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Phill Bettis: Climbing Christmas trees
Bettis WEB

Dark clouds lined the horizon on a December afternoon. Rain was in the forecast as were Saturday errands. 

For some reason, I had a strong impression about my parent’s home. It is not far away, and my parents are not there. They have long since passed and the Christmas season reminds me of the hole in my heart. 

As I passed by their home, something was different. It was not the new family that now resides there. Something was missing. Only a stump remained of a Georgia white pine that once graced the edge of their yard. 

That tree had grown and prospered throughout my youth and adulthood, but it was now struck down, likely a victim of recent storms and age.

Dad had transplanted the tree before any memory that I retained. I always thought of that tree as a Christmas tree, one too large to decorate but different than the other pines that existed nearby. 

I also remember constantly climbing that tree  when I was 7 or 8. I guess there was a bit of adventure, imagining I was climbing into the crow’s nest of an ancient ship or by altitude being closer to the jets that checkerboarded the skies with contrails above our home.

In those limbs, I could imagine travel and excitement that would come in later years. I dreamed as I inhaled the freshness of pine needles, a scent reminiscent of Dad who worked each day sawing pine lumber as he built houses that dotted the countryside. I recall climbing that tree on a particularly chilly November day when tiny snowflakes fell. 

I was having a difficult time watching television that day as the death of John F. Kennedy was played again and again on the news. 

I thought of his children and family and wondered how safe any of us were in a day of nuclear weapons and the Cold War. I was probably nerdy as I planned how I would build a bomb and fallout shelter to protect my family. It was a different time back then. Or was it? 

Trees have life spans. So do nations and so do we. There are times in our lives when we climb trees and others when we mourn the loss of not only that ability but the loss of a tree Itself. 

Mom and Dad’s house was a place of love and brightness for all my life. Not that it was always perfect. Illness and sadness came but those times are overwhelmed by memories of Christmas mornings and gatherings that will not be repeated on this side of heaven. 

I will always remember a Christmas morning when a bright moon hung in the western sky while we played with a new electric train. 

I also remember Dad’s pride at giving me a new mandolin or shotgun. He had worked hard to provide those gifts and I still have both to this day. They remind me of him and those times. 

Mom was a wonderful cook and we still recall her Christmastime country ham pie that would send a cardiologist into cardiac arrest. There were treats and visits to that home that still warm my heart. 

Those new occupants have remodeled as they should have and brought new life to a place that was once the center of the world for me. 

My new granddaughter and grandson will soon come to my home for their first Christmas. Built on my Granddad’s farm, my home has had its share of Christmas mornings with little guys in footie pajamas and happy and warm times too. 

Maybe I gave my children something they will cherish and hold onto for half a century. Maybe that gift is not tangible but rich memories that do not pass. Maybe they will some day pass by my home and notice a new family making new memories in a place that provided warmth and shelter to little guys and big guys in a world that is not always safe or understandable. 

Last year my daughter took a shot at preparing a country ham pie. This year two new babies will be showered with gifts and love and attention in the shadow of our Christmas tree. 

In the final days of a year that no one understands, a bright light shines. It is our perseverance, our hope that things will be better, our need for family and above all the sound belief that God remains on His throne.

We celebrate the love of a Savior, of a bright star during darkness, of joy that cannot be cut down, that does not age, that does not fail and that does not leave us alone and without hope. A new year is coming and as always it comes with uncertainties and promise. 

I sense that things will be better next year. I do not have to climb a tree to gain that perspective. Good thing. At my age I do not need to fall out of a tree, and after all, it is still 2020.  

Phill Bettis is an attorney with Bettis Law Group in Forsyth County.