand; we’d just plop the tree trunk in a bucket and fill it with rocks to hold `er steady. Ornaments were mostly handmade by either her or us kids. We always added store-bought tinsel of some kind, and red-and-white candy canes. Lots of multi-colored, twinkling lights were a must, too. She’d hang mistletoe up (real mistletoe, people!). Plus she had some plastic pine garland we’d hang over the entrance to the living room, from the dining room. With fake red berries. There’d be nails up there from the year before to tuck the garland behind, or we’d just use scotch tape.

After we decorated our tree today, we made cookies as a family, and I found my Granny’s old recipe for Cherry Cream Delight, which is basically just Cool Whip, a can of cherry pie filling, cream cheese, and graham crackers. Man, I loved that stuff. And I think I’ll be making it this year.

It’s nice to have my grandmothers’ things around me during the holidays, since I can’t have them here with me anymore. But what I wouldn’t give to, just one more time, hear Granny say, “No need to rush off now,” late on Christmas Eve, or to hear Mammaw shooing us out of her kitchen on Christmas Day.

Miss you both.

What do love most about your grandmothers and the holidays? I’d love to hear about others’ memories, too.


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