A shot of us four Burke kids on Christmas Eve captured from one of our grandfather’s home movies. Beth is the blonde. I’m wearing green. Lou is the baby. Mike is in back.
My sister Beth died in January of cancer. Last year was her last Christmas and one of her happiest.
Her son and his wife came to visit toward the end of December and set up and decorated the tree. Beth had inherited the Christmas tree ornaments from my parents and grandparents, and although she was too ill to do more than watch them work, she was entranced. It was, my sister said, the best tree ever.
She described it to me over the phone, and I could see it as she spoke because I knew so many of the ornaments.
My mother had made a canvas-work embroidery angel for the top of the tree. In keeping with family tradition, a little electric candle had been placed in her hands to light her face.
Some old, fancy glass ornaments had been my grandparents’, lovingly cared for by my parents and then by Beth. They were fragile and worn but exceptionally ornate. One had gold stripes edged with glitter and little holiday scenes hand-painted between the stripes.
My sister especially loved the ornament her son had made in grade school, a white paper bird with a long tinsel tale. And there was my ornament from kindergarten, green and red metallic disks glued together around a length of yarn. Other children’s artwork was hung up, too, chronicling a family that grew larger, and boys and girls who grew up. Some ornaments were gifts and careful purchases – each color, each sparkle, each light a story and a memory.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I can stare at it for hours.”
It held happy memories from her whole life, as merry as a Christmas tree ever could be – the best gift, the best tree ever.
— Sue Burke