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The Mom Stop: A holiday gift to treasure

Lydia Seabol Avant
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The yard sale in November at my late father and grandmother’s home was finally finished. After several hours of standing by the sidewalk, I walked to the front door only to find a couple of forgotten boxes.

The Salvation Army truck had just arrived and packed away everything that had not sold: the modern-looking side tables my father built from scrap wood, canvases he had also painted, most of my late grandmother’s “vintage” wardrobe that looked straight out of “The Golden Girls,” and boxes upon boxes of midcentury-style glassware and ceramics.

I tried my best to box up the items carefully. But still, despite the word “FRAGILE” written on the side, the truck drivers tossed every box into the back quickly. Each time, the box landed with a thud and crash of broken glass. Each time, I winced.

It was the second yard sale we’d had in four months - and the third trip my sister and I had made from Alabama to California to clean out the former family home. Fifty years’ worth of belongings takes more than a few days to clear out, especially when hoarding is involved.

In total, it took us 22 days, six dumpsters, five dump trucks, a hired “junk” crew to handle the backyard, four Salvation Army trucks for donations, a shipment of 10 boxes back to Alabama and those yard sales to empty almost everything out.

But a stack of small boxes, along with minimal furniture inside the house, remained. Inside the boxes I found my grandmother’s vintage Christmas ornaments - which I had meant to sell in the yard sale. I set the boxes aside to donate with the next drop-off, as I packed my suitcase and headed for the airport and home to Alabama.

A month later, we were back at the California house. Only this time, it was with our husbands and our kids. All nine of us - four adults and five young kids - packed into the two-bedroom, Southern California beach bungalow for a visit that would include a memorial service for our dad, but also a vacation for the kids.

As we opened the door to the house, we expected to see what we left: the sofas and dining room set, a couple of chairs. We’d make do with inflatable mattresses in the bedrooms.

But as we stepped inside, we were welcomed with a surprise.

It was Dec. 28. It wasn’t the first time we had visited my Dad’s house over New Year’s, since his birthday was Dec. 31. While we were young, my dad put up a small Christmas tree to let us decorate, but we were always with our mother on Christmas Day. As we got older, he stopped decorating for Christmas altogether.

And while I’ve seen pictures of my grandmother’s Christmas tree from when my dad was young, I’ve only seen a Christmas tree up in that California house once, in 1991. I was 10-years-old. The tree was live, and my grandmother had hung chandelier crystals on its branches.

Late last month, as we opened the door to the home again, we were welcomed by a flocked, 8-foot, lit Christmas tree in the corner. Lights and garland draped over the windows, a miniature Christmas village was nestled on the TV stand and on the dining room table sat a ceramic snowman and my grandmother’s cake stand, complete with Christmas cookies. Candles and holly rested on the organ that had belonged to my great-grandparents.

My children were in awe. I was speechless.

My dad and grandmother’s house was their longtime home. But as they were hoarders, it was not “homelike,” or at least had not been that way for so many years. But the house being decorated for Christmas, aglow in the twinkling lights, made it seem more homelike than I had ever seen.

A dear neighbor who knew both my father and my grandmother - someone we have gotten to know over the last several months - let herself into the house to decorate and set up the tree for us as a surprise. Only the tree was bare, save for the lights. And so, I opened the boxes of ornaments that I had set aside.

The next morning, my kids and my niece and nephew were still in their pajamas as they decorated the Christmas tree with their great-grandmother’s ornaments. Later, while unpacking more boxes, I found another box of decorations, those that had belonged to my dad, the ones we used to put on his miniature tree when we were kids.

It was days after Christmas, when most people take down their decorations. But we didn’t care. We stood there, in our pajamas, decorating the tree. Even though my dad and grandmother are gone, they felt very much present.

Days later, getting ready to head home, I packed those Christmas ornaments in my carry-on suitcase. I decided not to donate them after all. Instead, we’ll use them. I’ll tell my kids about who they belonged to and I’ll remind them about the time that Christmas surprised us in California.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.