As we enter the season of thanks and gratitude, I am so incredibly thankful for all of my sisters who are walking the path of grief with me. I would like to share with you my story of magical dysfunction and hopefully it put a smile in your heart A very happy Thanksgiving to all of you!!!
The stores start vibrating with red and green oh I’d say about mid October. For me, it all hit me one warm day in October when I visited my local discount store. It was like there was an invisible dart gun that hit me right before I picked out my cart. Paper towels, Drano, and light bulbs was what was on my list today. As I stood studying my lists, I looked up and saw it. It was if there was a neon sign that said “You are now entering the Christmas Bubble”. The bubble was filled with the most interesting pallet of orange and black and things that go “Boo!” There is no doubt that toilet paper will have something important nestled up next to it that was unplanned. Saddled right next to the plastic black cauldrons were brown and orange tableware, cornucopias, and decorative pilgrims being thankful.. Then of course, waiting in the wings….. tinsel, plastic candy canes with M@M’s in them, and rows of boxed Christmas cards adorned with beautiful Currier and Ives Christmas scenes reminding us all of “The Perfect Christmas”. As I turned down the next isle, there they were…Christmas trees. The display isle had white flocked ones, pink and blue flocked ones, pre-lit ones, big ones ,small ones, musical ones, flashing ones, and tap dancing ones. All of them fake, none of them required water. Behind the trees were long standing white boxes to stuff them into on Jan 2. I was standing there with my cart spellbound, and I realized I had just entered the holiday bubble. Boo!, Gobble gobble!, Ho ho ho!, and Happy New Year, all is the same subliminal message.
The vacuum cleaner came out, Pledge was on the table. The regular stuff on the walls was all shifted or removed for the next 6 weeks. 9,483,957 green bins were brought up from the basement. It was the day of the tree. Mike loved getting the tree. Where should it go? Not close to any heat registers of course which totally crossed out the best places, but we all knew this was “his” Christmas moment. The perfect tree, adorned in all the ornaments that told a story, “our family’s” story of Christmas. It was a day of love and happiness, and yes…dysfunction.
Before we went on our big adventure to find the perfect tree, it was traditional to have grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup to warm up the little tummies before they headed out into the tundra, otherwise know as the Christmas tree farm. Heather, our 6 year old daughter looked at her dad, obviously deep and thought and said. ” Dad, can’t we just get a fake tree?” Two other sets of eyes looked up in eager anticipation of the answer. He smiled, winked at her and said, “C’mon Heath, that’s cheating, a real tree that we pick out as a family is best”. They all went back to eating the tummy warmers, and knew that was the end of conversation.
And so off we went. A tall one? fat one? short needles,? long needles?…so many choices. The Christmas tree guy was there with a smirky long mustache ready to take our sixty bucks. And in the end he did, but helped hoist the mother onto the roof of the car. Mike drove the car with pride as the best tree ever was being driven down the interstate, as if it were in Santa’s sleigh,
Bets were being taken in the back seat as to how many times it would fall over this year.
In the middle of the sleigh ride, Jennifer yelled from the back seat, “Hey mom, I have a lot of homework to do when I get home!”
I smiled and look at her. “No you don’t, but nice try”. We all laughed and smiled, except for Mike. He was giddy, deep in thoughts, and his eyes were beginning to take on the yearly glaze of the insanity that was part of Christmas tree placement. It was his Christmas moment, and all would be right with the world later that day, when he could sit in his favorite chair, crack open a beer, and admire the tree, the most important symbols of the season. A beautiful Christmas present he gave his family every year, although we never understood how wonderful it was until later.
Every year the tree was dragged into the house and put into the turbo built stand. A stand that was built out of a thick sheet of wall board and with toggle bolts that would have been able to keep a skyscraper standing. But you see, every year the leaf family tree falls down, and we knew this year was to be no different. The questions started swirling around in our heads. When would dad crack? When would the warm Christmas moment turn into dysfunction; a tradition that was ours.
