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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree Ever

So, I was having a Twitter conversation with Gregg and Rebecca earlier today about Christmas trees. Gregg seems to be under the impression that the Christmas tree he just finished decorating tonight in his house is the Most Beautiful Christmas Tree Ever. I hated to tell him he was wrong. Then Rebecca informed me that her favorite Christmas tree, was, in fact, the Most Beautiful Ever. Well, you decide!

That year, my sister and I were living with our mother in a small rented house in a grittier part of the suburbs. My parents had divorced years earlier. My mother had gone back to school, to earn her degree. My father was not making child support payments.

One evening after dinner, several weeks before Christmas, my mother told my sister and me she had something important to talk to us about.

"I don't think we'll be able to have a tree this year. But we'll still have Christmas, and presents. If it's between a tree and presents, I'd rather be able to buy you presents. You'd rather have presents than a tree, right?" She didn't look us in the eyes when she said it.

"But, it's not Christmas without a tree," I said. "Can't we just cut one down somewhere? In a forest or something?"

"That's against the law, if it's not your land," my mother said.

"Santa will bring us a tree," my little sister chimed. "If we ask for one, he'll bring it." Her eyes shone with the confidence of a true believer. I was two years older. Disillusioned. But how could anyone with a beating heart stand to disappoint such hope?

"I'll get us a tree," I said, suddenly convinced it was possible.

"Do you have money hidden somewhere I don't know about?" My mother joked.

"No. But I'll get a tree anyway. I'll find a way." I straightened my shoulders under the weight of this new responsibility. Tree Bringer. Saver of Christmas. Why not? After all, I was nearly ten.

That night I lay awake in my bed, trying to think of a plan. Could I find a tree to cut down someplace, after all? Someplace where it wasn't illegal? My mother would almost certainly be angry that I'd done it. And I wasn't sure where I would get an axe.

I'd heard that sometimes tree lots would give away their leftover scraggly trees on Christmas Eve. Maybe we could convince one to give us one. But that didn't seem like the best plan— leaving it all 'till the last minute. What if I couldn't find a generous lot owner in time?

Could I get a job cutting down weeds or clearing snow somewhere in the neighborhood that would earn enough money to buy a tree? I didn't think I could make enough money in time. I didn't know my neighbors very well yet— we'd only just recently moved into the neighborhood— but my grandmother had once paid me 50 cents for a whole afternoon of weeding in her garden, and a family friend once had paid me a dollar to rake a whole yard. Minimum wage didn't apply to kids doing odd jobs for family and neighbors. But I'd need at least twenty dollars to buy a Christmas tree.

Perhaps I could find someone who was giving away trees to worthy families, and write an essay convincing them to give us one. I was good at writing essays to win things. I'd won several certificates in school. Though, I'd never been able to win my mother roses on Mother's Day in the Mother's Day essay contest. That was a black mark on my record, to be sure. What if I failed again this time?

The next morning, as I brushed my teeth and dressed to the sounds of our little radio, the answer materialized right before my ears. The local radio station I had tuned to was having a contest. Every couple of days, at a random time, I heard a deejay explain, the station would ask listeners to call in. The tenth caller each time would win a Christmas tree.

On the way in to school, before my mother could turn on her usual station, I grabbed the dial and twisted it. "We can't listen to NPR," I said. "I have to listen to Y-98. They're having a contest to win a Christmas tree, and I'm going to win it."

"How could you possibly call in to a radio station from a moving car?" My mother rolled her eyes. "Do you expect me to pull over somewhere and find you a payphone?" She turned the dial back to NPR.

"But I might miss some rules to the contest!" I said. "I'n not sure I heard everything right when they talked about it this morning. I was brushing my teeth during part of it."

"Jaelithe," my mother said, quite serious now, "You are almost certainly not going to win a radio contest. Even if you happen to be listening at the right time, when the deejay asks people to call, every time you try to call in, the line will be busy, because hundreds of other people who were listening will be calling in, too. Even if you do get through, it will be nearly impossible for you to be the tenth caller. I don't want you to get your hopes up over something that is nearly impossible."

"I will win it, if I try hard enough," I replied, and sat in stony silence during the rest of the short ride to school, scowling at Bob Edwards's polished NPR voice.

Every afternoon, the minute I came home from school, I turned on the radio and listened for call-in instructions for the contest. I kept the radio on while I ate, while I did my chores, while I did my homework. Every morning, I woke up early, before the rest of my family, and turned on the radio, keeping the volume as low as possible so as not to wake my mother, who often stayed up late studying and writing papers for class, and would be very annoyed if I ever woke her up early.

Watching me listen to the radio intently day and night, my mother frequently sighed and rolled her eyes. But she didn't ask me to turn it off.

Twice I heard an announcer ask listeners to call in for the contest, and leapt to the phone to dial the number which I had carefully memorized, but only got a busy signal, over and over again as I hung up the phone and pushed redial.

I was not discouraged. I would win that tree. It was necessary. I was the Tree Bringer.

Finally, one morning, before dawn, as the rest of the household slept, I heard the deejay announce another call-in. I scrambled to the kitchen as quickly as I could, and snatched the phone. I called the number.

The phone rang.

This was it.

