The six foot artificial tree at People’s Drugs was one of the cheesiest I have ever seen, and even though it was a bargain at just $19.99, I still had to wait until I had enough extra cash to pick one up. Tips were good that year, Christmas of 1987, but there were always higher priorities such as presents...and food.
Two days before Christmas, my determination to get one of those god-awful trees rose to its peak. I popped into the drug store on my way to the bus stop after work, only to discover they were sold out. I cried all the way home on the bus not bothering to make any efforts to conceal it.
My oldest son was not yet four and was spending the holidays with my parents in upstate New York, my home until the previous spring when I had taken the giant risk of relocating to Virginia. I had met my ex-husband, then boyfriend, soon after settling in Norfolk, and it was our first Christmas together. We were so very much in love and I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect. Now we would have no tree, slightly less than the perfection I had been hoping for.
I had pitiful few ornaments and a single strand of lights. I was late arriving home that night and I went straight to bed to cry my eyes out some more. On Christmas eve I had to work eight to five, so there was little to be done about finding a tree or other decorations as everything would be closed down before I was through for the day. The manager I worked for at the time was a miserable human being, and even if time had permitted, she would have never allowed me the time to search for a tree. By that time, even a Charlie Brown Christmas tree would have been preferable to none at all.
I was twenty-three years old at the time and so very much in love. Truly, this was my first serious relationship, though I already had a three year old son from my previous thought-of-at-the-time as serious relationship. I had finally learned the difference, and I wanted to make this holiday special. How does one make that happen at the worldly-wise age of twenty-three without a tree?
I got home on Christmas eve at about seven and had the brilliant idea to string the lights up on the wall in the shape of a Christmas tree and then tack the pitiful few ornaments I had onto my beloved tree. It simply wasn’t enough and the tears I thought already exhausted returned. Once I calmed down a little, I thought to add the holiday cards I had received, but still the tree remained pitiful. I then arranged the few presents I had “under” the tree. I was so extremely upset and forlorn for lack of a tree.
My boyfriend came over sometime later that evening and found me in the dark, sleeping on the couch. He was careful not to wake me as he placed his own gifts under the tree. He then saw the plug and plugged it in. Though the light was dim, it was enough to wake me and I smiled in surprise at the tree, the soul source of light in the room as it twinkled and brought yet a few more tears to my eyes, this time tears of joy.
We sat in silence just watching the tree lights twinkle. Christmas day was pleasant as we relaxed together and enjoyed each other’s company. The presents were meager and few, but the presence was spectacular, especially when viewed in silence at night.
As it happened that year, the day after Christmas fell on my day off. I made my boyfriend persevere the post-holiday sale chaos at K-mart so I could buy a suitable tree for subsequent Christmases to come. I bought a decent eight foot tree, for $19.99.