Tonight, after a stressful day at work, I decorated our Christmas tree. It’s not much. In fact it’s a scrap I convinced a local gas station to give to me for free.
It’s not that we can’t afford a full-size tree, but it just seemed impractical since we’re traveling for the holidays. At the same time, it just seems wrong to not have a Christmas tree. It has become a rather important tradition for me. This tree, as unassuming as it is, reminds me of another Christmas many years ago when I was in the third grade.
Fresh from college with a music education degree, my mother had just gotten a teaching job on the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Arizona. Her salary was at the bottom rung of the pay scale and it wasn’t much for a single mother of two* with student loans and a divorce lawyer. We were lucky to eat, so a Christmas tree was out of the question.
It would be our first Christmas without a tree. We were used to cutting our own in the forest with our entire family. So not having a tree was difficult to imagine, and my brother refused to accept the idea. “Just watch and see,” Tom had said determined to find us a tree.
Time passed, school ended, and Christmas was only a few days away, but we still did not have a tree. I began to doubt my brother, but one night as the sun set, Tom lured me out of the house. The cold wind tore at my cheeks and the neighborhood dogs barked as we sneaked through the trailer park to the back of the school.
Behind a tall chain-link fence next to a dumpster was a perfect Christmas tree complete with tinsel and red plastic ornaments.
I stood watch as somehow Tom managed to scale the fence, grab the tree, and hoist it out of the enclosure. In the process, he ripped his good jeans and skinned his arm, but we had our Christmas tree. We carried it home, smiling and laughing, as blood oozed out of Tom’s injuries.
I’ve had many trees since, and I’ll have many more to come, but there are few I remember as vividly as that one. We each got only one present that year, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the smile on my mother’s face and the pride Tom and I felt as we carried in that tree.
It has become one of my fondest Christmas memories. And so, this is Christmas…a time for family and peace regardless of our troubles or the amount of stress we feel. I had forgotten that, so I’m glad I had this tree as a reminder.
Peace and happiness to you and your family during this holiday season.
* Please note: I have 4 brothers, but at that time, my other brothers lived with my father.