I stretched the phone cord as far as it would reach, and knocked on my mother's bedroom door. "Mom!" I hissed. "Wake up! I'm on the phone for the contest! It's ringing! They might answer any second!" I knew that as a minor child, I could not actually give the radio station my own information as a contest winner. It would have to be my mother.

"What time is it?" my mother groaned. "Go back to bed!"

"But Mom, the contest! The tree!"

"Will you stop with the contest already? The contest! I'm going back to sleep!"

Painfully discouraged, I went back into the kitchen. I couldn't believe the phone had been ringing so long. It seemed like I'd been on the line for an eternity. Had I called the wrong number? Was the station already on the phone with the winner? Why wasn't anyone answering? Then,

"Hello! You're our tenth caller!"

I had done it.

Despite my days-held fervent belief that I would win the contest, I still somehow managed to be stunned.

My mother was still in her room.

"Hello? Caller?"

I had to come up with a new plan.

"Hello?"

"Hi! Hi there! Sorry. Bad connection. I'm the tenth caller? I can't believe it! This is great! Did I win the tree?" I tried to make my voice sound as adult as possible.

"Yes! You've won the tree! Please turn your radio off."

"Oh!"

I shut off the radio.

"So, what's your name?"

It was working! They believed me!

"I'm Diana," I said. It was my mother's name.

They asked for more information. My phone number. My address. I gave it flawlessly. They really thought I was a grown up! I had really won the tree! Without anyone's help! This was fantastic!

"So, Diana, we just need one more thing for you for tax purposes. What's your social security number?"

What was my what?

I certainly didn't know my mother's social security number.

"Uh, just a minute. Can you, uh, please hang on a minute? Someone is asking me something," I lied, and set the phone gently on the kitchen counter, and ran full tilt into my mother's room.

"Momwakeupwakeup OH WAKE UP NOW! It's an EMERGENCY I'vewonthecontestwiththetree the tree the tree I'VE WON THE TREE and because YOU WOULDN'T WAKE UP well you see I sort of pretended to be you and and I gave your name and everything and they thought I WAS you but now now now they want your social security number and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE NUMBER IS!"

How my mother deciphered this message in time while still being half-asleep, I will never know.

She picked up the phone in her room, and motioned to me to hang up the phone in the kitchen and shut the door.

When she came out, she said, "I had to tell them the truth, that it wasn't really me on the phone at first. You aren't so good at lying, you know."

"Oh," I said.

"But, I told them I'd given you permission to call on my behalf because you were really excited about it. They thought you were cute. They said we could still have the tree."

"Oh!" I said.

My mother drove to the station to pick up the prize. It wasn't a real live tree, like I thought it would be. It was a gift certificate to buy a tree from a local lot. I was disappointed, but my mother said, "It's better this way. We get to pick which one we want. Anyway, where on earth would they keep a bunch of Christmas trees at a radio station?"

The gift certificate was for $50. My mother told me that was more than she'd ever spent on a tree in her entire life.

We bought a fir tree.

It was the first time we had ever bought a fir tree, with long, slender, flexible needles that looked so much fancier than the stubby, pitchy ones on a spruce.

The moment it entered our house, the tree filled our house with a scent that smelled to me of winter, and mountains, and greenness, and richness, and clean things.

The branches were so lush with healthy, green needles you couldn't see the trunk. The tree was as perfectly conical and symmetrical as any I'd ever seen in a painting on a Christmas card. It barely fit through our front door. It seemed to take up half our shabby living room. The top brushed the ceiling. We didn't have enough lights or ornaments in our shoddy supply of Christmas decorations to even begin cover it. But it needed none of them.

It was the most beautiful Christmas tree I'd ever seen.

"Santa Claus works in mysterious ways," my sister said.

Do you have a story to tell about your Perfect Christmas Tree? Write a post about it before Christmas Day, email me the link or leave it in the comments, and I'll paste it here. It seems that Gregg, Rebecca and I have sort of accidentally started a holiday meme. Well, heck. It's December.

Rebecca's Perfect Tree Story


Kim's Perfect Tree Story

10 comments:

Nancy said...

That's an AWESOME story. I'm so glad you won the tree!

Cathy said...

What a wonderful story--good for you for keeping the faith. :) That's a great idea for a meme, too, I'll have to do it.

cynematic said...

Jae, knowing you, I was rock-solid certain you'd carry through on your duties as Tree Bringer! Good for you!

Gregg said...

This is also a fantastic story. I actually don't HAVE any fantastic stories about our tree itself...however, each of the ornaments DOES have a story behind it! I'm happy that I've played a small part in inspiring both of you to write your stories!

Rebecca's story and yours has given me an idea. Why don't we give away a tree! We'll have to find some way to find a deserving family or person that this would really mean something to, but I have a way to get a tree, I think...

rebecca said...

The TreeBringer! That made me giggle, picturing your ten year-old self so determined.

I'd never bet against you, but oh my, what a story that is. You should publish it, but either way I'm going to remember that one.

Farrell said...

GREAT story:) Go you!

Lady M said...

That's a beautiful story!

I remember you wrote about the Migrant Mother photograph a while back. Have you seen the story about her daughter?

http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/12/02/dustbowl.photo/index.html

Kim said...

Fantastic story. I did one, too, check it out.

Linlee said...

That was a great story. I am so glad you won that tree.

Cookie said...

I followed the link from Cathy's site. That's a beutiful story :)