Crash! A mini explosion vibrated through the tranquility of my temporarily childless Saturday afternoon, accompanied by the crystalline crunch of breaking glass. My heart skittered like a snare drum in a pipe-band.
I flew to the living room, sliding along the smooth hardwood floor in my red and green Christmas socks. I came to a silent stop in front of the entrance. A tiny tsunami of nausea threatened my solitary lunch of tomato bisque and soda crackers.
A festive scene spread out before me: our mantel with its procession of beatific angels standing to attention in front of a row of sparkling white lights and silver ribbon, the crimson leaves of the poinsettia that I had yet to kill, and in the corner, our nine foot tall, Noble Fir Christmas tree. Our tree, no longer safely tied to our staircase, was lying on its side amidst a tangle of lights and water soaked presents…and broken glass ornaments.
We’ve had bad luck with our trees over the years. They always fall over. We have planted them in pots of rocks and in buckets of dirt, we have tied them to the ceiling, and more recently, to the staircase, and we have tried eight different tree stands, each proclaiming that they are the best in existence. All to no avail, somehow our trees always manage to tumble over. It’s tradition.
This year was no exception. The tree had escaped from not one, but two ropes that had only moments before secured it firmly to our staircase. But, unlike previous years when this occurrence had been nothing more than an inconvenience and may even have provoked a little laughter, this year’s result had me frantically searching through the victims of this year’s crash while my heart pounded in double time. I chanted, words ringing in the silence of the empty house, “No, no, no. Please God, no more.”
The sharp edges of tiny glass fragments sliced my searching fingers. I pulled my hands back and stared at the thin line of crimson pearls that oozed from the edges of the cut. I dropped to my knees in despair.
* * *
December is my favorite month of the year. I’ve embraced the festive season with the same intense fervor every year for as long as I’ve had memories. It just never gets old. I love the spicy scents of evergreen and cinnamon, the festive decorations, and even the endless repetition of the same cheesy Christmas carols over and over, but mostly I love the sense of camaraderie that overtakes people during this one month of the year. An entire month dedicated to peace on earth and good will to men. What a wonderful reason to celebrate. Christian or not, this is a powerful message worth paying attention to. And, my birthday is only two weeks before Christmas, so I have even more reason than most to celebrate.
My dad shared my passion, or rather I shared his. He was my very own Mr. Christmas. Each year, on the day following my birthday, we would head out to get our Christmas tree. We would search tirelessly for the perfect tree, but if we couldn’t find one to meet his demanding standards, he would use his creative talents to make it perfect. He would remove the lower branches, drill holes in the trunk, and place those branches wherever one was needed to create the ultimate symmetrical tree.
Dad and I baked the Christmas treats, wrapped the presents, and decorated the tree together. He had a collection of glittering glass balls of various sizes kept in an old steamer trunk, along with all our other Christmas decorations. The sight of that old trunk sitting in the middle of our living room would leave me breathless in anticipation. Dad would put Nat King Cole on the record player and we together we would decorate the tree listening to Nat’s rich, butterscotch vocals croon Dad’s favorite tunes. His favorite was The Christmas Song. He told me it didn’t feel like Christmas until he heard that particular song. Soon I felt the same way.
I was blessed far more than most people. I had the opportunity to spend every Christmas for forty-four years with my dad. He was a loving and joyful man who had the ability to make seemingly insurmountable challenges appear insignificant, and to see beauty in the ugliest of moments. He loved to laugh; his ubiquitous laughter was the soundtrack of my life. He laughed when life was good and filled with joy, but he also laughed when life threw darkness his way, including his diagnosis of cancer. He refused to let unhappiness rule his life, or his death. His loss tore a giant hole in the fabric of my life.
I missed him with a painful intensity that shocked me. The year following his death was challenging, but that first Christmas without him was almost impossible. Every scent, every song, and every beautifully decorated tree filled me with memories of ad and forcibly reminded me of my loss. But I had two young daughters, so I had to put on my happy face and carry on for their sakes. Dad would have expected nothing less from me.
As per tradition, we put up our tree the day after my birthday, and as usual, we secured it as best we could. This year we had tied it firmly to our staircase.
A few weeks earlier, Mom had given me the three surviving boxes of Dad’s precious glass ornaments. She knew how much they meant to me and didn’t have the heart to put up her own tree.
I took the boxes, each as light as air, from her shaking hands. A steady stream of heartbreak poured down my cheeks in salty rivulets. Inside those boxes were eighteen glittering glass memories of my dad. Silver, gold, pink, and blue; to me, each was as priceless as the world’s largest diamond.
While the girls were busy watching a Christmas special on T.V., I reverently placed the ornaments on the tree, carefully positioning them evenly throughout the fragrant, green branches. Nat King Cole sang quietly in the background, and I felt Dad’s presence so strongly it was if his hands were guiding mine.
I gave the tree a final push, just to be sure of its stability. Steady as a rock. Satisfied, I went to the kitchen to start dinner. Twenty minutes later I heard a crash. My breath escaped in a terrified rush as I ran to the living room, dreading what I would find.
History had repeated itself and the tree had somehow escaped the strands of rope that had previously held it firmly to the railing of our staircase. I stood in dismay staring at the glittering mess, my eyes immediately searching for my precious glass balls. Only one had broken. I dropped to my knees and gently gathered the pieces together. With tears in my eyes, I put them in a small bag for safekeeping. I couldn’t bear to part with them.
My husband came home from work an hour later and helped me clean up the mess. This time we used two ropes to tie the tree to the stairs. We pushed against the trunk. It didn’t budge. We tried again, but it was solidly in place. Reassured, I cleaned up the spilled water, straightened the decorations, and carefully re-arranged the presents around the tree. I gently stroked each of Dad’s ornaments one by one, only seventeen left.
Now, two days later, while my husband was at the mall with our girls for their annual shopping trip, the unthinkable happened. The stupid tree managed to escape its bonds yet again.
This time, seven more of the glass balls fell prey to our tree’s instability. This time, a little piece of my heart shattered along with those fragile orbs. This time, overcome with despair, I fell to my knees and couldn’t stop crying. It was if pieces of my dad were being taken from me all over again.
My poor, confused husband found me kneeling there over an hour later. He tried to console me. “It’s only a tree, honey. We can fix this. We’ll get an artificial one so this won’t happen again. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
Sobs continued to rip through my soul and out my throat. He didn’t understand. My six-year-old daughter, my precious, incredibly insightful, and empathetic little girl was the only one who did. She stood over me, rubbing my back with her tiny hands, and told her father, “Daddy, she’s not sad about the tree. She’s sad about Grandpa.”
We have an artificial tree now, and in the last ten years it has never once fallen over. I miss the tangy spice of evergreen and our family’s annual trip to the Christmas tree farm to find that perfect tree, but instead, I have ten precious, glittering memories of my dad.
Leslie Wibberley is physiotherapist by profession, a slightly maddened mother to two outstanding young women and one slightly insane cocker spaniel, and wife to a loving and extremely tolerant husband. Writing has always been her passion but one she has only recently re-committed her life to. With one middle grade novel complete, one young adult novel in the throngs of revision, and numerous short stories and personal essays lying in repose in her beloved MacBook Air, she is now proud to call herself a writer. Her article RAISING A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE recently won 6th place in Writer’s Digest annual contest.