Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Promises, Promises

The promise given was a necessity of the past:  the word broken is a necessity of the present.  
Niccolo Machiavelli

I will never have a fake Christmas tree. 

Here it is. Fake in all its glory. Opened the box, took it out in two pieces, plugged it in. Nobody complaining because we had to drive 50 miles and walk acres and acres to find the perfect tree. Nobody swearing while trying to get it straight in the tree stand. Nobody GDing while stringing all the lights. No needles to pick up by hand because the vacuum won't suck them up.

Instant Christmas tree.

I have always, going back as far of my 55 years as I recall, promised I would never have a fake tree. A Promise. A word of honor - an oath, pledge, guarantee, commitment. All those fancy words for 'You can count on me.'

Well, hell. Doesn't seem to bother anyone else around this household, so why should it bother me? I think it's kind of pretty. LED lights and all. So pretty, that the ornament boxes haven't even come out of the garage yet. And they might not. The only thing on there is a pretty crown I picked up years ago and the angel oldest son, Jacob, made 24 years ago.

Bob has an ornament, of course.
And there are 9 candy canes on there. I ate one.

I'm thinking that is all I can muster this year. With the passing of my mother this past fall, I've pacified myself by substitute teaching and making lists of things to do for Christmas. Gifts, bread making, wrapping, contributions, food for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Cards and letters written and sent. (Some long overdue thank yous.)

But for some reason getting the ornaments on the tree just seems too tedious. All those little things seem just too much for me. Even Ian came home from university and said, "We don't have to put all the ornaments on it, do we?"

No, we don't. Worked for me. I didn't even put up many of the other Christmas decorations. It does look festive around here, but in a milder manner.

I did, however, order a new dove for my tree. Rather ironic as I think about it. Bear with me as I tell this story.

My mother never left much in regard to instructions for her funeral. I don't think she much cared what happened to her body after death. My older brother, Jon, handled the arrangements at the funeral home while I - well, I don't quite remember what I was doing. Getting everyone gathered. Going through paperwork. Funding it. Anyway, I was grateful for his handling of that aspect. The only thing my mom ever told me was that she wanted white doves released at her graveside.

A few years ago she called to tell me she had talked to a woman for hours all about it. And when we discussed my dad's funeral arrangements last year, she told my brothers that she had told me she wanted that at hers. I promised to do it. Promised.

When my brother went off to the funeral home with a myriad of details to fulfill, I reminded him of the doves. I couldn't find the name of the lady my mom had spoken to but the funeral home had a guy. They said the dove guy would meet us at the graveyard.

As things go, you know, we did the nice service at the church (my mom would have complained that it was much too long), proceeded to the graveyard where my older brother and I were met by a guy under dressed for a funeral with a squat cage of birds. He handed us a well worn laminated sheet with three poems on it. "Which one you want me to read?" he said. My fast reading eyes decided then and there that I should have had a little more hands on for this part. I couldn't get past that they all sounded rather cheesy. I chose the least tawdry just as my brother pointed to the most trite.

Whatever, was my thought. But when the time came, the man said he didn't usually get requests for two birds - either one or an entire flock. I guess I was thinking my mom and dad when I requested two. For some reason, that revved the old guy up. He said the most lovely words repeating the unusual request and that this was a love story. Bill and Bernie flying off together.  As my oldest and youngest brothers passed in front of my husband and me, birds in hands, I closed my eyes to what I saw - and decided to lift that sight from my mind and just imagine two lovely doves. My husband, however, does not have the creative imagination I do - nor the ability to always keep his mouth closed.

"They're GD pigeons, " he blurted out.

Thank you, Bob.  Of course they weren't beautiful doves. Of course they were ratty old white carrier pigeons. Just pretend, Bob. I promised.

As I stood there gulping down  the promise I'd made,  I couldn't help recall how much my mother detested pigeons. When I was a little girl living on 18th Street, the mothers  used to sit out on the front stoops while the kids played outside. Pretty soon I'd hear a few screams, look over to see Joey Costa's big brother's pigeon swooping at the women's heads as they sat on their steps. Joey's brother no where in sight.

