Tag Archive: Christmas

Dec 24

The Christmas Present

 

 

When I was a kid, my family didn’t have a lot. We were kind of like the poverty-stricken snake: We didn’t have a pit to hiss in.

One thing we did have was family, such as it was.

I never knew my dad’s mother or my mom’s father; they both died before I was born. I never really knew my dad’s father, either. He was what folks back then called a “wino” and what we would, in today’s politically correct world, call a homeless person.

But I did know my mom’s mother. In fact, she lived downstairs from us for a long time.

I had a good assortment of aunts, uncles, and cousins, all from my dad’s side, who lived fairly close. There were another set from my mom’s side, but they mostly lived in Denver, and we didn’t see them very often.

But Grandma was always around.

I always had toys for Christmas, but not many and never very expensive things. I sometimes think that my dad always wanted a son, because often he would get me toys that would seem, at least at first, as being more appropriate for a boy.

Like the year he spent who-knows-how-much on a toy plane, some big airliner or another, that had a “remote control” on a wire so I could make the lights come on, the small plastic propellers on the four engines rev up, and it would taxi around while I steered it. I loved the plane and played with it for years.

Or the year dad got me BB gun, followed a year later by a Winchester lever-action .22 rifle. No, I didn’t shoot my eye out, either. I loved them, too.

Looking back, it was more about dad giving me something rather than the gifts themselves that I loved. Like so many kids, I equated the gifts with dad loving me.

I don’t have any of those toys or gifts today. They were all lost to the passing years, and I have no clue where or how. All I have now are the memories, and that’s more than enough for me.

Then there was the year that Grandma died.

She had breast cancer, and the doctors did all they could, but they didn’t have the treatments available then that we have today. There was really little they could do other than keep her comfortable. Well, at least as much as possible.

Her last Christmas was a sad one, but at six, I really didn’t understand that she, mom, and dad all knew it would be her last. I thought it was just another visit from Santa.

The medical bills took as big a toll as anything else. There weren’t many presents under the tree that year.

But I remember one small package, only a few inches long, and far less than that in width and height. It had worked its way to the very toe of my stocking hanging above the old gas fireplace, and I had to take the red sock down and shake it to get the present to fall to the floor.

I recall thinking that it must be something good because it was heavy. I can still see the red wrapping paper, covered in white snowmen dressed in the traditional black top hats with their carrot noses and coal lump eyes. It was tied with a thin green ribbon, and a silver bow twice as big as the package itself finished it off.

I’d already opened all my other gifts, but something about this odd present fascinated me. It was so unusual, so different from all the others, that I had this feeling in my six-year-old mind that something must be very special about this last item.

A small card was taped to the package, and it read simply: “To Melodee From Grandma and Grandpa”.

That puzzled me. Grandpa? Did it mean Grandpa Bunny, the aforementioned wino? Surely not.

But at six, I didn’t worry about it too much, and tore into the ribbon and paper, tossing them to join the small, sad pile already on the floor.

Inside was a simple, unmarked cardboard box, and when I opened that, I found an old, well-worn pocket knife.

As I turned it in my hands, it was marked on one side with the word “Primble” and on the other with “Barlow”. I had no idea who these people might be, but they must have lost this knife a long time ago, because far from the bright, shiny color of a new tool, this one was brown with the color of old rust, rubbed off by wear from being carried and used on a regular basis.

I opened the larger of the two blades, and it was thin from repeated sharpening. Carefully, I ran my finger across the blade as I’d seen dad do when he sharpened his knife, and it was like a razor. I couldn’t get my tiny hands to open the smaller blade, though. The spring was too strong for my fingers to work.

Grandma, sitting in the old, big easy chair, waved her hands to get my attention so I could read her lips. “Child, close that knife and come on over here.”

I folded the knife and went to where she sat, and I crawled up in her lap.

I know now that probably hurt her. Her bones were brittle and ached from the cancer that, unknown to a six-year-old child, ravaged her body. But Grandma didn’t complain. She didn’t even wince.

Instead, she put her arm around me and tapped at the old knife with her other hand, the tremble noticeable even to me. “That was your Grandpa’s knife. He carried that everyday for a long, long time. It’s yours now.”

I saw a few tears running down her cheeks, but I really didn’t understand, because she smiled bright as daybreak. When I glanced over at mom, she too was crying softly, but she also smiled. Dad was busy poking at some invisible spot on his shirt, his eyes carefully averted from my gaze.

I remember saying thank you, but totally without understanding.

Grandma died in February, but it was many more years before I understood the meaning of her last Christmas present to me.

As I said, all the toys and other things from those times are gone, all a part of history now.

All but one…

As I write this, I look down at the desk and see the familiar knife there, the words “Primble” and “Barlow” still easily readable in the brownish metal, the colors of the artificial horn flowing across the handle. The blade is a little thinner now, but it’s still razor-sharp. Both blades now, because I can get the smaller one to fold out.

I carry that little knife with me everywhere I can. If I wear jeans, it’s in my pocket. Otherwise, it’s in my purse.

It’s not worth anything. It wasn’t even an expensive knife when new. To me, though, it’s priceless. It’s a tie across the miles and years to a woman I loved very much and miss terribly. It’s also a tie to man I never knew, but who I love just as much.

Some of you may be disappointed, because most of the stories from my childhood have a funny aspect, and this one is seriously lacking in the comedic department. No, this wasn’t a funny story, but it is a happy one.

Memories define who we are. To a large degree, they also define who we will become. That, in turn, defines how we live our life and how we impact others. The memory of Grandma’s last Christmas is a good one. She gave me a gift beyond all measure.

She gave me a past much longer than my years.

Yes, there is a good dose of bitter with the sweet, but like a fine wine or the most delectable chocolate available, the sweet far outweighs the bitter, reducing the painful twinge to giving us a reminder of how good things really are. The bitter only serves to enhance the sweet.

Keep Loving, and

Merry Christmas

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2016/12/24/the-christmas-present-4/

Dec 23

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Ten

 

 

Number Ten

Generally Speaking, Writing Experts Aren’t

 

I want you to think about something totally unrelated to writing for a minute…

How many people are there professing they are “experts” in social media or search engine optimization (SEO) or various other subjects related to online marketing? Millions? More?

Why are there so many? Because there is a created market for them with the explosive growth in social media and search engine use.

Now, back to writing…

How many people are there out on the Internet claiming to be “experts” at teaching you how to write? Hundreds of thousands? More?

Why are there so many? Because there is a created market for them due to the explosive growth of self-publication from Amazon and other places.

Yeah…everyone thinks they are an author. Many (but by no means all) are just bad writers who self-publish because a real publisher won’t touch them with a ten-foot pole.

Most of the so-called writing experts are failed writers. Not only were they unable to get published, they couldn’t make a living being self-published. They are hacks at best and con-artists at worst.

Think about it…

If they know so much about writing and are so good at it, why aren’t they writing?

Yeah…

You know the answer.

 

Merry Christmas and

Keep Loving!

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2016/12/23/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-ten-4/

Dec 18

The Saga of the Christmas Tree

 

 

As an author, I’m asked many times about my favorite Christmas memories. The questions come from readers, publishers, reviewers, and many others. Those memories tend to wind up being edited down to a paragraph. Maybe two. You can’t really do justice to a memory in that space.

Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, we often had a white Christmas. Yes, just like the song. The Bing Crosby version. Or The Moody Blues. A wonderfully beautiful time, but mixed now with a little of the bittersweet.

At the time, I didn’t understand that my parents scrimped and saved for a long time to make Christmas happen. Looking back, they spent a lot of money we didn’t have on Christmas, and I’m not talking about just on gifts.

My dad’s birthday was December 18th. Just a week before Christmas, his birthday present was always a Christmas tree.

We lived in a house that had high ceilings. Really high. About fourteen feet. Such a house today would have the ceiling lowered somehow, if for no other reason than to save on heating costs. And wallpaper costs. But our house had the ceilings clear to their full height. Added to this was a good deal of dark woodwork. I later learned that most of the houses of the period from when ours was built had mahogany woodwork. The carving was intricate with lots of roping and circular features.

Our home was the second floor of the building. The stairs were a straight shot from the front door, but at the top of the steps, there was a ninety-degree turn into the hallway that led to living room at the front of the house, and the kitchen toward the rear. My room was off the living room.

Between the living room and my room was a huge door. It reached nearly to the ceiling and was about eight feet wide. Made of the same dark wood, it had carved panels inset on its surface, and it slid on rollers to disappear into the wall. Oh, that’s called a pocket door. I usually kept it closed.

At least on nights other than dad’s birthday…on that night, the show was too good to miss by closing the door.

The annual floor-show we called tree shopping always started the same way. Dad would swear that we would get a small tree this year. I never figured out his definition of a small tree.

We would pile in the 1967 Dodge van and head out to the tree lots. This was one of the old vans, not like today’s minivans filled with soccer players and their moms. A big thing, based on a big truck, the van had two seats up front and the engine sat back a little, between the seats. In fact, there was room to pass from one seat to the other by walking between the dash and the engine box. The box lifted up so you could check the oil from the driver’s seat.

The back of the van had no seats. Just a huge open area, a lot like a metallic football field. Since there were no seats, we didn’t need seat belts. No one wore them back then anyway.

We went to the same lot every year. It was called simply “Ron’s”. I assume the greasy old man who drooled when he stared at mom was Ron. Anyway, dad said Ron had the best trees at the best prices. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t very old, I had never been to any other tree lot, and the prices must have been secret since the trees all had little colored tags on them. I guess Ron had the code to break the cipher someplace.

In late December in Missouri, it gets dark about four in the afternoon. Dad didn’t get home until about four-thirty or so. By the time we ate and hit the streets, it was full dark. We usually took several hours in the dark, using flashlights and the several bonfires Ron kept burning, to pick out a tree.

This was no small task, nor was it one to be taken lightly. While dad stood shivering in the cold wind, mom made him hold the tree upright. She then stared at the tree with a practiced eye, making dad turn it this way and that. Most of the time, she would shake her head and mumble something about a flat or bare spot. Dad would go back to the racks of trees for another.

Did I make it clear these are real trees I’m talking about? Many people seem to think that Christmas trees come from the garden center at the local Wal-Mart. You know…the ornaments are where the fertilizer was stacked in August. No, these trees didn’t come in a box.

Just a short time ago, these trees were living, growing things. They were snatched from the forest by force and brought by truck to Ron, and others like him, for sale to folks like us. Sort of an evergreen slave trade.

Ron had racks built from 2×4 lumber that held the trees. To a kid like me, there seemed to be a million trees there. Maybe there were a few hundred, but the smell still lingers in my head. The pine scent was almost overpowering. Ever open a new bottle of pine cleaner and take a really deep whiff? That’s not even close. At times, when standing close to one of the racks, it could actually get unpleasant.

Ron had several types of trees. I remember spruce, Scotch pine, blue spruce, and a few others. Dad liked the Scotch pines, and that’s where the efforts focused.

Often, mom’s thumbs down for a tree came because it was too small. Now, dad wasn’t a big man, only about five and half feet tall. But unless the tree was at least a foot over his head, he knew better than to waste mom’s time. She wouldn’t even speak then. She just gave dad “The Look”.

You know the one. All mothers know how to use The Look. Yes, you mothers out there reading this know what I’m talking about. It’s the expression that, when aimed at the man of the house, says without words, “Are you out of your mind?” The same look, when aimed at the children, says, “That’s very sweet and cute, but if you don’t stop now, I’m going to slap your face off.”

No matter who The Look was aimed at, it worked.

Dad knew better, but he always tried to sneak a tree shorter than himself into the game. I think it’s like a pitcher in baseball trying to doctor the ball. Sometimes, you get by with it. Most times, you get caught. When you did get caught, you usually paid a little fine, maybe sat out a game or two, and then all was forgiven. I wonder how many games dad sat out over the years.

The lot was pretty slow this particular year, and Ron was helping dad pick out trees for evaluation. After looking at several dozen, all rejected because they were too small, Ron told dad he could give him a good deal on a larger tree since only a few remained and it was only a week until Christmas.

With mom’s smiling approval, we followed Ron to the high rent district.

The trees towered over my seven-year-old head like redwoods. Reaching so high in the air, the tops were lost in darkness because the light of the bonfires just couldn’t reach that far. Dad frowned and turned his flashlight to the sky, but the light faded before it found the tip of the trees.

While Ron still had several trees here in the Beverly Hills part of the lot, only one fit the bill; a Scotch pine, the only one there. The trunk near the base was too big around for Dad to grip fully with both hands. Some of the lower branches were bigger than a few trees we looked at earlier. Processed and cut into lumber, the tree could have built at least two homes.

Dad and Ron wrestled the monster from the rack and balanced it precariously on the ground. The tree swayed in the wind, causing the men to struggle to keep it upright.

Mom, taking pity on them, walked around the tree instead of making them turn it for her.

Her smile said it all. This was the one.

After a few minutes of negotiation, dad and Ron settled on the price. The tree was soon tied with bailing twine and ready for loading.

With the mighty pine tree resting on the ground, the problem became obvious. The tree was about twice the length of the old Dodge van. There was no way it would fit inside unless the windshield was broken out. Maybe not even then.

Dad decided to tie the tree to the top of the van.

Ever see the Oscar Meyer Weiner-Mobile? The van looked a lot like that when Dad and Ron finished. Well, other than the moldy green hot dog drooped down toward the street at the ends.

And away we went, driving through the dark streets with a dwarf redwood on the roof.

Those old vans were top-heavy when they left the factory. Dad nearly flipped ours over several times on turns long before this night. With who-knows how many tons of evergreen tied to the highest point of the vehicle, it became very top-heavy.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the tree lot. It took more than an hour to get home. When added to the time at the lot, we finally arrived back home at about nine at night.

And the fun had only just begun.

I’m an only child. No big brothers to help. Mom was less than five feet tall and weighed perhaps ninety pounds. Soaking wet. With her clothes on. I was not quite seven.

What I’m trying to say here is that dad was on his own.

He managed to wrestle the baby sequoia from the van and get it on the ground. He had the idea of putting the tree on a big canvas tarpaulin so he could drag it instead of carrying it. It seemed like a good idea to me.

He began pulling. The tree did well, sliding along the ground and up the five steps to the door. It fit through the door, barely, and dad backed up the main stairs, pulling and sweating and saying bad things about the tree’s parents not being married.

I remember mom and I standing at the foot of the stairs watching dad. His face looked like traffic signal stuck on stop. In the rain. He was really sweating. I recall not understanding why, because it was maybe twenty degrees outside.

He was a little past halfway up the steps when the top of the tree went through the door. Dad gave a mighty pull, and the tree lurched up the steps nearly a foot. Dad sat down hard on the steps. The jolt made him lose his grip on the tarp.

The tree came sliding down the steps, top first, like a runaway train on a mountain. The bottom of the tree bounced on the steps as it descended, and I imagined the sound to be like restless cannibal pygmies deciding whose house to meet at for dinner.

I watched all this from my position on the steps leading from the sidewalk to the door. Directly in front of the door. Right in the path of the humongous tree.

Dad always called me ‘Mel’. Mom gave him The Look every time he did. She never failed to call me ‘Melodee’. I hate it when people call me ‘Mel’. Only three people can get by with it, and I like it. Dad was one. Hey? What little girl wouldn’t like her Daddy to have a special name just for her? A close business associate is another. She holds the purse strings, so she can call me anything she likes. The third is someone very special to me. But I digress.

Mom said only one word. “Mel!”

Remember the scene in the movie Vacation when Clark falls asleep at the wheel and leaves the freeway? Remember when the man walking his dog snatches the pooch back by the leash, thus saving it from being crushed by the Griswold Family Truckster? Mom did the same thing to me, only using my arm instead of a leash.

And I reacted the same way as the dog. I yelped. Loudly.

The tree shot past mom and I at a high rate of speed. I guess being tied tightly to the trunk, the branches offered less wind resistance. The canvas slide probably helped. When the bottom of the tree exited the door to the house, it was moving much faster than I could walk. Probably faster than I could run.

The inertia, a function of the mass of the tree (large) and the velocity of the tree (also large) carried the tree all the way back to the van. It stopped when the first four or so feet of the treetop was under the van.

Dad stumbled down the steps. He stood next to mom and I, his breathing a ragged pant, with his hands on his hips. I think he used up all the good words already, because he didn’t say a thing. He just glared at the tree.

Finally, dad’s breathing returned to normal, or at least as much as a fifty-five-year-old obese smoker can breathe normally, and he smiled down at me where I still stood holding mom’s hand. “You OK, Mel?”

He got The Look from mom.

I smiled. “Yeah, Daddy.”

He messed my hair and went after the tree.

The second assault on Mount Aaron went pretty good. At least dad made it to the top of the stairs with the tree in tow. It was here that a major problem was encountered.

Remember that ninety-degree turn?

How do you get a monster conifer around not one, but two such turns?

I was wrong…Dad hadn’t used up all the good words. At least not yet. Even today, I don’t understand what they mean when people say someone is ‘turning the air blue’. Mom said dad was doing that, but I didn’t see it.

Dad was a machinist. More accurately, he was a precision machinist. All machinists work with tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch. Dad dealt with dimensional clearances on the order of a few ten-thousandths of an inch or less.

The tree had far less clearance than that to get around the corner and out of the stairs.

I’m not sure if the cussing or his skills as a machinist helped more, but dad managed to get the tree from the stairway into the hall. It was a relatively simple task to get it into the living room.

It was after ten by then.

After some careful measuring and a couple of tests, dad finally cut several feet from both ends of the coniferous monster and was ready to attach the base and stand the tree up.

The trunk was far too big to fit into the stand.

Again, the air didn’t turn blue, but I came to understand that the supply of good words is all but infinite.

I had a cat. His name was Jessie, and he was just your common feline mongrel. When you have a cat, you also have a litter box. A litter box implies cat litter. But cat litter is expensive. Instead, dad would get a fifty-pound bag of something called Speedy Dry from where he worked as we needed it. It looks, feels, and smells, at least before the cat gets to it, just like clay cat litter. We had a new bag.

Being ingenious, dad got a five-gallon bucket, put the base of the tree in there, and filled the bucket with Speedy Dry. Adding water made the mixture like cement. It also weighed more than mom and I put together. That’s a good thing, because the huge dwarf redwood needed the weight to hold it upright.

When dad finally stood the tree up, it was about quarter past eleven. The treetop ornament, a hideous yellow and purple thing my grandma gave us, was less than an inch from the fourteen-foot ceiling.

Dad cut the rope holding the branches and the tree unfolded majestically, nearly filling the entire room with long green needles reaching in every direction. The already strong scent of pine intensified in the air, and sent us all the same message…

Christmas was actually coming.

Mom brought in the boxes of ornaments and lights. As mom picked out the ornaments she wanted on the tree, dad played with the strings of lights, making sure they all worked and the cords and plugs were in good shape.

I sat down on the couch and watched my parents.

The last thing I remember is the old mantle clock above the gas fireplace chiming midnight, signally the end of my dad’s fifty-fifth birthday. But his night had only just started. By the time I woke up in the morning, still on the couch, the tree was trimmed.

Dad died in 1987, but even now, I get my Christmas tree on December the 18th.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2016/12/18/the-saga-of-the-christmas-tree/

Dec 25

The Christmas Present

 

 

When I was a kid, my family didn’t have a lot. We were kind of like the poverty-stricken snake: We didn’t have a pit to hiss in.

One thing we did have was family, such as it was.

I never knew my dad’s mother or my mom’s father; they both died before I was born. I never really knew my dad’s father, either. He was what folks back then called a “wino” and what we would, in today’s politically correct world, call a homeless person.

But I did know my mom’s mother. In fact, she lived downstairs from us for a long time.

I had a good assortment of aunts, uncles, and cousins, all from my dad’s side, who lived fairly close. There were another set from my mom’s side, but they mostly lived in Denver, and we didn’t see them very often.

But Grandma was always around.

I always had toys for Christmas, but not many and never very expensive things. I sometimes think that my dad always wanted a son, because often he would get me toys that would seem, at least at first, as being more appropriate for a boy.

Like the year he spent who-knows-how-much on a toy plane, some big airliner or another, that had a “remote control” on a wire so I could make the lights come on, the small plastic propellers on the four engines rev up, and it would taxi around while I steered it. I loved the plane and played with it for years.

Or the year dad got me BB gun, followed a year later by a Winchester lever-action .22 rifle. No, I didn’t shoot my eye out, either. I loved them, too.

Looking back, it was more about dad giving me something rather than the gifts themselves that I loved. Like so many kids, I equated the gifts with dad loving me.

I don’t have any of those toys or gifts today. They were all lost to the passing years, and I have no clue where or how. All I have now are the memories, and that’s more than enough for me.

Then there was the year that Grandma died.

She had breast cancer, and the doctors did all they could, but they didn’t have the treatments available then that we have today. There was really little they could do other than keep her comfortable. Well, at least as much as possible.

Her last Christmas was a sad one, but at six, I really didn’t understand that she, mom, and dad all knew it would be her last. I thought it was just another visit from Santa.

The medical bills took as big a toll as anything else. There weren’t many presents under the tree that year.

But I remember one small package, only a few inches long, and far less than that in width and height. It had worked its way to the very toe of my stocking hanging above the old gas fireplace, and I had to take the red sock down and shake it to get the present to fall to the floor.

I recall thinking that it must be something good because it was heavy. I can still see the red wrapping paper, covered in white snowmen dressed in the traditional black top hats with their carrot noses and coal lump eyes. It was tied with a thin green ribbon, and a silver bow twice as big as the package itself finished it off.

I’d already opened all my other gifts, but something about this odd present fascinated me. It was so unusual, so different from all the others, that I had this feeling in my six-year-old mind that something must be very special about this last item.

A small card was taped to the package, and it read simply: “To Melodee From Grandma and Grandpa”.

That puzzled me. Grandpa? Did it mean Grandpa Bunny, the aforementioned wino? Surely not.

But at six, I didn’t worry about it too much, and tore into the ribbon and paper, tossing them to join the small, sad pile already on the floor.

Inside was a simple, unmarked cardboard box, and when I opened that, I found an old, well-worn pocket knife.

As I turned it in my hands, it was marked on one side with the word “Primble” and on the other with “Barlow”. I had no idea who these people might be, but they must have lost this knife a long time ago, because far from the bright, shiny color of a new tool, this one was brown with the color of old rust, rubbed off by wear from being carried and used on a regular basis.

I opened the larger of the two blades, and it was thin from repeated sharpening. Carefully, I ran my finger across the blade as I’d seen dad do when he sharpened his knife, and it was like a razor. I couldn’t get my tiny hands to open the smaller blade, though. The spring was too strong for my fingers to work.

Grandma, sitting in the old, big easy chair, waved her hands to get my attention so I could read her lips. “Child, close that knife and come on over here.”

I folded the knife and went to where she sat, and I crawled up in her lap.

I know now that probably hurt her. Her bones were brittle and ached from the cancer that, unknown to a six-year-old child, ravaged her body. But Grandma didn’t complain. She didn’t even wince.

Instead, she put her arm around me and tapped at the old knife with her other hand, the tremble noticeable even to me. “That was your Grandpa’s knife. He carried that everyday for a long, long time. It’s yours now.”

I saw a few tears running down her cheeks, but I really didn’t understand, because she smiled bright as daybreak. When I glanced over at mom, she too was crying softly, but she also smiled. Dad was busy poking at some invisible spot on his shirt, his eyes carefully averted from my gaze.

I remember saying thank you, but totally without understanding.

Grandma died in February, but it was many more years before I understood the meaning of her last Christmas present to me.

As I said, all the toys and other things from those times are gone, all a part of history now.

All but one…

As I write this, I look down at the desk and see the familiar knife there, the words “Primble” and “Barlow” still easily readable in the brownish metal, the colors of the artificial horn flowing across the handle. The blade is a little thinner now, but it’s still razor-sharp. Both blades now, because I can get the smaller one to fold out.

I carry that little knife with me everywhere I can. If I wear jeans, it’s in my pocket. Otherwise, it’s in my purse.

It’s not worth anything. It wasn’t even an expensive knife when new. To me, though, it’s priceless. It’s a tie across the miles and years to a woman I loved very much and miss terribly. It’s also a tie to man I never knew, but who I love just as much.

Some of you may be disappointed, because most of the stories from my childhood have a funny aspect, and this one is seriously lacking in the comedic department. No, this wasn’t a funny story, but it is a happy one.

Memories define who we are. To a large degree, they also define who we will become. That, in turn, defines how we live our life and how we impact others. The memory of Grandma’s last Christmas is a good one. She gave me a gift beyond all measure.

She gave me a past much longer than my years.

Yes, there is a good dose of bitter with the sweet, but like a fine wine or the most delectable chocolate available, the sweet far outweighs the bitter, reducing the painful twinge to giving us a reminder of how good things really are. The bitter only serves to enhance the sweet.

Keep Loving, and

Merry Christmas

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2015/12/25/the-christmas-present-3/

Dec 18

The Christmas Tree

 
As an author, I’m asked many times about my favorite Christmas memories. The questions come from readers, publishers, reviewers, and many others. Those memories tend to wind up being edited down to a paragraph. Maybe two. You can’t really do justice to a memory in that space.

Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, we often had a white Christmas. Yes, just like the song. The Bing Crosby version. Or The Moody Blues. A wonderfully beautiful time, but mixed now with a little of the bittersweet.

At the time, I didn’t understand that my parents scrimped and saved for a long time to make Christmas happen. Looking back, they spent a lot of money we didn’t have on Christmas, and I’m not talking about just on gifts.

My dad’s birthday was December 18th. Just a week before Christmas, his birthday present was always a Christmas tree.

We lived in a house that had high ceilings. Really high. About fourteen feet. Such a house today would have the ceiling lowered somehow, if for no other reason than to save on heating costs. And wallpaper costs. But our house had the ceilings clear to their full height. Added to this was a good deal of dark woodwork. I later learned that most of the houses of the period from when ours was built had mahogany woodwork. The carving was intricate with lots of roping and circular features.

Our home was the second floor of the building. The stairs were a straight shot from the front door, but at the top of the steps, there was a ninety-degree turn into the hallway that led to living room at the front of the house, and the kitchen toward the rear. My room was off the living room.

Between the living room and my room was a huge door. It reached nearly to the ceiling and was about eight feet wide. Made of the same dark wood, it had carved panels inset on its surface, and it slid on rollers to disappear into the wall. Oh, that’s called a pocket door. I usually kept it closed.

At least on nights other than dad’s birthday…on that night, the show was too good to miss by closing the door.

The annual floor-show we called tree shopping always started the same way. Dad would swear that we would get a small tree this year. I never figured out his definition of a small tree.

We would pile in the 1967 Dodge van and head out to the tree lots. This was one of the old vans, not like today’s minivans filled with soccer players and their moms. A big thing, based on a big truck, the van had two seats up front and the engine sat back a little, between the seats. In fact, there was room to pass from one seat to the other by walking between the dash and the engine box. The box lifted up so you could check the oil from the driver’s seat.

The back of the van had no seats. Just a huge open area, a lot like a metallic football field. Since there were no seats, we didn’t need seat belts. No one wore them back then anyway.

We went to the same lot every year. It was called simply “Ron’s”. I assume the greasy old man who drooled when he stared at mom was Ron. Anyway, dad said Ron had the best trees at the best prices. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t very old, I had never been to any other tree lot, and the prices must have been secret since the trees all had little colored tags on them. I guess Ron had the code to break the cipher someplace.

In late December in Missouri, it gets dark about four in the afternoon. Dad didn’t get home until about four-thirty or so. By the time we ate and hit the streets, it was full dark. We usually took several hours in the dark, using flashlights and the several bonfires Ron kept burning, to pick out a tree.

This was no small task, nor was it one to be taken lightly. While dad stood shivering in the cold wind, mom made him hold the tree upright. She then stared at the tree with a practiced eye, making dad turn it this way and that. Most of the time, she would shake her head and mumble something about a flat or bare spot. Dad would go back to the racks of trees for another.

Did I make it clear these are real trees I’m talking about? Many people seem to think that Christmas trees come from the garden center at the local Wal-Mart. You know…the ornaments are where the fertilizer was stacked in August. No, these trees didn’t come in a box.

Just a short time ago, these trees were living, growing things. They were snatched from the forest by force and brought by truck to Ron, and others like him, for sale to folks like us. Sort of an evergreen slave trade.

Ron had racks built from 2×4 lumber that held the trees. To a kid like me, there seemed to be a million trees there. Maybe there were a few hundred. But the smell still lingers in my head. The pine scent was almost overpowering. Ever open a new bottle of pine cleaner and take a really deep whiff? That’s not even close. At times, when standing close to one of the racks, it could actually get unpleasant.

Ron had several types of trees. I remember spruce, Scotch pine, blue spruce, and a few others. Dad liked the Scotch pines, and that’s where the efforts focused.

Often, mom’s thumbs down for a tree came because it was too small. Now, dad wasn’t a big man, only about five and half feet tall. But unless the tree was at least a foot over his head, he knew better than to waste mom’s time. She wouldn’t even speak then. She just gave dad “The Look”.

You know the one. All mothers know how to use The Look. Yes, you mothers out there reading this know what I’m talking about. It’s the expression that, when aimed at the man of the house, says without words, “Are you out of your mind?” The same look, when aimed at the children, says, “That’s very sweet and cute, but if you don’t stop now, I’m going to slap your face off.”

No matter who The Look was aimed at, it worked.

Dad knew better, but he always tried to sneak a tree shorter than himself into the game. I think it’s like a pitcher in baseball trying to doctor the ball. Sometimes, you get by with it. Most times, you get caught. When you did get caught, you usually paid a little fine, maybe sat out a game or two, and then all was forgiven. I wonder how many games dad sat out over the years.

The lot was pretty slow this particular year, and Ron was helping dad pick out trees for evaluation. After looking at several dozen, all rejected because they were too small, Ron told dad he could give him a good deal on a larger tree since only a few remained and it was only a week until Christmas.

With mom’s smiling approval, we followed Ron to the high rent district.

The trees towered over my seven-year-old head like redwoods. Reaching so high in the air, the tops were lost in darkness because the light of the bonfires just couldn’t reach that far. Dad frowned and turned his flashlight to the sky, but the light faded before it found the tip of the trees.

While Ron still had several trees here in the Beverly Hills part of the lot, only one fit the bill; a Scotch pine, the only one there. The trunk near the base was too big around for Dad to grip fully with both hands. Some of the lower branches were bigger than a few trees we looked at earlier. Processed and cut into lumber, the tree could have built at least two homes.

Dad and Ron wrestled the monster from the rack and balanced it precariously on the ground. The tree swayed in the wind, causing the men to struggle to keep it upright.

Mom, taking pity on them, walked around the tree instead of making them turn it for her.

Her smile said it all. This was the one.

After a few minutes of negotiation, dad and Ron settled on the price. The tree was soon tied with bailing twine and ready for loading.

With the mighty pine tree resting on the ground, the problem became obvious. The tree was about twice the length of the old Dodge van. There was no way it would fit inside unless the windshield was broken out. Maybe not even then.

Dad decided to tie the tree to the top of the van.

Ever see the Oscar Meyer Weiner-Mobile? The van looked a lot like that when Dad and Ron finished. Well, other than the moldy green hot dog drooped down toward the street at the ends.

And away we went, driving through the dark streets with a dwarf redwood on the roof.

Those old vans were top-heavy when they left the factory. Dad nearly flipped ours over several times on turns long before this night. With who-knows how many tons of evergreen tied to the highest point of the vehicle, it became very top-heavy.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the tree lot. It took more than an hour to get home. When added to the time at the lot, we finally arrived back home at about nine at night.

And the fun had only just begun.

I’m an only child. No big brothers to help. Mom was less than five feet tall and weighed perhaps ninety pounds. Soaking wet. With her clothes on. I was not quite seven.

What I’m trying to say here is that dad was on his own.

He managed to wrestle the baby sequoia from the van and get it on the ground. He had the idea of putting the tree on big canvas tarpaulin so he could drag it instead of carrying it. It seemed like a good idea to me.

He began pulling. The tree did well, sliding along the ground and up the five steps to the door. It fit through the door, barely, and dad backed up the main stairs, pulling and sweating and saying bad things about the tree’s parents not being married.

I remember mom and I standing at the foot of the stairs watching dad. His face looked like traffic signal stuck on stop. In the rain. He was really sweating. I recall not understanding why, because it was maybe twenty degrees outside.

He was a little past halfway up the steps when the top of the tree went through the door. Dad gave a mighty pull, and the tree lurched up the steps nearly a foot. Dad sat down hard on the steps. The jolt made him lose his grip on the tarp.

The tree came sliding down the steps, top first, like a runaway train on a mountain. The bottom of the tree bounced on the steps as it descended, and I imagined the sound to be like restless cannibal pygmies deciding whose house to meet at for dinner.

I watched all this from my position on the steps leading from the sidewalk to the door. Directly in front of the door. Right in the path of the humongous tree.

Dad always called me ‘Mel’. Mom gave him The Look every time he did. She never failed to call me ‘Melodee’. I hate it when people call me ‘Mel’. Only three people can get by with it, and I like it. Dad was one. Hey? What little girl wouldn’t like her Daddy to have a special name just for her? A close business associate is another. She holds the purse strings, so she can call me anything she likes. The third is someone very special to me. But I digress.

Mom said only one word. “Mel!”

Remember the scene in the movie Vacation when Clark falls asleep at the wheel and leaves the freeway? Remember when the man walking his dog snatches the pooch back by the leash, thus saving it from being crushed by the Griswold Family Truckster? Mom did the same thing to me, only using my arm instead of a leash.

And I reacted the same way as the dog. I yelped. Loudly.

The tree shot past mom and I at a high rate of speed. I guess being tied tightly to the trunk, the branches offered less wind resistance. The canvas slide probably helped. When the bottom of the tree exited the door to the house, it was moving much faster than I could walk. Probably faster than I could run.

The inertia, a function of the mass of the tree (large) and the velocity of the tree (also large) carried the tree all the way back to the van. It stopped when the first four or so feet of the treetop was under the van.

Dad stumbled down the steps. He stood next to mom and I, his breathing a ragged pant, with his hands on his hips. I think he used up all the good words already, because he didn’t say a thing. He just glared at the tree.

Finally, dad’s breathing returned to normal, or at least as much as a fifty-five-year-old obese smoker can breathe normally, and he smiled down at me where I still stood holding mom’s hand. “You OK, Mel?”

He got The Look from mom.

I smiled. “Yeah, Daddy.”

He messed my hair and went after the tree.

The second assault on Mount Aaron went pretty good. At least dad made it to the top of the stairs with the tree in tow. It was here that a major problem was encountered.

Remember that ninety-degree turn?

How do you get a monster conifer around not one, but two such turns?

I was wrong. Dad hadn’t used up all the good words. At least not yet. Even today, I don’t understand what they mean when people say someone is ‘turning the air blue’. Mom said dad was doing that, but I didn’t see it.

Dad was a machinist. More accurately, he was a precision machinist. All machinists work with tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch. Dad dealt with dimensional clearances on the order of a few ten-thousandths of an inch or less.

The tree had far less clearance than that to get around the corner and out of the stairs.

I’m not sure if the cussing or his skills as a machinist helped more, but dad managed to get the tree from the stairway into the hall. It was a relatively simple task to get it into the living room.

It was after ten by then.

After some careful measuring and a couple of tests, dad finally cut several feet from both ends of the coniferous monster and was ready to attach the base and stand the tree up.

The trunk was far too big to fit into the stand.

Again, the air didn’t turn blue, but I came to understand that the supply of good words is all but infinite.

I had a cat. His name was Jessie, and he was just your common feline mongrel. When you have a cat, you also have a litter box. A litter box implies cat litter. But cat litter is expensive. Instead, dad would get a fifty-pound bag of something called Speedy Dry from where he worked as we needed it. It looks, feels, and smells, at least before the cat gets to it, just like clay cat litter. We had a new bag.

Being ingenious, dad got a five-gallon bucket, put the base of the tree in there, and filled the bucket with Speedy Dry. Adding water made the mixture like cement. It also weighed more than mom and I put together. That’s a good thing, because the huge dwarf redwood needed the weight to hold it upright.

When dad finally stood the tree up, it was about quarter past eleven. The treetop ornament, a hideous yellow and purple thing my grandma gave us, was less than an inch from the fourteen-foot ceiling.

Dad cut the rope holding the branches and the tree unfolded majestically, nearly filling the entire room with long green needles reaching in every direction. The already strong scent of pine intensified in the air, and sent us all the same message…

Christmas was actually coming.

Mom brought in the boxes of ornaments and lights. As mom picked out the ornaments she wanted on the tree, dad played with the strings of lights, making sure they all worked and the cords and plugs were in good shape.

I sat down on the couch and watched my parents.

The last thing I remember is the old mantle clock above the gas fireplace chiming midnight, signally the end of my dad’s fifty-fifth birthday. But his night had only just started. By the time I woke up in the morning, still on the couch, the tree was trimmed.

Dad died in 1987, but even now, I get my Christmas tree on December the 18th.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2014/12/18/the-christmas-tree-2/

Dec 25

The Christmas Present

 

When I was a kid, my family didn’t have a lot. We were kind of like the poverty-stricken snake: We didn’t have a pit to hiss in.

One thing we did have was family, such as it was.

I never knew my dad’s mother or my mom’s father; they both died before I was born. I never really knew my dad’s father, either. He was what folks back then called a “wino” and what we would, in today’s politically correct world, call a homeless person.

But I did know my mom’s mother. In fact, she lived downstairs from us for a long time.

I had a good assortment of aunts, uncles, and cousins, all from my dad’s side, who lived fairly close. There were another set from my mom’s side, but they mostly lived in Denver, and we didn’t see them very often.

But Grandma was always around.

I always had toys for Christmas, but not many and never very expensive things. I sometimes think that my dad always wanted a son, because often he would get me toys that would seem, at least at first, as being more appropriate for a boy.

Like the year he spent who-knows-how-much on a toy plane, some big airliner or another, that had a “remote control” on a wire so I could make the lights come on, the engines sound like they were revving, and it would taxi around while I steered it. I loved the plane and played with it for years.

Or the year dad got me BB gun, followed a year later by a Winchester lever-action 22 rifle. No, I didn’t shoot my eye out, either. I loved them, too.

Looking back, it was more about dad giving me something rather than the gifts themselves that I loved. Like so many kids, I equated the gifts with dad loving me.

I don’t have any of those toys or gifts today. They were all lost to the passing years, and I have no clue where or how. All I have now are the memories, and that’s more than enough for me.

Then there was the year that Grandma died.

She had breast cancer, and the doctors did all they could, but they didn’t have the treatments available then that we have today. There was really little they could do other than keep her comfortable. Well, at least as much as possible.

Her last Christmas was a sad one, but at six, I really didn’t understand that she, mom, and dad all knew it would be her last. I thought it was just another visit from Santa.

The medical bills took as big a toll as anything else. There weren’t many presents under the tree that year.

But I remember one small package, only a few inches long, and far less than that in width and height. It had worked its way to the very toe of my stocking hanging above the old gas fireplace, and I had to take the red sock down and shake it to get the present to fall to the floor.

I recall thinking that it must be something good because it was heavy. I can still see the red wrapping paper, covered in white snowmen dressed in the traditional black top hats with their carrot noses and coal lump eyes. It was tied with a thin green ribbon, and a silver bow twice as big as the package itself finished it off.

I’d already opened all my other gifts, but something about this odd present fascinated me. It was so unusual, so different from all the others, that I had this feeling in my six-year-old mind that something must be very special about this last item.

A small card was taped to the package, and it read simply: “To Melodee From Grandma and Grandpa”.

That puzzled me. Grandpa? Did it mean Grandpa Bunny, the aforementioned wino? Surely not.

But at six, I didn’t worry about it too much, and tore into the ribbon and paper, tossing them to join the small, sad pile already on the floor.

Inside was a simple, unmarked cardboard box, and when I opened that, I found an old, well-worn pocket knife.

As I turned it in my hands, it was marked on one side with the word “Primble” and on the other with “Barlow”. I had no idea who these people might be, but they must have lost this knife a long time ago, because far from the bright, shiny color of a new tool, this one was brown with the color of old rust, rubbed off by wear from being carried and used on a regular basis.

I opened the larger of the two blades, and it was thin from repeated sharpening. Carefully, I ran my finger across the blade as I’d seen dad do when he sharpened his knife, and it was like a razor. I couldn’t get my tiny hands to open the smaller blade, though. The spring was too strong for my fingers to work.

Grandma, sitting in the old, big easy chair, waved her hands to get my attention so I could read her lips. “Child, close that knife and come on over here.”

I folded the knife and went to where she sat, and I crawled up in her lap.

I know now that probably hurt her. Her bones were brittle and ached from the cancer that, unknown to a six-year-old child, ravaged her body. But Grandma didn’t complain. She didn’t even wince.

Instead, she put her arm around me and tapped at the old knife with her other hand, the tremble noticeable even to me. “That was your Grandpa’s knife. He carried that everyday for a long, long time. It’s yours now.”

I saw a few tears running down her cheeks, but I really didn’t understand, because she smiled bright as daybreak. When I glanced over at mom, she too was crying softly, but she also smiled. Dad was busy poking at some invisible spot on his shirt, his eyes carefully averted from my gaze.

I remember saying thank you, but totally without understanding.

Grandma died in February, but it was many more years before I understood the meaning of her last Christmas present to me.

As I said, all the toys and other things from those times are gone, all a part of history now.

All but one…

As I write this, I look down at the desk and see the familiar knife there, the words “Primble” and “Barlow” still easily readable in the brownish metal, the colors of the artificial horn flowing across the handle. The blade is a little thinner now, but it’s still razor-sharp. Both blades now, because I can get the smaller one to fold out.

I carry that little knife with me everywhere I can. If I wear jeans, it’s in my pocket. Otherwise, it’s in my purse.

It’s not worth anything. It wasn’t even an expensive knife when new. To me, though, it’s priceless. It’s a tie across the miles and years to a woman I loved very much and miss terribly. It’s also a tie to man I never knew, but who I love just as much.

Some of you may be disappointed, because most of the stories from my childhood have a funny aspect, and this one is seriously lacking in the comedic department. No, this wasn’t a funny story, but it is a happy one.

Memories define who we are. To a large degree, they also define who we will become. That, in turn, defines how we live our life and how we impact others. The memory of Grandma’s last Christmas is a good one. She gave me a gift beyond all measure.

She gave me a past much longer than my years.

Yes, there is a good dose of bitter with the sweet, but like a fine wine or the most delectable chocolate available, the sweet far outweighs the bitter, reducing the painful twinge to giving us a reminder of how good things really are. The bitter only serves to enhance the sweet.

Happy Holidays

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2012/12/25/the-christmas-present/

Dec 18

The Christmas Tree

 

As an author, I’m asked many times about my favorite Christmas memories. The questions come from readers, publishers, reviewers, and many others. Those memories tend to wind up being edited down to a paragraph. Maybe two. You can’t really do justice to a memory in that space.

Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, we often had a white Christmas. Yes, just like the song. The Bing Crosby version. A wonderfully beautiful time, but mixed now with a little of the bittersweet.

At the time, I didn’t understand that my parents scrimped and saved for a long time to make Christmas happen. Looking back, they spent a lot of money we didn’t have on Christmas, and I’m not talking about just on gifts.

My Dad’s birthday was December 18th. Just a week before Christmas, his birthday present was always a Christmas tree.

We lived in a house that had high ceilings. Really high. About fourteen feet. Such a house today would have the ceiling lowered somehow, if for no other reason than to save on heating costs. And wallpaper costs. But our house had the ceilings clear to their full height. Added to this was a good deal of dark woodwork. I later learned that most of the houses of the period from when ours was built had mahogany woodwork. The carving was intricate with lots of roping and circular features.

Our home was the second floor of the building. The stairs were a straight shot from the front door, but at the top of the steps, there was a ninety-degree turn into the hallway that led to living room at the front of the house, and the kitchen toward the rear. My room was off the living room.

Between the living room and my room was a huge door. It reached nearly to the ceiling and was about eight feet wide. Made of the same dark wood, it had carved panels inset on its surface, and it slid on rollers to disappear into the wall. Oh, that’s called a pocket door. I usually kept it closed.

At least on nights other than Dad’s birthday…on that night, the show was too good to miss by closing the door.

The annual floor-show we called tree shopping always started the same way. Dad would swear that we would get a small tree this year. I never figured out his definition of a small tree.

We would pile in the 1967 Dodge van and head out to the tree lots. This was one of the old vans, not like today’s minivans filled with soccer players and their moms. A big thing, based on a big truck, the van had two seats up front and the engine sat back a little, between the seats. In fact, there was room to pass from one seat to the other by walking between the dash and the engine box. The box lifted up so you could check the oil from the driver’s seat.

The back of the van had no seats. Just a huge open area, a lot like a metallic football field. Since there were no seats, we didn’t need seatbelts. No one wore them back then anyway.

We went to the same lot every year. It was called simply “Ron’s”. I assume the greasy old man who drooled when he stared at Mom was Ron. Anyway, Dad said Ron had the best trees at the best prices. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t very old, I had never been to any other tree lot, and the prices must have been secret since the trees all had little colored tags on them. I guess Ron had the code to break the cipher someplace.

In late December in Missouri, it gets dark about four in the afternoon. Dad didn’t get home until about four-thirty or so. By the time we ate and hit the streets, it was full dark. We usually took several hours in the dark, using flashlights and the several bonfires Ron kept burning, to pick out a tree.

This was no small task, nor was it one to be taken lightly. While Dad stood shivering in the cold wind, Mom made him hold the tree upright. She then stared at the tree with a practiced eye, making Dad turn it this way and that. Most of the time, she would shake her head and mumble something about a flat or bare spot. Dad would go back to the racks of trees for another.

Did I make it clear these are real trees I’m talking about? Many people seem to think that Christmas trees come from the garden center at the local Wal-Mart. You know…the ornaments are where the fertilizer was stacked in August. No, these trees didn’t come in a box.

Just a short time ago, these trees were living, growing things. They were snatched from the forest by force and brought by truck to Ron, and others like him, for sale to folks like us. Sort of an evergreen slave trade.

Ron had racks built from 2×4 lumber that held the trees. To a kid like me, there seemed to be a million trees there. Maybe there were a few hundred. But the smell still lingers in my head. The pine scent was almost overpowering. Ever open a new bottle of pine cleaner and take a really deep whiff? That’s not even close. At times, when standing close to one of the racks, it could actually get unpleasant.

Ron had several types of trees. I remember spruce, Scotch pine, blue spruce, and a few others. Dad liked the Scotch pines, and that’s where the efforts focused.

Often, Mom’s thumbs down for a tree came because it was too small. Now, Dad wasn’t a big man, only about five and half feet tall. But unless the tree was at least a foot over his head, he knew better than to waste Mom’s time. She wouldn’t even speak then. She just gave Dad “The Look”.

You know the one. All mothers know how to use The Look. Yes, you mothers out there reading this know what I’m talking about. It’s the expression that, when aimed at the man of the house, says without words, “Are you out of your mind?” The same look, when aimed at the children, says, “That’s very sweet and cute, but if you don’t stop now, I’m going to slap your face off.”

No matter who The Look was aimed at, it worked.

Dad knew better, but he always tried to sneak a tree shorter than himself into the game. I think it’s like a pitcher in baseball trying to doctor the ball. Sometimes, you get by with it. Most times, you get caught. When you did get caught, you usually paid a little fine, maybe sat out a game or two, and then all was forgiven. I wonder how many games Dad sat out over the years.

The lot was pretty slow this particular year, and Ron was helping Dad pick out trees for evaluation. After looking at several dozen, all rejected because they were too small, Ron told Dad he could give him a good deal on a larger tree since only a few remained and it was only a week until Christmas.

With Mom’s smiling approval, we followed Ron to the high rent district.

The trees towered over my seven-year-old head like redwoods. Reaching so high in the air, the tops were lost in darkness because the light of the bonfires just couldn’t reach that far. Dad frowned and turned his flashlight to the sky, but the light faded before it found the tip of the trees.

While Ron still had several trees here in the Beverly Hills part of the lot, only one fit the bill; a Scotch pine, the only one there. The trunk near the base was too big around for Dad to grip fully with both hands. Some of the lower branches were bigger than a few trees we looked at earlier. Processed and cut into lumber, the tree could have built at least two homes.

Dad and Ron wrestled the monster from the rack and balanced it precariously on the ground. The tree swayed in the wind, causing the men to struggle to keep it upright.

Mom, taking pity on them, walked around the tree instead of making them turn it for her.

Her smile said it all. This was the one.

After a few minutes of negotiation, Dad and Ron settled on the price. The tree was soon tied with bailing twine and ready for loading.

With the mighty pine tree resting on the ground, the problem became obvious. The tree was about twice the length of the old Dodge van. There was no way it would fit inside unless the windshield was broken out. Maybe not even then.

Dad decided to tie the tree to the top of the van.

Ever see the Oscar Meyer Weiner-Mobile? The van looked a lot like that when Dad and Ron finished. Well, other than the moldy green hot dog drooped down toward the street at the ends.

And away we went, driving through the dark streets with a dwarf redwood on the roof.

Those old vans were top-heavy when they left the factory. Dad nearly flipped ours over several times on turns long before this night. With who-knows how many tons of evergreen tied to the highest point of the vehicle, it became very top-heavy.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the tree lot. It took more than an hour to get home. When added to the time at the lot, we finally arrived back home at about nine at night.

And the fun had only just begun.

I’m an only child. No big brothers to help. Mom was less than five feet tall and weighed perhaps ninety pounds. Soaking wet. With her clothes on. I was not quite seven.

What I’m trying to say here is that Dad was on his own.

He managed to wrestle the baby sequoia from the van and get it on the ground. He had the idea of putting the tree on big canvas tarpaulin so he could drag it instead of carrying it. It seemed like a good idea to me.

He began pulling. The tree did well, sliding along the ground and up the five steps to the door. It fit through the door, barely, and Dad backed up the main stairs, pulling and sweating and saying bad things about the tree’s parents not being married.

I remember Mom and I standing at the foot of the stairs watching Dad. His face looked like traffic signal stuck on stop. In the rain. He was really sweating. I recall not understanding why, because it was maybe twenty degrees outside.

He was a little past halfway up the steps when the top of the tree went through the door. Dad gave a mighty pull, and the tree lurched up the steps nearly a foot. Dad sat down hard on the steps. The jolt made him lose his grip on the tarp.

The tree came sliding down the steps, top first, like a runaway train on a mountain. The bottom of the tree bounced on the steps as it descended, and I imagined the sound to be like restless cannibal pygmies deciding whose house to meet at for dinner.

I watched all this from my position on the steps leading from the sidewalk to the door. Directly in front of the door. Right in the path of the humongous tree.

Dad always called me ‘Mel’. Mom gave him The Look every time he did. She never failed to call me ‘Melodee’. I hate it when people call me ‘Mel’. Only three people can get by with it, and I like it. Dad was one. Hey? What little girl wouldn’t like her Daddy to have a special name just for her? A close business associate is another. She holds the purse strings, so she can call me anything she likes. The third is someone very special to me. But I digress.

Mom said only one word. “Mel!”

Remember the scene in the movie Vacation when Clark falls asleep at the wheel and leaves the freeway? Remember when the man walking his dog snatches the pooch back by the leash, thus saving it from being crushed by the Griswold Family Truckster? Mom did the same thing to me, only using my arm instead of a leash.

And I reacted the same way as the dog. I yelped. Loudly.

The tree shot past Mom and I at a high rate of speed. I guess being tied tightly to the trunk, the branches offered less wind resistance. The canvas slide probably helped. When the bottom of the tree exited the door to the house, it was moving much faster than I could walk. Probably faster than I could run.

The inertia, a function of the weight of the tree (large) and the speed of the tree (also large) carried the tree all the way back to the van. It stopped when the first four or so feet of the treetop was under the van.

Dad stumbled down the steps. He stood next to Mom and I, his breathing a ragged pant, with his hands on his hips. I think he used up all the good words already, because he didn’t say a thing. He just glared at the tree.

Finally, Dad’s breathing returned to normal, or at least as much as a fifty-five-year-old obese smoker can breathe normally, and he smiled down at me where I still stood holding Mom’s hand. “You OK, Mel?”

He got The Look from Mom.

I smiled. “Yeah, Daddy.”

He messed my hair and went after the tree.

The second assault on Mount Aaron went pretty good. At least Dad made it to the top of the stairs with the tree in tow. It was here that a major problem was encountered.

Remember that ninety-degree turn?

How do you get a monster conifer around not one, but two such turns?

I was wrong. Dad hadn’t used up all the good words. At least not yet. Even today, I don’t understand what they mean when people say someone is ‘turning the air blue’. Mom said Dad was doing that, but I didn’t see it.

Dad was a machinist. More accurately, he was a precision machinist. All machinists work with tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch. Dad dealt with dimensional clearances on the order of a few ten-thousandths of an inch or less.

The tree had far less clearance than that to get around the corner and out of the stairs.

I’m not sure if the cussing or his skills as a machinist helped more, but Dad managed to get the tree from the stairway into the hall. It was a relatively simple task to get it into the living room.

It was after ten by then.

After some careful measuring and a couple of tests, Dad finally cut several feet from both ends of the coniferous monster and was ready to attach the base and stand the tree up.

The trunk was far too big to fit into the stand.

Again, the air didn’t turn blue, but I came to understand that the supply of good words is all but infinite.

I had a cat. His name was Jessie, and he was just your common feline mongrel. When you have a cat, you also have a litter box. A litter box implies cat litter. But cat litter is expensive. Instead, Dad would get a fifty-pound bag of something called Speedy Dry from where he worked as we needed it. It looks, feels, and smells, at least before the cat gets to it, just like clay cat litter. We had a new bag.

Being ingenious, Dad got a five-gallon bucket, put the base of the tree in there, and filled the bucket with Speedy Dry. Adding water made the mixture like cement. It also weighed more than Mom and I put together. That’s a good thing, because the huge dwarf redwood needed the weight to hold it upright.

When Dad finally stood the tree up, it was about quarter past eleven. The treetop ornament, a hideous yellow and purple thing my grandma gave us, was less than an inch from the fourteen-foot ceiling.

Dad cut the rope holding the branches and the tree unfolded majestically, nearly filling the entire room with long green needles reaching in every direction. The already strong scent of pine intensified in the air, and sent us all the same message…

Christmas was actually coming.

Mom brought in the boxes of ornaments and lights. As Mom picked out the ornaments she wanted on the tree, Dad played with the strings of lights, making sure they all worked and the cords and plugs were in good shape.

I sat down on the couch and watched my parents.

The last thing I remember is the old mantle clock above the gas fireplace chiming midnight, signally the end of my Dad’s fifty-fifth birthday. But his night had only just started. By the time I woke up in the morning, still on the couch, the tree was trimmed.

Dad died in 1987, but even now, I get my Christmas tree on December the 18th.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

 

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