Archived Story

A Christmas tree becomes a storyteller

Published 9:43am Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Column: Tales From Exit 22, by Al Batt

The hairs in my ears had begun to bristle.

It happens every year after I’ve heard the 137th different rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.”

I wanted some peace and quiet. I went into stores that offered target-rich environments, but they were out of those things.

Each year, people talk about their favorite Christmas movies. Christmas movies bring me sadness.

My uncle died while eating popcorn and watching his favorite Christmas classic in a movie theater. He was one of those guys who dies every time a 423-pound, inebriated Santa Claus falls on him from a balcony.

I collect gift bags. They’ll do for the present. They’re easier to use than my customary wrapping of newspaper funny pages. I still need to find the starting point of the Scotch tape, but no one said that life would be easy. Sadly, bags do eliminate the practice of Christmas yoga, picking up the bits of wrapping paper.

I have stopped caroling. It was fun gathering with friends and torturing favorite Christmas carols, but quitting was wise. The hints to desist had turned to hisses and boos.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I tend to live my life in the latter manner. It might be because of the ghost of a Christmas tree past.

We traveled the Christmas tree lot circuit, looking for a bargain in the midst of painted pines, sprayed spruces and flocked firs. My father was frugal when it came to firs. He searched for the cheapest tree he could find. We frequented dark lots that smelled more of dog urine than evergreens. Our target was the last tree left in the lot. It had been separated from the herd and was vulnerable. It was a pitiful specimen with few needles remaining. It made Charlie Brown’s dismal tree look majestic. The man running the lot was anxious to deplete his inventory so that he could go home. Still, he wanted to make money. He gave a professional tree pusher’s pitch. He made the mistake of pounding the tree’s trunk to the pavement in a sales fervor. In retrospect, that was a bad move, but that’s how we learn. Shortly after the bottom of the tree hit the ground, so did the rest of its needles. This occurrence left both salesman and tree in a weakened condition. The price was reduced drastically and a transaction completed. We strapped the tree to the car and drove home. There, the tree was removed from the car’s rooftop and carried into the house. Inside the home, it was clamped in place in a metal tree stand. The tree refused to stand upright, preferring to droop woefully. Water was added to the water well of that contraption. This was a needless act, as the tree was well beyond needing any water. It was one Christmas tree that would not be released back into the wild.

Dad added lights to the tree. That was never an easy task. The bulbs didn’t want to burn brightly in a holiday glow. He had to jumpstart the tree lights. Dad growled that he would strangle whoever invented Christmas lights if he didn’t have to untangle them first.

Tinsel was added, giving an appearance of shiny spaghetti dripping from the branches.

The tree was a sad sight until my mother got out the Christmas tree decorations, ornaments that were cracked, glued and taped. None of them matched. Many had been wounded when house cats had their Christmas wishes come true as they tipped over a tree in the middle of the night. The ornaments needed to be properly situated to give the tree a proper balance that would keep it from tipping itself over.

It would be a tree lacking needles and bearing battered ornaments.

I worried that the entire project would be depressing, but something amazing happened. With each ornament that she added to the tree, my mother told a story. She told the history of each ornament. Where it came from. Who gave it to us. What it represented. Every ornament had meaning and every story was amazing. Suddenly, that pathetic Christmas tree became the most beautiful of trees. It wasn’t just decorated; it was transformed into a tree of stories. When Mom put the angel at the top of the tree, it was as if the entire world was smiling.

All Christmas trees are perfect.

That is a miracle.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.