Thursday, December 27, 2012

I-40 Christmas cheer

I don’t know who deserves it, but someone deserves a thank you and praise for spreading Christmas cheer along I-40.

Along about mile maker 354 heading west from Knoxville, a couple miles before you get to the Kingston Pike exit, there is cedar tree off of the shoulder of the road that is decorated every year at Christmas  time. Large Christmas ornaments and tinsel garland adorn the tree and underneath there are large wrapped gift boxes. The ground is mowed around the tree and it is about twenty feet off the road and it stands out.

I was trying to think back, how long this has been going on, and it seems like I remember it from when my thirty-year-old daughter was little, so it must have been going on for about twenty years. As the years have gone by the little tree is now a big tree. My Mom lives in Seymour and my two brothers still live in the Knoxville area so we usually have Christmas at Mom’s. So, I am always driving back from  Knoxville to Nashville, the day after Christmas or maybe the day after that and I always look for the tree.

Mom is 82 years old now and has had some health issues and is frail, but still lives at home. My sister Becky went over a day early this year and prepared the dinner so we were able to have one more Christmas at Mom’s. I wonder how much longer we can carry on this tradition.

We had a wonderful dinner and Christmas celebration. I was good. I did not say anything provocative and I did not allow myself to get offended. Everyone else was good too. My liberal siblings were on their best behavior and did not mention healthcare, or the fiscal cliff or gun control or the recent election. Nothing that would have set off a debate was mentioned. They didn’t bait me.

We had a nice visit before the Christmas dinner, then a wonderful traditional Christmas dinner, and then we exchanged gifts. Not only did we not fight, no one even tried to turn on the TV. After the exchange of gifts we then had more pleasant interesting conversation and were able to discuss important meaningful topics but avoided those most likely to lead to a nasty political clash. There was lots of joking and laughter.

We then started singing songs. We did Christmas carols and Christmas songs and gospel songs. We did  Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas with extended impromptu recitations accompanying the song. Fueled by the wine we were drinking, we thought everything was clever and funny. We then did the Johnny Cash song catalogue that we could recall, and Eagles and Gentle on my mind and Patsy Cline and Kris Kristofferson, and some Willie and The Great Speckled Bird and It wasn’t God who Made Honky-tonk Angels and snippets on songs we didn’t know but wish we did. We sang for hours.

My lovely wife who has Alzheimer’s’ and who cannot remember the most rudimentary things and has lost most of her vocabulary skills, knows all the words to lots of Christmas songs and old songs. She sang with the rest of us and enjoyed herself immensely. We all had such a wonderful, wonderful time.

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast and chatting over coffee, Louella and I headed back home. There could not have been a drearier day. It was mid day, but raining and foggy and dark. I was in a good mood however, still in the glow of a wonderful Christmas. I approached the spot where the tree is usually decorated. I wondered if it would still be there and decorated for yet another year. It was. It brought a smile to my face.

There have been years when after Christmas was over and I was headed home when I was lonely and alone or some years when I was going back home with my daughter and would have to return her to her mother and I was already missing her, that I would be real blue about the time I got to that point in the trip.  When I would see the tree, however, it would cheer me up and at least for a while it would make the post-Christmas blues not so bad.

I have wondered about who does the decorating of this tree. Is it a road maintenance crew, or a highway patrolman? Is it someone who lives nearby? Do they park on the shoulder and do it hoping the highway patrol doesn’t catch them, or do they slip over a fence from beyond the right-of-way and carry in the decorations and decorate it. It has been going on so long, I wonder if it is a family tradition being done by the children of the people who originally decorated it? I don’t know.

I would bet I am not the only one who over the years have had their spirits lifted by that tree or who has had the glow of Christmas good cheer extended a little longer. By this time, the people who decorate that tree every year, have probably brought Christmas cheer to hundreds of thousands of people.

If by some chance the people who are responsible for decorating that tree on the interstate right of way should read this, know that someone appreciates what you do. You have brightened my Christmas for many years now. God bless you. Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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