I decided to write a Christmas Story for my daughter this Christmas. I hope you enjoy it as well. Merry Christmas to all.
The Christmas Tree
We lived in a brown tudor house at the end of Northwood drive. We celebrated Christmas there every year generally the same way. On December 15th, the family would pile into the Army-Green Pontiac Sedan — three boys in the back, aged evenly apart between 13 and 17, and me aged 4, to buy the family christmas tree. My father only bought from the local Lions club — specifically from the Lions club across from the Piccadilly on Forsythe Avenue, not the Lions Club that set up in the local baptist church parking lot, even though it was probably about ten miles closer and 45 minutes with less hollering, crying, and other mischief that happened when three boys aged thirteen to seventeen and a four year old piled in the back of a Pontiac. But December 15 was the crucial day — if you bought the tree before the fifteenth then the tree would inevitably die (probably because no one could be trusted to keep it watered) and after the fifteenth then there wouldn’t be any good ones left.
We rode to the Lion’s club tree lot on Forsythe, and passed plastic lighted manger scenes, houses with large tear-shaped lights that were colored and magical, and one house that had a raised balcony where the owners had positioned a lighted sleigh and nine reindeer, the first with a bright red nose shining in the dark. “I see him,” I remember saying as we turned the corner and the lighted sleigh could be seen. Every year the Santa sleigh house announced the time to buy our tree like a prophet proclaiming that this year everything would remain the same. “He’s not real you know,” the thirteen year old said caustically from the middle seat, earning a quick as lighting flash-slap across the cheek bones from my mother followed immediately by a finger held firm in posit1ion exactly two inches from his nose and a look that said in so many words, “Don’t you dare!” and causing a quick retort in fearful quivering “I meant the plastic one — that’s not the real Santa Claus.”
I didn’t care. As the youngest bother by nine years, it was rare that I got a window seat in car rides. I was lucky to get a seat at all frankly, sometimes being consigned to the arm rest between my parents or the bottom floor board at my brother’s feet. Christmas was a time to soak in the sights and sounds that the rest of the year were deprived of.
We arrived at the Piccadilly and went through the cafeteria line — getting jello and fried chicken and macaroni and a coke at the end of the rail. My mom would implore me to get some green beans but my father would remind her that it was Christmas and Macaroni was fine. We ate quickly bypassing desert — jello is a salad at the Piccadilly — and crashed out of the door towards the tree lot. Clinging to my mothers faux-fox jacket and following my father’s march while the other three boys picked up fallen branches from the pathway swatting each other between momentary glances by my mother to make sure all order was right. Branches would be swished behind their backs or along their sides as my mother would say optimistically “do not swing those branches – you’re going to hurt someone.” I, looking around from the faux-fox coat, between sequined stockinged legs, watched as branches flew in a chorus across the three bother’s faces and then moved into a resting position as we turned corners bringing mom and dad’s peripheral vision into view.
Father negotiated with the tree seller for about five minutes, looking at a few different trees. The seller was a slightly over-weight man, wearing overalls and a flannel shirt with the legs tucked into a pair of work boots. They settled on a tree at the back of the lot paying $32.50 for a 10 foot spruce with flocking, stand, loading and ropes. The tree seller grabbed the tree like he was a Paul Bunyan and this tree was his last cut of the season. He threw the tree on a work table made of plywood and saw horses grabbed a chain saw lying nearby. After two pulls to prime the saw, he fired it up, and held it to the side walking to the tree. The chain saw was the first instance that the three older brothers attention was peeked. The second bother moved close at hand and asked the seller if he could give it a try. My mother jerked him by the shirt collar back and said “not if you want to see Christmas this year you won’t.” The seller laughed, letting a bit of chewing tobacco escape from his yellow mouthed teeth and turned back to the tree and made a “fresh cut.” Then he nailed on a wooden “T” with a eight inch spike coming from the top. Three whacks with a hammer and a jerk from the middle and the tree was then standing upright on its own. The sales man then grabbed the tree and drug it over to a tented area.
“What kind of flocking you want on this tree — we got baby blue, white, and pink.” Mom’s eyes lit up when he said pink, looking at my father hopefully.
