My father was adamant about not getting our live Christmas tree until the weekend before Christmas.
As an adult, I can understand the fear of dried pine needles and fire. But, as a kid, most of my friends had theirs weeks before Christmas.
My Dad grew up in Schenectady, New York. My Mom grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Until I was 11, I grew up in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.
We understood live trees.
The only time this ritual changed was if the timing just wasn’t right.
Say, Christmas fell on a Saturday or Sunday or even Monday. If we waited until the weekend before to buy our Christmas tree, they would be pretty picked over and we wouldn’t have much time to put it up.
The year I was a Freshman in college, though, we almost didn’t have a tree.
My younger brother was still at home in his Senior year of high school.
My older brother was at college, planning to come home about the same time I did.
When we got home for Christmas break, there was not only no tree, there were no plans for a tree.
My Dad had lost his job that year and, though he took that opportunity to go back to school to get his Master’s degree, he still hadn’t found a job by Christmas.
Money was tight.
I had debated dropping out of school to ease the financial burden on my family, but a boyfriend at school convinced me that, as a matter of pride, I should let my father keep paying for me to go to school.
Years later he bragged about having put three kids through college while he was out of work! We all emerged with degrees and no debt.
When I got home, Mom was depressed. “I don’t feel like putting up a tree this year,” she said. “There are plenty of decorations around in the city.”
Yes, but that was hardly the point. Where were the decorations in our house?
My brothers and I conspired to get and decorate a tree.
The Christmas decorations were in the attic. We all worked and drove, so buying a tree was within our means.
We felt like adults, starting to shoulder our own responsibilities and contribute to the family when we snuck the tree into the house while Mom and Dad were gone.
I never knew what Dad thought about our actions. He did not reveal his emotions easily.
I think he was touched that we could take care of it ourselves and that he had raised children who would take charge. If he was insulted, he never let us know it.
But, Mom, also not one to let her emotions show normally, was thrilled. She said years later that what she had expected to be her worst Christmas turned out to be one of her best.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
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