Our Otherwise Perfect Christmas
Once we got our tree, things fell into place
by Allen Delaney
My six-year-old brother, Sam, was crying. Mom was pleading with my father not to do it.
My father had announced his plan to buy an artificial Christmas tree. He was tired of having to take out a second mortgage to buy a tree that would be dead in three weeks. “Besides,” Dad said, “by the time we take it down, half of its needles are in our shag rug, and it’s become a sap-filled torch just waiting for a match. With an artificial tree, we can use it every year. We won’t even have to take the ornaments off. We can just stick it in the hall closet and pull it out next year!”
Dad’s announcement was what caused Sam to wail. My brother had got it in his head that if we had a fake tree, Santa wouldn’t visit us.
Since turning 13, I was much more mature about the matter. I didn’t care if we had a pyramid of empty soda cans in the living room just as long as there was an SR-14 B.B. rifle underneath with my name on it. I had been dropping hints to my parents for a year that the rifle was the only gift I wanted. My mother said that I was too young and I’d probably put out one of my brother’s eyes. I kept telling her that I wouldn’t be that good a shot for at least a year. Now that I was a full-fledged teenager, my hopes soared for the SR-14.
Mom finally intervened to quiet my brother. She said Christmas only comes once a year. She enjoyed a house filled with a seasonal pine smell and it’s her, not Dad, who vacuums the needles from the rug. Mom added that she enjoyed decorating the tree with her family, and she wasn’t going to pull out a pre-decorated tree each year. “So get a real tree, already,” she said.
Dad was losing ground, but he wasn’t giving it all away. They compromised. He said that he would get a real tree, but he wasn’t going to pay a ransom for it. No, he and his boys would go out to the country and chop down a tree like they did in the “days of old.”
My brother had ceased his tantrum, but now I was concerned. I pointed out that life expectancy in the days of old was a lot less than it is today, and there had to be a reason for that. I suspected it involved axes. My words went unheard as Dad went to locate a map to find out where, exactly, country existed. We lived just outside a large metropolitan area; the closest thing we came to the great outdoors was having country sausage on Sundays.
While Dad was pouring over the map, I asked Mom if our insurance had been paid. She said it was, but I might want to bring some bandages just in case.
After careful perusal, Dad excitedly showed us where we would find our tree. “Right here,” he pointed. “There are no roads anywhere near this place.” I could see the worry in my mother’s expression when she told him he was pointing at a lake. Dad was an excellent accountant but not great with directions. Every time he took us to the mall, we spent an hour searching for the car. “I know I parked it on one of these levels,” Dad would say, scratching his head. Finally my father found an area on the map he deemed “remote” and there, he declared, was where we were going.
Into the Country
That Saturday was a windy, brisk, clear day; clear enough for spotter planes to find us, at least before nightfall. Pop tossed a ball of twine, a small ax and work gloves into the trunk, herded my brother and me into our 1972 Dodge Dart and headed out on our Christmas tree adventure.
After hours of driving, often mumbling indecipherable words under his breath, Dad pulled the car onto the shoulder of a remote two-lane road and announced this was it.
“Is the place you found on the map?” I asked.
“Close enough,” he said.
We piled out of the car, and Dad got the supplies from the trunk. Armed with ax and work gloves, we ascended the hill. From on top, I could see acres of trees. Dad and my brother were climbing more slowly, for father was trying to amuse Sam by turning red in the face, wheezing and clutching his chest. What a nut.
We searched for the perfect tree until we were cold and tired, but we never found it. Dad finally chose one at random, pulled the ax from his belt and went at it. I was ready with the bandages. Dad got the job done without needing even one.
With the tree in tow, we headed back to the Dodge. We’d have been happier to get out of the woods if a state trooper hadn’t been parked behind our car. A bad feeling swept over me. I looked to the heavens, hoping a spotter plane would come to my rescue.
While Sam and I sat in the back, I overheard the trooper say such words as national forest, trespassing, illegally parked and destruction of federal property. The word fine came up several times as well, so I didn’t feel so bad.
The officer let us keep the tree since, as he put it, “he was in a holiday mood.” But he gave Dad numerous slips of paper, which my father slammed into the glove box. It was a long, quiet ride home with a scraggly tree tied atop the car.
