Our Friends and Family Tree
Faces that speak to the heart
By Bev Moss Haedrich
It was our first Christmas back in the South. I sat cross-legged on the sofa leafing through a large cache of holiday cards. Loose photos and those slipped inside the folds of notes and letters were vivid reminders of friends’ day trips to the coast, Navy football games up north, and our own anniversaries relaxing at Lake Lure. The preprinted messages of Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays From our House to Yours left me feeling nostalgic.
The faded picture of a dear friend reminded me that it’s been ages since we’ve spoken; I must give her a call. A photo of my mom and her two sisters, all sadly gone now, gave me three reasons to smile. I laughed aloud at one of myself at 12 or 13 with a zit on my nose and space between my two front teeth.
Settling in with a few albums at my side, I revisited old friends, distant relatives, precious pets, those still with us, and some who are not. Each occupied a generous space in my heart. They also occupied an enormous area in my already tight closets, presenting me with a perennial dilemma I was determined to solve: Before this year’s new crop of holiday photos arrived and became mere garland taped around another doorway, how could I preserve the best of them — and some old family photos, as well — in a meaningful holiday fashion?
As I opened a worn box, inspiration came knocking. I found a simple gold frame from my early cross-stitch days. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but perhaps with a dash of color and flecks of sparkle, something like this small frame — indeed, a tree full of small framed photos — might be just the solution. The seed of an idea, a friends and family Christmas tree, had sprouted.
With the gold trinket tucked safely in hand, I began my search. In no time, I found a mirror, of all things, at a local shop that fit snugly in my palm. There were dozens on display, and each shimmered with brilliant, colorful beads in shades of greens, blues, reds and some even with white pearls.
I cupped my hand around the frame and imagined a photo at its center. The delicate pearl frames could be for tender moments captured with newborns or newlyweds; the blue ones for those frolicking times at the beach. Myriad options came to mind when I visualized all the colors dancing across the branches in some whimsical fun.
For weeks I relived special moments of my childhood from the gift of a baseball, bat and glove to all the places we visited and those we called home. There was an abundance of keepers in those old boxes and between the pages of those tattered albums. I laughed at some and cried over others. There were photos of cousins on their first day of school, sleeping newborns, and grinning toddlers galore. In another, my brother sports a cowboy hat and refuses to mount a bicycle with wobbly training wheels. His grimace says it all. I chuckled recalling the comedy of my own attempts at learning to ride back then. These moments were bittersweet reminders of how quickly time really does pass.
My most cherished photo was one of my infant son taken months before he could walk, and some 40 years ago now. We were waist-high in a pool for a Mom and Tots swim class. I remember the instructor’s encouraging words: “Just let him see the joy in your face when he comes up.” I take a deep breath and sigh. If only I could hold his hands and hug him tight, just one more time, surely my heart would be filled with complete joy.
I wondered where the years had gone. Babies don’t stay babies forever, my grandmother used to say. My granddaughter smiled earlier this fall when I repeated those very words as she headed off to college. Her dreams and best wishes for success neatly arranged in her backpack, I knew just how proud my baby would be of his.
Some Christmas trees are adored at a distance. Ours, with its patchwork of friends and family, nudge visitors — young and old alike — in for a closer look. Something magical happens when the eyes of a little one widen as they catch a glimpse of a picture of themselves. They giggle, and the reflection of the tree lights surround them like a cherub’s halo. Raucous teens point in disbelief as they spot a photo of a famously bald-headed uncle — with hair! A grandmother’s front-porch snapshot from the early 1900s becomes an emotional connection between generations.
Today, more than 100 faces adorn the branches of our decorated Christmas tree.
These symbols of love and friendship have become lasting memories as unique as the friends themselves. Together they inspire our hope and faith as we prepare to celebrate another holiday season.
It warms my heart to add new ornaments each year and to witness the priceless expressions when friends discover their photos dangling from a branch of our decorated tree. My husband reminds them of something I often say, “If you’re on our friends and family tree, you’ll be in our hearts forever.” b
Bev Moss Haedrich lives in Wilmington, where she holds workshops to encourage others to write their own heartfelt stories. She writes both fiction and nonfiction. Contact her at email@example.com.