something obscene about spending so much money at Christmastime. It’s not like
we’re the Three Wise Men hiking across the desert to gift the baby Jesus. I don’t
even know what frankincense is, let alone myrrh. So let’s get down to the most
important symbol of all: the Christmas tree itself.
One long-ago year,
my Dad was out of work, much as fathers are today, but he was determined we'd
have a tree just the same. All four of us, Dad, Mom, my sister and I, went to
McNally’s lot, the local man who sold trees just once a year. We couldn’t afford
any of his big, beautiful trees. Then we sped the worst looking thing on the entire
lot. To have called it “scrawny” would’ve been a compliment. It had a skinny trunk
an 8-year-old could put her thumb and forefinger completely around, and it had
been deprived of all but about half a dozen branches with needles. Besides all
that, it tilted further than the Tower of Pisa. My sister and I looked at each
other in teary dismay. We could never invite friends over this year.
Dad fished a quarter out of his pocket and bought it, and for another dime, Mr.
McNally sold him some loose boughs his seasonal customers used for making wreaths
for their doors. One good thing about that tree was that it was the lightest one
to carry. Upon arrival home, Dad started to use his imagination, like Michelangelo
must have done when he looked up at the empty ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
Dad found the spot where the tree had started its downward tilt, and sawed the
trunk off just above that spot. When he finished, the tree was straight, if much
shorter. He then drilled holes here and there on the rest of the trunk, filed
the woody end of the extra boughs into points, and pushed them into the holes.
Mom looked on approvingly, and my sister and I finally began to see the efficient
results of Dad’s Christmas Tree, Plan B. The crookedest tree on McNally’s lot
was beginning to look like a real Christmas tree after all.
use strings of lights, for the wiring would be too much weight for the fragile
new branches to bear, so Mom had us get the special box of burnished ornaments
from the attic, the same ornaments our paternal grandmother had brought when she
emigrated from Germany, and charged†us with locating the smallest, lightest ones.
Then, ever so gently and very carefully, she hung these treasures from the homemade
boughs. We helped her finish the decorating job with many strands of old tinsel,
which reflected the light from a nearby floor lamp, and glinted as though it had
real lights on it.. That little tree shone as beautifully as any of the big ones
at McNally’s. Due to the shortened height of our special tree that year, we didn't
need to be hoisted up on Dad's shoulders to place the traditional angel at the
very top. We just stood on tippy toes.
year, New York’s Rockefeller Center features a magnificent tree to be seen in
person or on television. It's huge, gloriously resplendent with color, and flashing
But for us on a broke Christmas Eve, that short, scraggy, slanted
little tree was transformed before our very eyes into a beautiful, straight, and
shining example of what Christmas is really all about.
The moral of this
story is that even though you don't trek through starry nights to get to Baby
Jesus, you can show your love by using the gifts God gave you: creativity, imagination,
and a set of Black & Decker.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
November 21, 2009column
Christmas in Texas
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