Mom welcomed Sam and me home with hot chocolate; my father poured himself several strong drinks.
At Home with Our Tree
Recomposed, Dad carried the tree from the car through the front door. He did fairly well. He only knocked one painting off the wall and tipped over a floor lamp.
Inside, we could all see we hadn’t found the perfect tree. No matter how we turned it, all sides looked equally bad, with large gaps, crossed branches and dried pine needles scattered throughout. Once we decided that it didn’t matter which side faced the wall, Dad had to level it.
He placed pieces of wood and cardboard under one leg of the stand, then another. Once one side was propped up, the tree leaned in the opposite direction. Finally, Dad lost his patience. He stomped downstairs and returned with a hammer and a large nail. He got behind the tree and hammered, all the while mumbling about tying the so-and-so to the wall. On the third swing we heard a pop and saw a spark. Then the lights went out. In the darkness, I heard a faint whimper.
Since Mom had been cooking beef stew in the crock-pot before the short circuit, we had a hot dinner. It was nice eating by candlelight. The faint lighting hid the carrots. Dad didn’t eat much, but he had a lot to drink.
We washed and dressed for bed by flashlight, ending a long, tiring day. Tomorrow Sunday we had to find an electrician.
Early the next morning, my mother started dialing. It took a while, but she found an electrician who would come out and take a look.
When he walked into the living room, he stared at the tree. Then he stared at my brother and me, probably wondering what horrible deed we had done to deserve such a tree. “I hafta get to the wires,” he told Dad, as he sawed a big square hole in the wall. It didn’t take him long to cut out the blackened wires my father had hammered into and splice new ones in their place. He flipped on the circuit breaker and we had power.
“What about the hole in the wall?” Dad asked.
“I’m an electrician, not a drywaller,” he responded. “You’ll hafta get someone to fix that for ya. Good luck finding somebody a week before Christmas.” Dad closed his eyes and clenched his fists.
“I know someone who’s going to have a merry Christmas!” Dad growled after he wrote the check. He stomped upstairs, leaving the three of us to decorate our leaning tree. I was hoping that once the decorations were on, they would hide the gaping hole in the wall.
Our Otherwise Perfect Christmas
For a kid, the week before Christmas is six months long. When, finally, the big day arrived, my brother and I were like racehorses at the starting gate. When my parents said, Let’s see what Santa brought, we flew downstairs and into unwrapping mode.
I eagerly searched for a rectangular box big enough to hold a B.B. rifle. I located one with my name on it! in all of .09 seconds. It was unwrapped in less time. Finally! The SR-14 B.B. rifle I had yearned for over a year was in my hands. “This is the best Christmas ever!” I declared.
I don’t remember what other presents were given or received that year. My eyes remained glued to the B.B. rifle. I do remember that once the gift giving was over, we had a mountain of paper to discard. Mom got a large plastic trash can liner from the kitchen and held it open as we shoved in paper and empty boxes. She tied it shut and carried it through the kitchen out to the garage.
I was getting my brother lined up in my sights when my mother yelled, “Tom! Come out here!”
My father rolled his eyes. “What happened now?”
“There’s a present in here with your name on it, and it’s from Santa!”
Dad eyed me as if I had something to do with this. As he cautiously obeyed Mother, my brother and I followed close behind.
There, in front of the Dodge, was a very large box with a huge tag that read, “To Tom. From Santa Claus.”
“What do you think Santa brought Daddy?” my mother asked Sam.
My brother shrugged, never taking his eyes off the oversized gift. Dad unwrapped the bright red paper and lifted it off, hiding the present from our view. He lowered the paper back down over the box, and for the first time in Christmas week, a smile spread across his face. Then, he tore off the wrapping to expose a large box that contained a brand new artificial Christmas tree.
“Look at that Sam,” Mom said. “If Santa gave your daddy an artificial tree, then I guess he must like them too, right?”
My brother happily nodded in agreement.
Dad gave Mom a wink. “I’ll thank Santa personally later this evening,” he said.
“Now it is the best Christmas ever,” he said to me.
Then it hit me what was missing from an otherwise perfect Christmas. “Uh, Dad,” I asked, “did any B.B.s come with the rifle?”
Still grinning, Dad answered, “there’s always next year.”