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A simple tribute fit for The King of Kings

By Ronnie Cameron

“There's a room out there somewhere with a woman in a chair / With memories of childhood still lingering there. / How pretty the paper, the lights and the snow / How precious those memories of long, long ago.” – John Prine

Note – This column began as a short post I made on social media recently. I wanted to expand my thoughts on it and present it to my readers. I hope you enjoy.

December 1980, Kemp, Ga. - Our second Christmas together as Mr. and Mrs. Cameron included the latest addition to Clan Cameron, and what a special little package he proved to be. Jeb Stuart joined our familial enterprise in May of that year, and Susan and I were excited beyond words for his first Christmas.

Three years later, Josey Dalton would enter the fray, but by then, Susan and I were old souls and knew our way around all things Christmas. Besides, big brother Jeb was there to help when we needed him to keep Josey company.

But that first year resonates for me. It was December 1980, while holding little Jeb in my arms and contemplating the sacrifice God made to save us all, that I first acquainted myself with the true meaning of Christmas in a more meaningful way than ever before.

At that time, Susan and I owned precious little. We lived in a tiny house out in Kemp that provided only basic protection from the piercing December winds, and we worried constantly about Jeb’s health. Our handbook on how to raise children never arrived in the mail, so we did what our instincts instructed us.

We both worked fulfilling jobs in town, but as most married couples would attest, those early years of marriage give meaning to the adage, “living on love.” But if love is any measure of how we lived, we enjoyed lives of royalty and sipped from a chalice that never emptied. It was a magical time.

Magic notwithstanding, money was tight. We couldn’t afford a Christmas tree in town, but we did own an axe and had acres of land to prowl, looking for the perfect tree that would be Jeb’s first. And boy, did we find that perfect tree. Problem was, it refused to stand up straight, so we used fishing line to tie it to the living room wall. But I say this with all honesty: no tree on the planet compared to our tree. I realize that the tradition of a Christmas tree is resplendent with a mythology all its own, but words can’t describe what Jeb’s first tree symbolized to the proud parents.

Once we secured the tree to the wall and started decorating, we realized quickly that we had a problem. Perhaps we went too big with the tree after all. We did not own nearly enough ornaments and such to fill out all the branches. We couldn’t afford to rush out and buy new trinkets for the tree, so we needed to improvise.

Jeb’s blocks lay scattered out in the floor. Susan had plenty of yarn. And I had a plan. What came out of that improvisation brought on by necessity, remains today my favorite Christmas tradition.

Today, Susan and I live in that same house in which Jeb spent his first Christmas. After years of remodeling, that small house that once provided only scant protection from brutal winter winds now looks like a new place with modern siding and central heat and air. Four outbuildings dot the property, and Susan likes to decorate them all for Christmas.

Back in 1979, I decided that I would buy a Santa for my bride every year, an idea I picked up from Mrs. Vickie Rogers. I marveled at how many tiny Santa Clauses she displayed in her home every year. Apparently, Mr. Rogers had bought her a new one each Christmas; I liked that idea and made it my own. These days, after 43 Christmases together, it’s a chore for Susan to even find a place big enough to display her figurines. I wish Mrs. Rogers could see what an impact she left on me.

Susan does not like for me to help with Christmas decorations. That’s her tradition, her labor of love. I give her a wide berth, and when it’s all said and done, her handiwork amazes me. Every room in the house is adorned, the front porch and fence are draped with garland, the tree is packed with ornaments collected over the past 42 years. Look closely, and you can even see a Bigfoot ornament as well as a Yeti perched on a tree fit for Southern Living magazine. Every outbuilding is decorated somehow or another.

You will see a Santa cookie jar, a red pickup with a Christmas tree in the back, various nativity scenes, Christmas villages, trains, candles of all sizes and shapes.

I have one important job each Christmas. I check to make sure those 42-year-old homemade decorations that Susan and I created while sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, our baby boy playing contently on a pallet beside us, find a prominent place on the tree.

While Susan enjoys the process of decorating to celebrate the birth of our King, she is like me in that we respect the simple joys of the season. Do we overdo it at Christmas, perhaps to overcome the guilt of having absolutely nothing starting out? Maybe so.

But what keeps us grounded are those homemade ornaments made of a child’s blocks and a short piece of red and green twine. While the wise man did bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and rightly so, to honor our King, I suspect Jesus Himself would admire our simple ornaments that so beautifully symbolize the day of His birth.

Merry Christmas to you all. My sincere wish is that simple joys bring love and warmth to your hearth and home.

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