Columnists

From Carrie . . .

Carrie Classon is a freelance writer and author and lives in New Mexico. Her columns appear here weekly.

I walk around my neighborhood later in the evening these days, mostly so I can see the lights.

There are some impressive houses just a mile or so away, and I walk down the sidewalks and see what has appeared on the lawns and in the windows now, right before Christmas.

Some of the houses clearly had outside assistance. There are lights hung in places that only a cherry picker could reach. One house had four such enormous trees in a row, all in uniform white lights, until the top half of one of them went out (which completely spoiled the look) and all four trees have been dark ever since.

I see florist vans parked outside some houses as elaborate arrangements of pine and birch and colored berries are delivered. The result is splendid, if a little predictable. Some houses have an electric candle in every window—and there are a lot of windows. Some have put a lit Christmas tree in the attic window. One house has matching trees shining out of two windows on the second floor, decorated in brilliant red lights. It’s a stunning sight.

But the thing that stopped me in my tracks the other night was a single small tree and a woman stringing lights just before Christmas.

It was dark, and I was across the street. The house was large and old and on the porch was a skinny tree—a live Christmas tree—and there was a woman stringing lights around it. The woman was also old. Her movements were slow, and I could see she was a little bent over. But she was determined to decorate this little tree, standing to the side of her front door, and I watched as the lit bulbs were wound with infinite care around the narrow tree frame.

Progress was slow. But it was a warm night and the action, for some reason, transfixed me. The woman had large golden bulbs wound around the center of the tree from the bottom to the top, and now she was winding smaller golden lights around the exterior of the branches. The lights were nested densely together, and it looked as if the tree was ablaze with warm yellow light. It was the only decoration in the front of her big house, and I could tell she was determined to get it exactly right. And, by the end, it was. Her little tree, covered in golden lights of different sizes, was this small, perfect thing, blazing from her porch, visible up and down the street.

Something about that tree made my heart hurt.

I wanted to tell that woman how much at least one passer-by appreciated her small, bright tree, and how I knew how long and hard she’d worked to get it right. I wanted to tell her that, while the season is short, I will enjoy her tree every time I walk by it, and I will remember it long after it is taken down.

But it was more than that.

I wanted to be like that woman who did this one beautiful thing so well. I wanted to be like her tree that shone so brightly from the porch, creating a sort of magic that stopped me on the sidewalk. I wanted to lift someone’s spirits in the way that tree lifted mine and be a reminder of the small, bright things that fill our lives if we only stop long enough to enjoy them.

But the best I can do is to tell you about it. And so I have.