The poor bird only wanted to sit on the light above their front doors and if left alone, probably would only have done that, but imaginations run and I think Hitchcock's The Birds was out at the time and women and their tall, teased hairdos and well, you know...

My mom would scream, "Joey Costa. Go get your GD brother and tell him to get his GD pigeon back in its cage right now or we'll have that GD bird killed."

I don't know whatever happened to Joey Costa, or his brother's bird, but for years after, my mom loved to watch cardinals, carolina wrens, finches and robins while they ate at her feeders. She called to those freebirds she discovered in the wild. But if one dared swoop at her, they were the devil incarnate.

So there's the irony in that. My mother was scared enough of pigeons to GD the poor little neighbor kid's older brother and his bird. Good thing she was dead when the pigeons were released to symbolize love at her funeral.

The birds were very eager and pretty when they flew off toward their home. Everyone oohed and ahhed. But I guess I didn't handle that promise very well. I did, however, put a really pretty fake dove on my fake tree that I also promised I would never have. Does that help?

Believe it or not, I have many other stories to tell from my mother's graveside ceremony - like fireworks wars, champagne toasts, and that tombstone that sort of got knocked askew. Perhaps another day.

Merry Christmas everybody. I promise.


  1. A broken promise for well-intentioned reasons is surely forgivable. And pigeons and doves are one and the same so no promise was broken there.

    We place so much on symbolic gestures for good reason - they allow us to express ourselves in ways that words can't always convey. Your boxed tree and its adornment is also a symbol. May your mother's dove bring you peace.

    Hugs to you.

  2. Promise me that you won't be hard on yourself anymore...the tree is lovely and your story was still have it, girl!
    Enjoy the holidays whether your mom is there or not, promise?

  3. Your mom would have loved this post and seen the humor in the dove/pigeon release! Trust me, the incident will give you great comfort when it comes to mind years from now, Julie. There are mourning doves here that look very similar to pigeons...I feel you kept your promise.

  4. I loved this. I am not sure why, maybe the Woody Allen-type humanism that you show so well. Your intentions are genuine, but sometimes life gets in the way of our best efforts. You have a way of bringing us along in your Everyman point of view, and we are all pulling for you in spite of what happens. The tree looks marvelous in any case; and that GD bird, well, he hopefully acquitted himself well at the funeral. EFH

  5. Oh, you did your best. And that's what counts. (and I tell you, I couldn't tell the difference between a pigeon and a dove from 20 paces anyway)

    That tree is the same--your best and therefore very festive and bright and pretty.

  6. Well, that was a GD funny, heart-rending post, my friend. Glad to see you getting back into the swing of things, however "mild" that may be. The doves story is something that I'll bet your mom would get a good laugh out of, despite her GD'ing of the pigeons.

    Much love and see you soon,

  7. I'm pretty sure your mother was fine with the birds. It's all about intention. My own mother was a difficult woman, but I suspect she's easier now.

    Lovely dove for your tree!

  8. Yes indeed, it does help. I think we all get to the fake stage eventually - pine needles being what they are.

  9. Even in (human) death, Bernie is feisty and spunky and making us laugh and smile.

    Entertaining stories about her and about your tree. :)

  10. You made the best out of a difficult situation and I'm sure that you've been forgiven. Your tree is beautiful! I had a fake tree for 5 years, but this year I just felt like having a live one. You just have to go with how you feel and know that it's ok, either way. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  11. one Christmas I had let a wild cat inside from my stable. It had attached to me a bit and I thought it would enjoy a warm home for the winter.It tied to eat all the fake birds I had on the tree, knocking it over many times.I named it Treetrimmer.

  12. One gal's pigeon is another gal's dove is what I say. Especially when the guy who was releasing them understood your intention. Just like your tree, it's the meaning behind the symbol that's important, not the symbol itself.
    Wonderful story, Julie. Merry Christmas.

