by Geraldine Trickle
The tree, the traditions, the changing size of families, the exchange of rings, the letting go and the coming home. A gorgeous seasonal story. It's a present. Reprinted with permission from Chocolate for a Woman's Dreams.
The Christmas season blew into the house along with a rush of icy December air. My son’s handsome bulk filled the doorway. Behind him followed Melissa, his about-to-be fiance.
“Okay, let’s get this show on the road,” he ordered boisterously. “Your timing is on target, Mom. It’s cold out there.”
He put his around Melissa, drawing her close. “It’s a tradition.” He grinned. “Somehow it’s always freezing and windy when Mom decides to go get…”The Perfect Tree.’”
“But John,” I countered, “there’s only so much time to get things done before Christmas Eve. The tree has to set in the stand so the branches settle—“
“And if we can’t get one today, they’ll all be picked over,” he finished while ushering us out the door.
We climbed into the car and set out to find the perfect tree. As we drove I realized we were going to search for my perfect tree, not our, perfect tree. Both my children were now independent adults with their own apartments. Even so, I cherished my memories of us as a family searching for the one tree that would symbolize the Christmas spirit in our house.
I leaned forward from the backseat and placed a hand on John’s and Melissa’s shoulders. “Did you get your tree yet?”
Melissa threw John a darting, sidelong glance.
“No point in it,” he replied. “We’re leaving for Vermont after we do Melissa’s family thing on Christmas Day.”
“No tree!” I gasped, dumbfounded, not quite believing any child of mine would forgo a Christmas tree. “But John…”
“It’s just not practical, Mom. It’ll be dead by the time we get home.”
I glanced over at Melissa. She lowered her head, hiding her expression. I sat back in the seat, unsettled. Instinct told me not to pursue the subject any further. Oh, my! No Christmas tree, I thought. Somehow, it didn’t seem as if a fabulous holiday ski vacation was going to totally obliterate Melissa’s disappointment.
Like millions of mothers, I had striven to fill my children’s young eyes and hearts with the awe and magic of Christmas. Then later, when they were too old to believe in Santa Claus, I created family events to instill in them the meaning and importance of tradition. I brooded.
Where had I gone wrong?
We reached the first tree lot, critically eyed the stock, then left. The perfect tree wasn’t there. At the next stop, Melissa seemed to shrink inside herself, offering little comment on two trees John and I had targeted as possibilities. I went off in search of other candidates.
Suddenly, I realized I was angry with my son.
Couldn’t he see how important a tree was to Melissa? Why was he being so insensitive? As I swung around a corner to inspect another row, my questions were answered.
“But, babe,” wouldn’t you rather spend the money in Vermont?” I overheard John say. “Look at the price of these trees. A hundred bucks, without a stand,” he said matter-of-factly, then went on to tick off further items. “No lights. No decorations. Nothing for the top. Come on babe, wouldn’t you like a candlelight dinner looking out at real-live firs and spruces covered with snow? We can enjoy my mom’s tree on Christmas Eve and your mom’s tree on Christmas Day.”
We left the lot empty-handed, but I had a better understanding of the John-Melissa tree dilemma. Their financial status was no secret. John worked part-time while attending school and Melissa was just starting her career.
Our next stop was a Christmas tree farm. When Melissa had wandered down a row of stately Scotch pines I took John aside.
“Let me get you a tree,” I said.
He shook his head. “No, Mom. It’s just not practical. We’re going to be gone for two whole weeks. It just isn’t a good idea to have a dried-out tree in an empty apartment. Common sense tells you that.”
I wanted to take him and shake the living practical sense out of his five-eleven frame. Instead, I turned around and pointed to the first tree in my line of sight.
“That’s the one. Let’s go.”
He eyed the overly full tree doubtfully. “You’re sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Get Melissa.” I started toward the bundling stand, muttering under my breath, determined to end Melissa’s exposure to my tradition of finding the perfect fragrant, green symbol of holiday spirit.
We dropped Melissa off at their apartment because she suddenly remembered pressing errands, then continued on home. Later, branches muffled John’s voice as he struggled to secure the tree’s trunk in our aging stand.
“I know she wants a tree, Mom,” he said as if were reading my thoughts. “But we’re not going to be home. I would rather spend the hundred bucks up in Vermont where it really looks like one of those old-fashioned Christmas cards. You know. Snow. Tall trees. An evening sleigh ride. That important ring is going to be put on her finger up in Vermont.”
I looked down at my son’s face. His expression pleaded for understanding.
“Ahh, I see. Why that’s wonderful,” I replied gently. “But Melissa doesn’t know about the ring, and it won’t happen until Christmas. Between now and then I bet she’s going to be a little bit unhappy.”
I reached down and brushed a lock of hair from his forehead.
“Sometimes you have to put practical thinking aside in favor of what’s important to someone you love.”
His head ducked back under the lower branches. He fiddled some more with the screws in the stand. The tree shook. “Is it straight now?”
I backed away and eyed my plump Douglas fir. “It’ll do.”
John scooted from beneath the tree’s branches then stood. As he brushed off his shirt and pants he glanced towards the window. “Look! It’s snowing!” he exclaimed. Outside, snowflakes were furiously hurtling themselves toward the ground. We watched for long minutes as they blanketed the grass.
“I’d better get going,” he said turning away from the window. “Want me to carry up the Christmas boxes from the basement before I leave?”
Twenty minutes later I kissed him goodbye, reminded him I had extra Christmas decorations, then cautioned him to drive carefully. I made a cup of tea and sat down to gaze at my tree. Its fragrant scent filled the room. I thought about all the Christmas trees I’d decorated in my lifetime. To me each was always perfect. My gaze wandered over some of the collected ornaments I had already carefully unwrapped. Each held within its molecular mass a bit of our family’s Christmas spirit. I wanted each of my children to create their own tree trimming rituals, to combine the traditions of our family with those of the one they loved.
Suddenly, shouts jolted me back to the here and now.
“Mom! Mom!”, cried John, as he burst through the door. His words tumbled out in a rush, running into one another. “I was going down Mount Lucas Road – at the turn you’ll never guess what happened?”
Oh, my God. He’s had an accident? “The car?”
He gave a vigorous shake of his head. “No. No. I was halfway down the road and there it was. A big sign. FREE TREE! I couldn’t believe it. I stopped and went up to the house. Somehow they ended up with two trees.” He held two fingers in the air for emphasis. “And get this, Mom. They just put the sign out. They weren’t in the house more than five minutes before I knocked. When Melissa sees this tree…it’s fantastic. Perfect shape. Size. Everything!” He threw his arms around me, lifted me from my firm footing then swung me around while laughing with pure joy.”
“I came back…”
“For the extra decorations. Now put me down.” We held each other at arm’s length, our gazes connected by an everlasting mother-child bond.
“Mom, it was like that tree was put there for me,” he said. “Like I was supposed to find it and take it home to Melissa.”
I touched my son’s cheek with its five o’clock shadow. His eyes were bright with the awe and wonder of Christmas just as they were when he was a little boy.
“It is your tree,” I murmured, choking back tears. Yours and Melissa’s.”
Minutes later he carried a carton packed with lights, tinsel and an odd assortment of ornaments outside. The song, “Oh, Christmas Tree” floated in the air around him, mingling with snowflakes. I watched him go. I knew the young woman he loved was going to be very happy with him – now and for long years to come.
Some may say John came upon the perfect tree by “coincidence”. I believe Christmas magic reached out and drew him into its unexplainable mystery and joy.