Several years ago my parents sold their house, the home in which almost all of my childhood memories were created. Selling the house was a rite of passage, bound to happen at some point, but of course it stirred many emotions and reminiscences.
As a small “thank you for the memories” gift to my parents, I wrote a small collection of [very] short stories in which I tried to capture the essence of our first year at our beautiful lakeside home in southern New Hampshire.
Since Christmas is just a couple of days away, (and tis the season for nostalgia, is it not?) I thought I’d give you a small glimpse into my childhood with one of those stories. Enjoy, and have a very merry Christmas!!
As the nights became darker and more snow fell, we quickly realized Christmas was coming. What would it be like, we wondered, having Christmas in our new house? We weren’t even sure where we’d put the tree because our living room was so overcrowded with the furniture we’d brought from our old home. We tried not to bother my mother about the upcoming holiday, but in our youth we couldn’t contain our excitement.
“Where are we going to hang the outside lights? Where should we put our stockings? What if Santa really does come down our chimney and falls into the furnace?” Our “chimney,” although made with real brick, led directly into a scary dark closet that contained our furnace and water heater. This became a great concern of ours, and we pondered the ways we might be able to warn him. “Can’t we leave the closet door open, Daddy? Please? Just for Christmas Eve? He’s going to get stuck!”
Eventually we dismissed it from our small minds and focused on a much more important issue: the Christmas tree. We discussed it amongst ourselves, knowing that asking too many questions to my parents would get us nowhere. Besides, we’d already asked them and they just said, “I don’t know yet.” So in a rare moment of ceasefire, the three of us spent time downstairs in the bedroom we all shared and held meetings of great importance to converse about the concern. “When are we going to get it? We only have two weeks left! Where are we getting it from? Will it look best in the corner of the living room, or right in front of the big picture window?” After much discussion we agreed that the tree would look best in front of the window, because that way we could see the lights from the lake when we went ice-skating. As days went by and still no tree, we became increasingly concerned. How could we have Christmas with no tree?
The Saturday before Christmas arrived, and we decided we needed to perform an intervention. The three of us approached my father as he sat at the kitchen table, eating his lunch of grilled cheese and potato chips.
“Daddy,” my sister started, “Christmas is in 6 days.”
“Yes, dear, I know,” he replied, taking a big bite of his sandwich.
“Well, you see,” she continued, “we don’t have a tree yet, and well, we were wondering when we are going to get one…”
“Well,” my father said. He paused for a minute, thinking, and took a drink of milk. ”Well, why don’t we get one this afternoon? We can go cut one down from right here in our own yard! Let me take a nap first, and then we’ll go out together and pick out the best one.”
So that was the answer to the weeks of anxiety. We were going to get one from our very own yard! Boy, were we excited. Someone before us had planted a very small Christmas tree “farm” along the border of our property. Really it was just a bunch of toddler pine trees planted, I’m sure, to create a natural barrier between us and the small strip mall next to us. But we didn’t care – all we could think about was that tree.
We gathered our snow gear; our most recent expedition to that part of the property told us that the snow drifts amounted to at least several feet. Plastic bagged feet slid into boots, snowpants were donned, and our mitten clad hands were stuffed into our jacket arms. We added our hats and scarves and were ready to go when my father woke from his nap.
We trudged into the whiteness, excited to be outdoors. We each secretly inhaled the cold, fresh New England air, a personal moment for each of us as we associated the crisp scent of pine and snow with freedom from all other worries. The sun was shining, a not-so-usual event, which meant we were nearly blinded by the glare off the snow and the clear, pale blue sky. We ran ahead into the miniature forest while my father went into the garage to find his hand saw and the snow shovels.
This was the moment. Our first Christmas tree in our new house. Which one should we pick??? We walked around, somberly considering each tree from all angles. The first one looked good, but then we noticed the interior needles were all dry. We raced to a tree that my brother had pointed which looked PERFECT from a distance, but an up close and winded inspection revealed an unfortunate asymmetry. Then my sister and father located THE tree. The shape was in true Christmas tree fashion – wide at the base and teeny at the top. The branches were full and well distributed, and it wasn’t completely buried in snow.
My dad cut it down, and we dragged it to the house. After shaking off the excess snow, we let it to dry a little outside while we set up the tree stand and gathered the lights and ornaments. Then, after testing our patience to the extreme, we finally carried the tree into the house, dropping needles through the kitchen and into the living room.
It was then that we started to notice something was amiss. The tree, which seemed so perfect, so ideal in the great outdoors, suddenly seemed very small. Too small. In fact, the tree wasn’t much taller than I was, and I was only six years old.
This was not good. Not good at all. My brother and sister and I looked at each other, each of us thinking the same thing. We have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
“Mom!” my brother cried, visibly upset. “We won’t even be able to see the lights from the lake!”
“We’ll make it work,” my mother said. Having played the role of problem solver for years, she knew the importance of keeping a good attitude.
“I know,” she said. “Let’s put it up onto something… How about the hassock?”
We gave it a try. We hoisted the tree, lights, stand and all, onto the hassock and placed it in front of the picture window.
“Yes, see? We’ll still put the skirt around it, and there! Our first Christmas tree, from our very own back yard!” How she did it, I don’t know. But my mother somehow managed to soothe our distraught souls and make us content with a four foot tree propped up with a footstool.
We decorated the tree, hanging miniature disco balls, wreaths, tinsel, and macaroni ornaments while listening to Roger Whittaker sing “Mighty Like a Rose.” Evening came, and we went outside.
And sure enough, we could still see the lights from the lake.