Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Mother's Christmas Tree

The heat kicked on, and the hot air sent by nearby vents began to flutter the long needles on my mother’s Christmas tree. Oh, it was my father’s too, technically, but it was my mother who carefully placed homemade childhood ornaments, heavy beaded garlands, crystal icicles, and other accoutrements on each branch until it dripped elegantly. It was a work of art, that tree, every year a labor of love and pride. My father invited everyone in to see it, and the year I had my brain tumor and couldn’t travel to my childhood home for the first time in almost 20 years, it was the second thing he said to me during our Christmas morning phone call: “I’ll mail some pictures of your mother’s tree—another tall one,” pride mixing with worry in his gruff voice. I envisioned his dark fuzzy caterpillar eyebrows bunching together, like when I swung and (often) missed a softball in middle school.

My parents live in a small town—I’d say it was quaint, like a small town should be, but it’s more accurately labeled depressing—and calling upon one’s friends and acquaintances during the holiday season is still a treasured ritual. You show up with homemade baked goods (your specialty, if you have one). You sit for a pregnant moment if they’re elderly, or stand around the dinner table, scarf still tucked in to your coat, if they’re not, so you can get on to the next errand during this busy time. It’s the town where I grew up and where they still live, so despite its small size, there are many stops to make. 

During those stops, you see a lot of Christmas trees. According to my father, they shouldn’t even see the light of day, so violently do they pale in comparison to the museum-quality creation my mother makes each December. “It should be in one of those chateau castle things you like,” he tells me each year. He admires my mother’s skill in this and so many things. Were my husband to gloat about my talents (not with holiday decorations, sadly) as my father does about those of my mother, I’d be in a constant state of blush.

Fine snow swirled off the ancient sedan in front of me, tiny glittery diamonds flowing down its trunk and onto the road in front of me, forming a smooth, thin river. If I believed in magic, I’d say it was guided by a wizard’s wand, so deliberately and perfectly did it move, a fantasy sequence from a movie. My car seemed to lap it up, a thirsty cat at a bowl of milk—it disappeared under the Chevy’s nose as I drove down the two-lane highway (though most East Coasters would hardly call it that).

As I headed away from my parents’ town of New Farnham, population 228, toward the airport half a gas tank away, I glimpsed through windows many Christmas trees, no doubt deemed inferior by my father, who had visited most living rooms in town. Having visited this year’s Christmas tree after missing last year’s, the healing incision on my head keeping me from New Farnham for only the second time in life, I felt as though I had set things right, though that feeling might end when my latest test results are back tomorrow. All hail brain tumors for providing that one-day-at-a-time mindset the unafflicted so often lack.

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