It's time to put the Christmas tree up again!
For many of you this may involve schlepping an aromatic pine or spruce into the living room. For others it might be a trip to the garage to haul out the annual plastic model. For me, it means it's time to re-post my favorite Christmas tree story. So once again for it's annual airing, here is my story about the ugliest Christmas tree. Please feel free to share this others.
I was relaxed, taking in the stereo when a commercial interrupted my listening pleasure.
"Make this Christmas one that she'll never forget," droned the announcer. "Yeah," I thought. "Spend big bucks and everyone will love you. Spend enough and we may even have peace on earth."
Christmas commercialism, it seems to get worse ever year. Do not get me
wrong. I enjoy Christmas. It just bothers me that everyone thinks you
have to spend a lot of money to have a merry one. I thought back to the
commercial, "the best Christmas ever." It took my memories back to the
Christmas of my 10th year, my most unforgettable holiday.
My family and I had moved to Arizona from Chicago four years before.
Arizona was in a serious recession. My father, who had always provided a
healthy paycheck for his wife and five children, could not find work.
We got by on unemployment checks.
Jobs were plentiful in Chicago and my father's former boss was anxious
to take him back. However, after four years of quiet, safe and sunny Arizona
living, my mother refused to return to the Windy City.
If my father could not find employment he would return to Illinois, send
money, and the rest of the family would remain in Arizona.
It was a sad time - the bickering about money, worrying if my dad would
have to move away. Christmas was an added burden. Money was tight enough
without the added expense of the holiday. My mother explained the
financial situation to us and we knew not to expect much in the way of
Of course the brightly decorated evergreens we had enjoyed in
the past were out of the question. We never even asked about one.
Instead we pulled a three-foot aluminum tree out from the garage. The
cold tinsel stalk inspired about as much Christmas spirit as a box of
While everyone else decorated the tree, I decided to take a stroll. As I walked toward the end of the block, I turned right so I could
investigate the bowling alley parking lot where they had been selling
Christmas trees. I loved the scent of the pine in the cold air, another
of many reasons I hated our artificial tree.
As I neared the lot, I saw that it was bare. I kicked at the fragments
of broken branches. In the corner, lying on its side, was a long
It was easy to see why the tree was discarded. However, something inside
of my brain clicked. The poor tree needed a home. My home needed a
I grabbed the trunk, but I was not strong enough to move it. I ran home
to fetch my younger brother, Terry, who I was sure would assist in my
plight. As it is so often the case with brothers, Terry lacked my
"I don't even think a dog would use that tree," he laughed.
"Maybe so, but it would make a fine fort," I replied. With that in mind,
Terry helped me transport the tree down the block and into our back
My mother looked up from washing the dishes as we walked up the
driveway, and warned us against bringing that "filthy thing" into the
"Its for a fort!" Terry exclaimed. I just smiled.
Once the tree was in the back yard, I sent Terry on another mission. I
had no intention of turning the evergreen into a fort - at least not
My dad walked up and looked at the tree. It was long, sparse on the top
with heavy branches on the bottom. I was sure I could win him over, so I
explained my scheme to him.
"You could chop a foot off the bottom and cut the branches off and drill
holes where the tree is bare and do a little transplanting," I said.
My older sister, Diane walked out and spied the tree. "Father, you are
not going to let her bring that thing in the house are you?" Diane
"I don't see why you don't like it," I said. "It looks just like you. Not enough on the top and too much on the bottom."
Diane walked off in a huff.
Whether dad was bored, liked my idea, or was caught up in my enthusiasm I
cannot be sure. But soon a drill and saw were out and "Ernie" the
unwanted evergreen became a beautiful Christmas tree.
Dad brought the tree inside and we placed the few ornaments we had on
Ernie. To help fill in the uncovered areas, we strung popcorn and
pyracantha berries and cut out little ornaments from paper. Even my
18-year-old brother, Dennis, who was fond of imitating Scrooge and
saying "Bah Humbug" to any mention of Christmas, helped to get Ernie
We did not have any Christmas lights, so Terry and I pooled our money,
about 90 cents, and we got the rest of the cash from "Jack rabbit," my
little sister Tina's bank. I am ashamed to say it was an unauthorized
One string of lights did not cover much, so we pushed the tree into a
corner and decorated only the front. Despite the circumstances, I was
happy. We all were. Never before, and unfortunately never afterward, do I
remember my family working together so joyfully. For a short while, we
were happy to be together and share what we had, each other.
That was the last Christmas we celebrated together as a family for a
long time. Shortly afterward, my father returned to Chicago, unable to
come home permanently until I was 16.
Except for my nemesis, Diane, my siblings and I still live in Arizona.
Most holidays, we get together to exchange insults and presents. Our
Christmas trees are always magnificent and the presents are plentiful
and brightly decorated. You will not find strings of popcorn or
pyracantha berries anywhere.
Christmas carols, if they were sung (and they are not) would be drown
out by the big football games that are always scheduled in honor of the
birth of Jesus.
I still think back to my childhood and that yuletide of my 10th year,
and I know a truckload of presents could not match the happiness I felt
that day. It was a special time when my father listened to me and made a
small dream come true. And it all happened because of a poor misshapen
Christmas tree that nobody else wanted.