Once upon a time after my parents got divorced, and my brother and I were in college, and my mom was having a hard year, she cancelled Christmas. She didn't actually say the word "cancelled," but she did announce that she wasn't getting a tree. Or putting up lights. Or doing any other decorating. That sounded pretty cancelled to me and my little bro.
But we were college students. And we were anything but Christmas-spirit-deprived. In fact we were the opposite. We LOVED Christmas. We had spent four of them in Germany growing up, and Germany is the LAND of Christmas. How do you not adore a holiday in a place where candles are lit on trees, ginormous markets dedicated to Christmas dot the country (Kristkindlmarkt), advent calendars are filled with German chocolate, and St. Niklaus leaves presents in your shoes two weeks before the actual event? We'd been Christmassed from the tops of our heads to tips of our toes. No way in heck was it going to be cancelled that year.
The first thing we needed to do was procure a tree. So we pooled our meager funds, grabbed jackets, jumped into The Great Pumpkin (a horrifyingly fabulous little Plymouth Horizon that was, in fact, pumpkin orange. With brown and gold racing stripes. Awesome), and drove to the nearest tree-lot. Then we got out--which involved me slamming my shoulder against the passenger-side door to get it open, and my brother crawling across both seats because the driver's door always froze shut in winter. It only opened once the car warmed up, and since the heater was broken, this never happened. It was a precarious journey for Lynn as the knob was broken off of the gear-shift and he had to make sure he cleared it or, well, um, you know. Danger. To his person. But we made it out.
Then we wandered around the lot looking at gorgeous trees. Don't know where the tree-guy got his wares, but they were full and tall and green and fresh. Absolutely perfect Christmas tree specimens. I grabbed onto my brother's arm as we wandered around. Partly because we were great friends. Mostly because he was taller and walked faster and it was the only way I could keep up. Also because it was 18 degrees out and we had both grabbed pitiful little wind-breakers without thinking about it. And since neither of us had any body-fat at the time, we needed to stay close together to create a bit of warmth between us.
I remember talking and evaluating and analyzing each prospective tree under the lowered-brow stare of the tree-guy who seemed to think we were making too much noise and taking too much time. I smiled at him, but he just glared. So bro and I kept wandering.
Finally we found the perfect tree. I mean perfect. This baby was at least twelve feet tall. It's branches were sturdy; just right for our heavy European ornaments. It was full and even. And a sharp green pine scent wafted off of it in waves. This was "The One." *choirs of angels burst into song* Nothing else would do.
I was thrilled. "This is it, Lynn! It's perfect!" We were pretty full of the Christmas spirit and I was practically gibbering with excitement.
Lynn smiled. "Yeah, this looks good. Let's see if we have enough money."
Bro and I trotted over to the tree-keeper, arm-in-arm and bouncing on our toes. We were excited and frozen. I had even started to shiver. But who cared? We'd found "The One." *choirs of angels burst into song*
"Excuse me," I said to the tree-guy. He sort of scowled back. I don't think he loved his job. Either that or he needed a good stiff hot cocoa. "Could you tell me how much that tree is?"
"Which tree?" he growled.
"This one," my brother said, dragging me back over to it and gesturing. Tree-man jammed his hands into his pockets and walked over to where we were. He looked at the tree, sizing it up. Looked at us, shivering in our sad little jackets and clinging to each other for warmth.
"You got some way to get this home?"
We pointed to the Great Pumpkin, whose windows were still frosted over except for a square on the windshield which we had scraped off. The man grunted. Then he looked down at my gloveless hand. The one upon which I wore my mom's old wedding band for sentimental reasons. The one I had stuck through my brother's arm. The one on my right, and his left. Tree-guy looked for a long time. Then he said,
"That tree is ten dollars."
Wha? No! Way! We HAD ten dollars!
We were so far beyond excited. We were going to have Christmas. And it was going to be dressed in the perfect tree. We gave the man our ten and he helped us drag the tree over and tie it to the car. It hung off both ends pretty far and we had to work to see through it, but it was fine. Very fine.
We left, and as I turned to look back I could see tree-lot-guy watching us--hands still jammed into pockets. Thoughtful look on his craggy face.
It took me a few years to realize there was no way in the world that tree had been priced at only ten dollars. The man I had judged to be gruff and crabby had a heart of gold. My brother and I had been walking arm in arm. We were wearing insufficient jackets and driving an insufficient car. We had a couple bucks between us to buy a tree. And I had been wearing a wedding ring. He'd come to an obvious, if incorrect, conclusion, and done a lovely thing. And our Christmas was much lighter because of it. Our mom even smiled.
Tree man became an angel to me after that. I hope he had a wonderful Christmas that year. And every year that followed.