Monday, December 20, 2010

O’ Christmas Tree

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 15 of my on going book about Dad.

When I was a kid, we never got our Christmas tree until about two weeks before Christmas. Dad always waited till the price went down a bit. Back then you could pick up something with bark and sparse needles for about $2.50. The day before Christmas you could get one for even less than that, but even Dad wasn’t that cheap.

Dad always got a live tree. I don’t know if it was because he really wanted one or he realized it would break our hearts if he got an artificial one. Back then artificial trees looked more like silver tapered bottle cleaners. Sweatshop workers with metal poles, wire-cutters and very little imagination assembled ‘em. Only childless old people bought ‘em.

That being said, Dad was the worst tree picker-outer in the world. Hey, it’s recorded somewhere. Every tree is supposed to have one good side to it. Not the ones Dad bought. Each year he brought home a Frankenstein tree. Some of us hid in the closet.

The people who bought the good trees always displayed them in front of the biggest window in the house. Mom put our tree in the corner away from the window.

We usually helped Mom decorate the tree. We only did the icicles. She wouldn’t trust us with some of the more sacred ornaments. That’s a joke. We had no sacred ornaments. We had some old ones, but that was back when “old” was nothing to be treasured.

Dad never helped with the tree. Oh, he’d saw off a piece of the trunk and attach the heavy metal holder thing. After that, he left it alone. Dad wouldn’t decorate trees. You couldn’t make him.

He did string lights on the house. Once. I don’t know where he got the lights. I imagine he got ‘em at the airport. They were those lights with the giant bulbs attached to frayed wire that was strong enough to pull a dump truck out of a sinkhole. They don’t make Christmas lights like that anymore. Not even in China. That should tell you something.

Dad put a strand of those bubbas across the front of the house and the door. The paint on the bulbs was chipped off in places, so you couldn’t tell what color the light was supposed to be. I would’ve just as soon he not put ‘em up.

Oh, and the whole thing sagged like… well, like something saggy. Probably because there was no one to help him. Dad didn’t want anyone helping him. The job involved ladders, wires and glass bulbs. Enough said.

Dad’s lights looked particularly bad when compared to all the ones we saw on our way to church. People in other neighborhoods really knew how to put up lights. They had good ones, too. And sleds and reindeer and lit candles under lunch sacks. I never understood that.

Sometimes Dad would take us across town to see the lights. Those were the good times. Mostly. I say that because there were four or five of us in the backseat. Someone would say, “Hey, look over there!” All of a sudden the car would tilt to the right. – “Mom, Jill elbowed my neck!” – “Oh, yeah? Well, Dennis frogged my arm!”

“I’m gonna wring your necks if you kids don’t shut-up!” The Christmas season did little to temper Mom’s threats. “I’ll beat you with that fake candy cane over there! Honey, make ‘em shut-up!”

Dad would say, “Quiet.” That’s all it took. Mom was upset with us all the time, ‘cause she was with us all the time. Dad? Well, Dad seldom witnessed misbehavior. His tolerance level was way down there. While Mom might have a half dozen threats in her, Dad had none. You never knew when he was going to strike, so you took no chances. “Yes, sir.” – “Won’t hear another word out of us.” – “We’re not even here anymore.” –“Uh, where are we Dennis?” – “Shut up, Mark.”

After we got home, we’d run to the living room and sit around the TV, eat popcorn and watch Perry Como’s Christmas show. This was back when variety shows were popular. They were corny as all get out, but a load of fun.

When all was said and done, Christmas was the best of times for our family. Today, not so much. I don’t put up outdoor lights, ‘cause I’m my father’s son. The house would be an embarrassment.

And, our tree? Kay, gets it out of a large flat box and pulls it up like an accordion. The lights are already on it.

I still thoroughly enjoy the season, but I do so miss Dad and Mom. And, I miss the arguments and fights we used to have in the backseat. Didn’t care all that much for ‘em back then, but I love the thought of ‘em now. Weird how that works.

You can find this and other chapters of Mark’s Dad book by clicking on the Mark's book blog icon. Also, you can find Mark and Brad’s latest restaurant review by clicking below.


  1. Good article, Moke. Good memories too, and I love the picture above.

  2. Hey?!! Why is Mom always looking at Lil Al like he's her favorite???!!!!!