Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas Eve

Our family's tradition was to get our Christmas tree the first weekend in December. It was a day I looked forward to. Since we lived out in the country, we had our pick of any number of trees surrounding our farm. Inevitably, the tree would come from our neighbor's field. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was because the field that had such trees was near the road and we could eye them from the car for months ahead of the date and watch for the the one that we liked.

After we brought it in, we made the star for the top out of the Cheerios box and wrapped with aluminum paper. We also spent quite a bit of time cracking English Walnuts directly down the center, separating the two halves, hollowing them out and then placing a dime in the center and gluing the halves back together with a string coming out of the top. We'd wrap these in aluminum paper too and hang them on our tree. Then there was the stringing of popcorn and the paper chains made from newspapers. Oh yes, it was a big day for all. I was in my element, the family was together and at tree smelled oh-so-good.

The Christmas I was twelve was turning out to be a pretty dismal Christmas. Three of my sisters had already left home and one had the nerve to get married, meaning we would have to share her with her husband's family. The solid Christmas traditions of Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning present-opening were starting to break down in order to accommodate everyone's different schedules. As the youngest, I watched as things changed and did not like it one bit. However, I clung to the knowledge that we would still get the tree on that first weekend in December though and I had my tree picked out.

The day arrived. It was time. My sister who was four years older than I was already in the unattractive teen angst years we all go through. She had to be prodded to go on the tree expedition, but she finally agreed, hands thrust deep in her coat as we received instructions from my Mom, who never went with us--this was a Daddy and girls' tradition. Mom was holding a yard stick. "Now, I want you to take this with you and and bring back a tree no bigger than this. I want a decent-sized tree this year." I was so sad when Daddy took the yard stick and said, "OK. We won't get you a tree any bigger than this one."

Mom was the boss of such things and I knew Daddy would not risk going against her. Our living room was a small one and the trees we usually got crowded us more than usual. She was determined it was not going to happen this year.

On the ride up to get the tree I sat there, trying not to cry. Our traditions were changing, my beloved older sisters had left me, the one sister I did have left at home was entering some strange teen territory where I was not welcomed, and to top it all off, now we had to get a little tree.

We arrived at the field. Daddy lifted up the barbed wire so we could duck underneath. We walked through the deep snow until he spotted a small tree and he held the yard stick up to it, pushing it down into the snow. It didn't even make it up to the top of the three foot mark. He swung the axe lightly, brought it down and we took it back to the car, silent. I looked up at my sister and her sneer down at me confirmed that life was hard and I had better get used to it.

I had my hand on the car door when I heard Daddy say, "Well, we got your Mother' s tree; now let's get one for us."

I stood for a minute, stunned, but then danced back over to the tree I had picked out and Daddy swung the axe hard to bring it down. I may have even detected a slight smile on my sister's face in the car on the way home. Daddy carried Mom's tree in the house first and she praised us to no end for getting a "decent-sized tree." We were about to burst and then Daddy carried in our big tree and set it down in the corner. I was excited to see how big and beautiful it was in that little room, how it crowded out some of the emptiness I had felt earlier. Mom protested, of course, but Daddy said "Now, we followed your instructions. We brought you back a little tree." She pretended to be disgruntled, but we could tell she was happy to see me so happy.

I decorated the tree that year with an unmatched fervor. I glued chains together until my fingers were sore. More aluminum foil
-covered walnuts than ever before swung from red embroidery thread on the branches. My mom took her little tree, set it up in coffee can with rocks and decorated it too. For several years she had her own little tree and we had our big one.

When traditions change it's most likely the youngest children in the family who feel it most acutely. They are just getting on board the train and enjoying the ride when people start to get restless, want to slow down or speed up, change the route, or just get off the train completely. I have no idea if my dad knew what he was doing the day he let us get that tree. Those changes that had pushed their way into our lives would continue to push and shape our traditions in totally new ways, some for good and some not. But for that holiday season, when I needed it the most, time slowed down and those changes were held back, if only briefly, by the lush green branches of that big beautiful tree.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Susan said...

Dear Betty, MERRY CHRISTMAS! I love you and look forward to your posts everyday. I hope you and the whole family have a wonderful day. Thanks for sharing these memories. I can identify with many parts of it. Love,

Unknown said...

Merry Christmas to you! Thanks for reading. It means a lot to me! Hope you and yours have a beautiful Christmas.

Brian said...

Merry Christmas to you too!!!