The Day we put a Christmas Tree in the Bird Bath: A COVID Christmas

COVID Stats December 19, 2020: Tennessee-527,000 cases/6,316 deaths *

Walking around the wet, muddy grass on a dreary, chilly December day, my husband and I were hunting for ways to turn our back yard into a place that would illicit warm fuzzy feelings of holiday cheer.

We were not looking to create a holiday display to impress the neighbors or provide pleasure for passers-by but to have our family gather for Christmas outside in our backyard during a global pandemic.

In the weeks prior, there was much discussion about whether we should gather and if we did, how to ensure we would be safe from COVID-19. If we open doors and windows is that safe enough? If we stay on our screened-in back porch would that be ok? We have all become amateur contact tracers. Who has been where? Who has seen who? Who do we all know that has it? Have we been exposed? If we stayed outside, would the two babies in our family just crawl on the cold ground, I asked. My two sons and I had a conference call at one point. I said, I do not want to sit in the yard for Christmas. Mom, the important thing is we are together, they responded.

We finally did settle on everyone staying in the backyard. We will build a fire, we said. It will be fun, we told ourselves and each other.

My father called to say we should not do it. You can skip this one and have many Christmases in the future in the warm house with your family or you can do this and die from the virus, he said. I was struck once again by all the odd, “alternative universe-like” topics of conversation that COVID has brought with it.

That morning of the family gathering, my husband tried to pull our small trailer in the yard to stack all the presents on to keep them off the ground. He nearly got stuck in the mud and it left big ruts in our family gathering space.

It was then that I saw the ugly, tilting concrete bird bath that sits on the property line between our house and the neighbor. It is over 30 years old and neither we nor the neighbor knows who it belongs to so it continues to stay there. We could put our small tree in the bird bath with a tree skirt and small gifts around it, I said. It is at least something. We placed a small decorated tree in the tilting bird bath, leveled it and placed a tree skirt around. We put some small gifts under it. We wrapped a garland around “the sun” – an orange-yellow metal sun in our yard purchased at a flea market a few years back. I put our holiday table cloths on folding tables and placed festive centerpieces on top. We placed a large paint canvas cloth, only thing we could find that was big enough, under the tables so the chairs would not sink in the mud.

Our family arrived and we were happy to see one another and exchange elbow hugs. We built a fire and ate our Christmas lunch on our “good dishes” that we use on the major holidays. Our grandchildren read aloud the birth of Jesus and acted it out with our Melissa & Doug Nativity figures. The babies did fine. We opened presents around the fire and enjoyed dessert.

Not the Christmas I envisioned, but I am thankful for these unique memories, togetherness, and our good health.

If you were not able to see your family this holiday season, keep the faith that 2021 will be better. I wrote about this as a way to show small ways life has changed but there have been many very big ways as well this year. We have all been overcomers in ways we could never have imagined.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. – Desmond Tutu

I have hope for the new year and will welcome 2021 like no new year that has come before it.

Blessings! Donna

*COVID Stats-New York Times

Participation Revisited – COVID 19 Induced Perspective on Sports

    “Just get rid of those. They won’t want them.”, my husband of 39 years said as we came across storage tubs of mostly “participation” trophies belonging to our sons while preparing for a move.

      As I sorted through them, memories from our good years as a “baseball family” came flooding back.

     This was just prior to this sports-less world we find ourselves in due to Covid-19. Who could have imagined something so much an integral part of our way of life would be gone quicker than you can steal second base? The world seems hardly recognizable when thinking of empty stadiums and athletic fields. Our local paper ran an article listing what sporting events would have taken place this week. Instead of sports coverage, there is coverage on coping with COVID19.

     Will sports participation, once we get it back, no longer be a given but something for which to be grateful?

      It is ironic, given my early years, that I would write about ballparks in any kind of a positive way. I was that girl in gym class who was always the last to be picked for any kind of a team sport. I could hardly run at all and found out years later that my feet are sort of a mess and I could have used some orthotic assistance. My mom, thinking she was sparing me humiliation and embarrassment, wrote note after note: Please excuse Donna from gym class today. She is not feeling well. My confidence dwindled until I never wanted to try for fear of failure.

     In my neighborhood, extra-curricular activities did not happen at a ballpark but on our city sidewalks outside our apartment building in the heart of South St. Louis. We lived across from a gas station and a bowling alley with a neon sign that I watched flash in my window in bed at night. There was a bar on the corner.  Circling the block on our bikes and hopscotch games with the neighborhood kids on the sidewalk- that is what I did. We spent much time at my grandparents who were in survival mode as generational poverty seems to make it go for folks. I did not know about youth sports teams, summers loading up the car for a day of ball, drinking Gatorade and disputing umpire calls.

     This changed when I was in middle school. The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team had a program honoring good grades. Middle school students who qualified were offered free admission to games at Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis. Making good grades, except for gym class, was something I was good at. I was offered a card which I carried with me for years, I was so proud.

     My mom dropped me off at Busch Stadium. I was alone, but I loved every minute of the game. I loved the cheering of the crowd. I loved the concession stand smells- the hot dogs and popcorn and the game itself. I loved feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun and the stadium, the biggest place I had ever been. I knew then that while I might never be a strong athlete, I could enjoy rooting for others and loving the game of baseball.

    Is it any surprise, then, that I married a baseball player?  The first time I went to see him pitch, what stands out in my memory are the sounds at the ballpark. The crunch, crunch of players spikes on the asphalt as the players made their way to the field is still a sound that brings back pleasant memories. The crack-ping sound of the ball hitting the bat during warm-ups was a sound I loved.

   Along came two sons and we were packing it up and headed to the park as soon as they could play. One spring, our house burned, and our son’s 1st grade teacher, Jenne Thompson, replaced his glove and cleats out of her own pocket. I remember the young outfielder whose only focus was the bubble gum he was chewing, watching the bubble he was blowing grow bigger as the ball rolled right past him. “Pay attention and spit that gum out of your mouth!” the head coach shouted. It was straight out of the Bad News Bears.

      One week I spent 67 innings wrapped in a sleeping bag during the cold start to the season, but by the season’s end we were packing coolers of cold drinks and sandwiches.

     In high school, away tournaments were family vacations. We made ammonia water rags for the boys to cool their necks and moms unpacked battery operated fans to use while kicked back in our lawn chairs in shorts and sandals. We won a World Series, a State Championship and earned college scholarships but more importantly, we knew where our sons were most of the time and they were surrounded by people who cared about them. We were not home together eating dinner around our table most nights, but we were together and that is what counts most.

       Staring at the trophies that day, I realized having the chance to “just” participate meant someone cared enough to make that happen. In this case, my husband and me.

      These were, in effect, family participation trophies. Yogi Berra said, “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”   Though my husbands and my athletic experiences were in stark contrast to each other, we came together to provide those opportunities for our children and that is a beautiful thing.

     As I reflect on this, we find ourselves in a sports-less world. Will the opportunity to participate be more meaningful once we are free to play again? Will we appreciate the power sports have to bring people together in all kinds of ways? As I hear that crack-ping of the bat hitting the ball in my mind I believe the simple act of participating may never seem so good.

I am keeping those trophies.