  13. You have your sense of humor back for Christmas; that's a gift.

    You did your best for your mom's funeral; it's the love and the spirit that counts. ...and thanks for the reminder to be careful what I ask of my children for my own funeral...

    We have gone to a fake Christmas tree for the same reasons as yours. It's a great relief.

  14. It was completely outside your control and you did not break a promise, so please do not feel bad about it.

    Very best wishes to you and your for Christmas and the New year ~ Eddie

  15. It's green; it's got lights and ornaments. It counts as a tree.

    They were birds; they were white; they could fly. They count as doves.

    So I say: Good goin'!

  16. It's the intent that matters. (But then, I actually like pigeons.)

  17. We promised my father - no service and we went through with it. And were left empty. ANd in the end, had a small good-bye at my mother's home. It was needed. As for the Christmas tree - I broke down last year - and there's a lot let cursing going on when we put the tree up.

    There must be an emotional whirlwind inside you - I so miss my father and I am ready to promise my mother anything. Be human. Be loving.

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  19. omgosh...I'm sorry but this made me laugh out loud!!..What's so funny is my dad fought with the pigions all his life too...wanted to always feed the quail but those gd pigeons!!! Hopefully, as time passes we can laugh more about the time..would love to hear the firework story! p.s. I have yet to have the artificial tree..I went without this year..but who knows...never say never is my motto now!xoxo

  20. Sorry about your Mom. I hope you enjoy your New Year which ever way you can.

  21. Thank you so much for sharing this story about your mom. Somehow I think she might have been laughing at the irony of the pigeons. The tree might be fake, and the dove, but the love here is so very real.

    The angel makes me laugh with its crazed face.

    I hope the day was wonderful for you all, and that you were able to feel your parents' presence and their love this holiday. May the new year bring you comfort.

  22. Ha, I thought doves were a variety of pigeon! After having put up the first Christmas tree of my adult life, I am thinking that there is something good to be said about pre-decorated artificial trees.

    Hope your Christmas was merry and that the new year is full of love, happiness and good friends.

  23. I had a fake tree for the first time since I have lived away from my parents home. And it wasn't even green, it was screaming silver. I purposely changed it up and broke my vow to never have a fake tree, but Christmas still came and went with smiles. Thanks for sharing your story.

  24. I laughed out loud! This was hilarious!

  25. Ha! I'd say you're an expert at making the best of things. I love your sense of humor!

    Wishing you much peace and happiness in 2012. :)

    Dang, I want get a fake tree!

  26. The best of plans... and then... life throws curves...even in death. Your mother sounds as if she had a sense of humor. I wonder if the irony would have caught her laughing a bit at pigeons when doves were so beautifully planned!

    Merry Christmas. I know the energy of a real tree and decorations all too well. There will be better years again. But who knows? The tree and decorations may never rise to the top. It's okay either way! More important things to pour out your precious energy on!

    I miss my mom. Sending you warm thoughts and a big blog hug!

  27. Great story. I'm sure she was happy with the thought you tried to do as she wished. I love the dove on your tree.

    I also have a fake tree that is just as beautiful once decorated. The thought of killing a tree to adorn my house for a few weeks finally took it's toll.

    Do you have specific things you want done when you die? For some reason, I could care less what everyone does.

  28. We here in Oregon are surrounded by Christmas tree farms, so they are plentiful and cheap. My daughter waited until two days before Christmas and got a fresh tree for $10. The ones they ship to California and elsewhere are usually cut soon after Thanksgiving, so someone is paying $100 for a half dried up tree already. A fake tree makes sense in some places.

    My wife's mother, though she knew she was dying, made NO arrangements for her funeral, nor did my wife's father. They were of the mind that it is morbid to make such arrangements... better to just ignore it and deal with it when it happens.

    My mother, on the other hand, made her own funeral arrangements. When the funeral director came out to the house and we finalized the deal she broke out a bottle of champagne. The funeral director was surprised but enjoyed the experience.


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