In from the garage came tools; hammers, saws, toggle wrenches and screwdrivers. Kim stood there watching in an anxious silence. “Hey sweetie, hold onto the tree while I screw this into the stand please.” I knew my place as her mother. “Oh honey, that’s OK, I’ll do it, kids, go find the ornaments!”. After what seemed to be hours, it was bolted onto the stand and stood up straight. He cut and chopped away at it, as if Edward Scissorshands had morphed into his body. When it finally stood there completed, with lights and a star, it was indeed a beautiful sight. The man knew his craft and he stood back and beamed with pride.
“It’s beautiful Clark!” I said and we shared a moment of laughter. “Christmas Vacation” was his favorite movie, and he knew he was Clark Griswald, and laughed at the joke. Later that day, the evil elves went to work. Kimmy was standing by the tree admiring the ornament that she gave us for Christmas last year. She wanted it to be front and center, and put her hand on the ornament to move it to a place so everyone could see it. NOOOOOOOOOO! don’t touch the …and at that moment the tree fell, it fell onto a little girl holding on to an ornament made of construction paper, glitter, and pipe cleaners. Her father, with a hacksaw in his hand, eyes had glazed over. “I’m sorry dad” she said with tears in her eyes. He stopped what he was doing hugged her tightly and said “No problem, easily fixed!” and he left the house and walked to the garage.
Years and years of fallen Christmas trees which produced a turbo platform made to hold up a skyscraper, and a dad with glazed over eyes. Where did he go? Silence…the Christmas moment had replayed itself again this year. “Damn it” I whispered to myself. After that, for what seemed an eternity, he emerged from the garage with a power drill, walked over to the tree stand, and drilled it into the carpet! Mission accomplished. And from that Christmas on, plummeting Christmas trees were never a problem.
The holidays are an important and meaningful time of year. Families earmark the season with traditions, activities and outings, all which are meant to define “family” for them. Family traditions are where we make and keep our memories.
Memories, beautiful and wonderful memories of a dad, who became Clark Griswald because his heart wanted to gift his family a good tree, a beautiful tree. And so yes, every year in an attempt to ward off the evil elves,trees were from that point on…drilled into the carpet. It is a memory we will keep warm in our tummies forever.
I stood in the isle, in the bubble, and I felt tears stream down my face. The world without Mike was full of fake trees, that never needed to be drilled, but always had to be shoved into a box. No sleighs required to bring home a tall white box. later that day was the first time I sat on the floor with a cup of coffee, and looked at Christmas pictures from days gone by. It was a painful and difficult moment, and I hadn’t been able to do until this moment. Beautiful sixty dollar decorated Christmas trees that were the backdrop for a growing family that endured “tree day”. I smiled to myself and thought that we never had the Currier and Ives Christmas. Our home never resembled the Christmas card images of white picket fences, and families in cable knit sweaters. Our Christmases were full of funny moments with a dad that got a crazy glaze in his eyes, and became giddy with thoughts of a beautiful Christmas tree in his house. A wonderful dad who drilled a tree into the carpet with 4 screws every year..and it was a good thing, a tad dysfunctional, but a good thing.
Some day, I thought, perhaps I will be able to put up a tree again, when I am stronger. But for now I will wrap myself in the love of this family, the memories I learned to keep “warm” and in a safe place. Some day I will be able to embrace the bubble, get a little crazy glaze in my eyes over the holiday spirit. But for today, being able to open the box of Christmas pictures for the first time, is my bubble of Christmas magic.
As we approach this season, never ever put your expectations of family up to the Currier and Ives Christmas cards. Those people are boring. Christmases are full of things like lime green Jello salads full of vegetables from Grandma Esther, and crazy uncle Jeb who tells racy inappropriate stories, and shopping mall meltdowns. Families; unique as the snowflakes, and the most important thing of all, is that we get to create new memories every year with them. Make them good ones, even if you have to take out the drill to do it…… Happy Holidays.