By Jeff Keeling
Tall, grand and fragrant in our living room stands a fresh Fraser fir, as yet undecorated. The hunt for it Saturday, and the delay in its adorning, are elements of this Advent season I hope to remember all my days.
The events of the day reminded me it is right to “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” They also reinforced that all the law and the prophets do indeed hang on the commands to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself.
I picked up my grandson, the ebullient Owen, at his Nina’s house mid-morning as the late fall sun had begun to cast its warmth on what would be an unseasonably mild day. With the lovely and talented Angela gone with our daughter-in-law Madison to visit our daughter Sydney in Chattanooga, the whippersnapper and I would be spending the day and night together.
We had two primary missions for the day: get Owen and his flyaway hair into Earl’s Barber Shop for an overdue trim, and get a Christmas tree. The rest of the day was ours to do as we saw fit, or so I had thought when I was volunteered for the babysitting job.
By the time I reached Nina’s, though, I had been duly warned by three different women – Owen’s mother and both his grandmothers – that he was suffering from a mild wheeze and I was, therefore, not to overexert him in whatever capers we might enjoy.
The pair of us made a quick stop at Pierce’s grocery in Keystone to hunt for any treasures the salvage retailer might yield. We got more than just the dollar box of Mini Wheats Touch of Fruit in the Middle cereal – we entered into a series of personal encounters that represent the fullness of life with which our Lord desires to fill our days.
At Pierce’s, after Pop Pop had told Owen “no” to several requests but indulged him just a little, we spoke to Rose the cashier for a minute. It had been awhile since I’d visited the store and it was good to see her again, and to watch her chat with Owen.
From there, we made our way to a local tree farm for our first attempt to scout for an acceptable specimen for the living room. We walked around the place inspecting the low-elevation firs, but nothing quite measured up.
As the sole selector, I was determined to impress the lovely and talented Angela this year, and for good reason. Having once brought home a tree that I thought was really neat – “it looks like something you’d come across hiking up on Roan Mountain” I had said prior to being directed to take it back and get another – I knew better than to bring home something irregular.
In our searching through the rows, we ran into Lana Moore, Senator Lamar Alexander’s regional field rep, and had a nice chat about tree-hunting. Back at the truck, we encountered John and Connie Taylor. Connie was Zach’s guidance counselor years ago at South Side Elementary, and she lit up with delight as she saw his spitting image standing there and learned Owen was now a South Side Owl kindergartener himself. The four of us had a nice time chatting.
Next came Earl’s, where we met Tom Witherspoon of the city water and sewer department leaving with a fresh cut. He informed us that we’d get right into the chair, and indeed we did. That mission accomplished, we checked out the tree lot near the barber shop, again to no avail.
We drove over Knob Creek Road to the Boy Scout tree lot at Kiwanis Park, where a friendly man from Buladean, N.C. told me immediately that I’d be leaving with a tree. He was right, and the first one I pulled out from the wire was “the one.” Angela has remarked several times on what a beauty it is since her Sunday afternoon arrival back from Chattanooga.
We were to decorate it Sunday night, but Owen’s asthma began flaring up more significantly as Saturday progressed. After our News & Neighbor intern Lance White helped me get the tree into the house and set up, Owen had a home breathing treatment and we enjoyed the parade with Lance, our reporter Sarah Colson and her husband Jonathan.
We walked back to the house and Owen drew an intricate monster on our front walk with sidewalk chalk, but by mid-evening, the monster of asthma had him in some distress. His daddy rescued him after he got off of work and breathing treatments ensued through the night, but he had to go to the emergency room Sunday morning.
Mom and Gran Gran spent a fraught night worrying about him, and rushed back Sunday. All was well enough, but our tree-trimming plans were delayed as not only was Owen recovering, but his 2-year-old sister Emmarie was down with a virus – thus the still-undecorated tree.
But we have each other, for now, and Saturday reinforced to me that we are called to love our neighbors, which means everyone. Most of all, may we, as Owen often says these days, love God more than we love anyone, for it is God’s love in us that allows us to love others.