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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Crookedest Christmas Tree

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand

There's 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.

Undaunted, 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.

We couldn’t 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.

Each 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 lights.

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

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