Murray Nixon loved everything about Christmas, especially the trees.
She would go with her mom, Laura Solomon Campbell, to pick out a Fraser fir. They usually got one at the farmers market or the seasonal tree lot next to Keene’s Cleaners on Forsyth Road.
There was a checklist for the perfect tree. It had to stand straight, tall and full, not too sappy or Charlie Brown scrawny.
Murray’s handmade ornaments filled every tree like a timeline of her school years.
“A charm bracelet of her life,’’ said Laura.
In the last photograph Laura has of her daughter, Murray is standing next to the family Christmas tree. It was the night of Dec. 20, 2015, a few hours before the first day of winter. Laura and Murray had been watching “The Sound of Music” on television.
Two days later, Murray died in an automobile accident on Foster Road. A friend’s car ran off the road and was stuck in the mud. Murray was helping push when the vehicle rolled over her.
She had graduated six months earlier from Stratford Academy and was a freshman at Georgia Southern.
Her family called her their “star.’’ She was the first grandchild and first niece. She could light up a room with her smile. When you met her, she treated you like you had been best friends forever. Everywhere she went, her personality parade followed.
Yes, she was the star at the top of their tree.
When she was born four days after Valentine’s Day in 1997, her mom picked the name Murray, from the family tree.
“I didn’t want her to have a double name,’’ said Laura. “It had to be a one-name name, like Cher or Madonna. I wanted her to be able to call and make a hair appointment and say, ‘This is Murray’ and not have to say her last name. If she had been a boy, I wouldn’t have named her that. It wouldn’t have been as unique.’’
As the holiday season approached last year, Murray began wishing everyone a “Murray Christmas.’’ She borrowed the line from the Bill Murray movie, “A Very Murray Christmas.”
It ranked as her favorite holiday. As a child, she would start making her Christmas wish list during the summer. For many years, she and Laura would appear together in performances of the “Holiday Spectacular” at Macon Little Theatre.
“Christmas was always her ‘jam,’ as we have called it,’’ said her aunt, Jodi Solomon Bowman.
Murray enjoyed huddling around the tree and listening to “The Night Before Christmas” as it was read aloud.
The tree brought family together.
Laura was always slow to take down each tree after the holidays, more out of love than laziness. The trees would linger in the living room until their limbs were dry and brittle.
Last year, Murray died three days before Christmas. The funeral service was on Dec. 27.
When the cold, gloomy days of winter settled in, Laura kept the tree until almost March.
“I couldn’t bear to take it down,’’ she said. “It was rainy and cold, and the tree was kind of cozy. I felt like if it was there, people would gather around it. After her birthday on Feb. 18, I said I was ready.’’
Her friends, Walter and Barkley Massey, asked her to let them know when she took it outside. Their son, Lawson, had graduated from Stratford with Murray and was also in his freshman year at Georgia Southern. He was a pallbearer at Murray’s funeral.
Walter got the tree from her backyard and took it away. Later, he brought her a lamp he had made from the trunk. Barkley gave Laura a mason jar filled with some of the old needles. It was wrapped in burlap with a heart.
“I thought I would dread this Christmas, but the minute I saw Santa Claus in the Macy’s (Thanksgiving Day) parade, I got excited,” Laura said. “It will make things normal for everything to be decorated.’’
Over the past 11 months, the family has placed items at Murray’s grave in Riverside Cemetery. They have put pompoms to remember her days as a high school cheerleader. They have spread sand and seashells from the beach at St. Simons, and left a pumpkin at Halloween.
Last Sunday, Murray’s aunt Jodi and grandmother, Josie Solomon, took a small, 2-foot tree, complete with lights, to the cemetery.
On Monday, Laura brought home a 12-foot tree to put in the living room. She got it at the farmers market from a man who had recently lost a loved one. Another shoulder to cry on.
Life goes on, even when grief walks in lockstep.
“Last year didn’t stop Christmas from coming, but it was interrupted,’’ Laura said. “I didn’t get my cards sent.’’
This December, she already has picked out her Christmas card message.
“May Your Days Be Murray and Bright.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism, creative writing and storytelling at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears Sundays in The Telegraph.
Christmas, automobile accident, Fraser fir, Stratford Academy, Murray, The Sound of Music, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade