I looked upon the crumpled box with its porcupine interior of evergreen branches and smoothed out the bill in my hand. Scrawled in red sharpie the price of $1.00 drew me toward the dismembered tree. I was so fortunate that I still had a little bit of baby-sitting money. I was also fortunate that the yard sale with its precious box was only a block from my home, well within the dragging ability of my 15-year-old self. The only problem was buying this tree would be an act of defiance.
The last time we had a Christmas tree and celebrated Christmas in my home I had been five years old. That was the last time our family had any extra money. I remember my mother giving me a Teddy bear that year and telling me wistfully that she would never be able to afford another gift so grand. As the years past and bills were often left unpaid, celebrating was an extravagance that we could not afford. So rather than take handouts or charity, my Father forbade much celebration of the blessed day. He would let Mom make a nice meal if she did not have to work on Christmas. He would let us visit our Aunt’s house and celebrate there in the days after Christmas. But there was to be no Christmas tree in our house.
I paid the nice lady at the Church yard sale my dollar; she even threw in a few ornaments in with the purchase. I hefted the unwieldy box and carried it home. Our house door was a bit of a challenge to navigate with the heavy box, but I carried it through the living room and into my bedroom.
Once in my bedroom, I dumped the contents upon the floor. The tree was a post with many small holes and the evergreen branches had colors coded on each twisted metal end. It took a while to figure out the coding system but soon I had a somewhat cooked tree with smattering of ornaments.
With the rest of my babysitting money I bought items at the dime store that I could afford for my family. My mother would get a new coin purse and chocolate covered cherries. I bought my brother Eugene thin mints. The most extravagant gift would go to my sister Esther. I found a wonderful Mickey Mouse doll at the gift shop I knew she would love. I wrapped the gifts and put them underneath the Christmas tree that stood within in my bedroom.
Then I waited.
I waited to see what Dad would do. I waited to see if he would smash it all. I waited to see if he would whip me for my impudence. He looked in my room at the tree. He looked at me. I crossed my arms across my chest and stared at him. He worked his jaws and I saw the anger muscles in his face move threateningly, but he turned and walked away saying “You better keep that in your room, girl.“
I sighed with relief and knew I had just witnessed a Christmas miracle.
That Christmas was a slight reprieve in a time of great stress within our family, but in the face great adversity my defiance would only grow. In the fall of 1989 Dad would threaten to kill us all and Esther and I would run away from home to live in a youth shelter. A restraining order was issued against my father. My mother filed for divorce. By December Esther and I were home again and my father was out of the house.
The Christmas Tree of 1989 was set up in the living room and my Mother even set out her fragile Santa mugs so long hidden safely in a box. In the days before Christmas, the doorbell rang. Two strangers stood beneath our thresh hold with two paper grocery bags filled with wrapped gifts. They were volunteers at the shelter who had heard the testimony I had given against my father. They knew about our years without Christmas.
That year was the best Christmas ever. The crooked tree stood so proudly in our living room with the lovely gifts underneath.
In the years since that very special Christmas, I worked 16 years in a toy store. During the holidays people would buy gifts for poor children who otherwise would go without. I have been so honored to help customers make such purchases. Sometimes as these customers would finish out their purchase they would say, “I just hope the child will appreciate this gift." I would assure them, “It is very much appreciated.”
This year I am a member of the Grantsville Rotary Club. I was able to give gifts to children in need through the efforts of the Rotary Club in Garrett County Maryland. I am so glad to give back as God has blessed me with good health and wholesome work.
This Christmas season I was able to host an arts workshop at Christ Lutheran Church in Grantsville. It was a very snowy day so the attendance was light, but we were able to raise $100.00 with the help Diehl’s Ford, Grantsville Liquors and attendees. The money raised went to the Dove Center in Oakland, Maryland. The Dove Center is a shelter for those who suffer domestic abuse.
Each year the Dove Center has a Christmas fundraiser called the Festival of trees. They auction Christmas trees created by local community members to raise money for the worthy cause.
They know the power of a simple Christmas tree to change the life of one family, as do I.
Merry Christmas and God Bless.