“White will be fine,” my father said and my mother was fine with that. After all who has ever heard of pink snow, or baby-blue snow for that matter. Christmas was a time for truth and pink snow on a tree was certainly not true. After-all, it never snowed in the part of Louisiana we lived in so the white-flocked snow christmas tree was as close as we would see a white Christmas. When he finished, he dropped a larger clear plastic wrap over the tree and drug it to the Pontiac. With a big hurl he threw the tree on the roof, giving the pontiac a distinct army tank appearance carrying a white Pershing missile on top. He opened all four doors to tie down the tree to the roof. We piled in and rode home with the tree, along the way the thirteen year old popping the ropes on the ceiling of the car like a rubber band, and my father in his terse voice saying don’t pop the ropes that hold the tree. I sat in my window seat watching the lights as we crossed over the river reflecting from the other side — trees, houses, Santa Clauses, manger scenes danced along the river like an orchestrated ballet moving us closer and closer to the time when the Pershing missile on the roof would be be our Christmas tree.
The tree unloaded and the three older boys along with my father began to carry the tree into the house. The ten foot spruce had the girth of what you imagined a large opera singer to look like. My father measured and gesticulated at the door for several minutes thinking of the best way to bring the tree into the house. My mother from the house hollered out “let’s put it in the formal living and dining room — the white tree and my white carpet will be beautiful.” After studying the problem, my father called out to his helpers — “ok boys, let’s lift it up…. wait, wait, don’t walk in yet… ok bring your end around so… ok hold… you two — walk about three feet towards me…. ok thats good….
“Come on Dad, let’s go already. This thing is heavy.”
“Hush. Ok carry your end into the house and walk straight towards the hall way…. hold! hold! stop! that’s far enough…. ok Y’all turn the stand end around towards me … good good… now all together Innnnnn.
“You boys take off your shoes before you walk that into the formal living area,” mom pleaded as they walked in the door.
“We are holding a ten foot Christmas tree mom!”
“I don’t care what your holding, you take your shoes off before you walk into the formal living area. That’s white carpet!”
“Mom! I can’t take off my shoes” I’m going to drop this tree!”
“Don’t you drop that tree,” my father said from the foyer.
“Here… I’ll untie your shoes for you….” And mom crawled under the ten-foot tree to each of the boys legs and untied their shoes and grabbed them off their feet moving them out of the way. The boys then lunged the tree into the formal living area and set it up in the window.
Dad, then went up into the attic and grabbed six brown and bruised boxes, with metal strips where the boxes closed and green twine that held the lids together. Inside were ornaments that were collected through the years wrapped in paper towels and newspapers. There was the Mr. and Mrs. Claus ornament lying asleep in bed and Mrs. Claus skiing, and a wooden white frosty the snowman in a sleigh, and a little toy soldier with paint that wore off. And of course there was the nativity ornaments with three wise men in purple, blue and pink dress, an angel, and the baby Jesus in a manger. The lights were big tear drop shaped and colorful and wrapped around the tree carefully through wires that were stretched from years of use. After all the ornaments were placed on the tree and the lights were strung, we threw silver tinsel, that my mom called icicles and strewn in a way that looked natural and organic — at least as organic as a tree with colored lights, white flocking, plastic trinkets and silver strands of shiny paper can look. But underneath, the real live christmas tree was there, even if covered up.
Over the next few weeks, presents would grow under the tree as Christmas day approached. Christmas morning we all slept restlessly as we waited for the signal from mom and dad telling us that we could come in the room. They liked to get up before everyone to take pictures of what Santa had left us all but the truth is that we were always awake long before they started taking pictures. That morning, the second and third bother would find dueling Dallas Cowboy and Pittsburg Steeler bathrobes, which would begin one of many fights from across the room. One brother gave the other a baby doll, which sent the second youngest into tears. One of the brothers got a bright red punching bag. I found an electric racetrack and a castle Greyskull set that only Santa knew I wanted. After the turmoil of opening the presents, we would all get dressed and pile into the Pontiac for Christmas at my grandmothers house, which included a piñata of candy — which was really a pillow case full of candy that one of my Uncles held on a ladder and dropped ceremoniously for all the cousins to scavenge.
That night we would return to the house and sit in the formal living room for only the third time that year looking at the tree that was now bare underneath. In a few days, the white flocking would begin to fall to the white carpet with brown needles sprinkled around the tree’s perimeter and we would drag the tree to the curb, less careful for how it went out than how it went in. A few weeks after that we would have a massive snow fall — the only snowfall I remember from my Childhood and a rare one for North Louisiana— and a few months after that we would move from the brown tudor home at the end of Northwood drive to a new town where I spent the rest of my childhood. That was the last year we bought a live tree.