I knew exactly what had happened when I heard “Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, THUMP” from the floor below. It was inevitable, and I think I was even a little surprised I hadn’t heard that musical crash a few nights earlier.
The plastic base of the Christmas tree had finally given out.
When we assembled the ten-year-old tree the weekend following Thanksgiving, I knew its days were numbered. Two branches were disconnected from the trunk, an entire section of lights was dark, and one leg of the base refused to hold. It was doomed, but I suppose my faith in the magic of Christmas had me believing the Hubs when he told me duct tape would solve all our problems.
We wrapped half a roll of tape around the lame leg, and inserted the trunk. I heard a weak “creak” as we let the base take the entire weight of the 7 1/2-foot evergreen. We stepped away softly and surveyed the tree.
“Well,” the Hubs stated, “it’s up. If it makes it through the night, put the stuff on it, and let’s see what happens.”
The next morning, the tree still stood, and the Young One and I set to work…but not before I gave her orders to not add any ornaments to the weak side of the tree. I reserved that side for the unbreakable bobbles and plastic jingle bells, and with each addition, I held my breath and evaluated the severity of each new “creak” emitted from my failing fir.
I opted to leave off the usual garlands and was a little hesitant to add the finishing touch of an elaborate bow to the top branch. With such awareness of the fragility of the tree, I’m still not sure why I decided to add one last ornament to the window-facing side. The tree, with it’s limited decorations, had made it three days before I found that over-sized orb in the back corner of the closet. It was a beautiful ornament, all golden and shiny with a stenciled fleur de lis prominently displayed on the front. I needed this ornament on my tree. I don’t know why I felt this need, but it was there nonetheless.
Off I went to the front room, found the perfect spot, hooked the hanger around a branch and let go.
I had grown accustomed to the quiet creaks of protest, but this time, the noise I heard from the trunk was not the gentle sound of duct tape on molded plastic. It was an alarm deep within the soul of my artificial pine as it groaned, “CREEEEAAAAAKKK! ”
Then complete silence.
I held my breath, walked away, and thought nothing more of the tree’s suffering until the following evening during the Young One’s bedtime story. She had chosen to have me quiz her with flash cards rather than listen to yet another reading of Green Eggs and Ham. We were somewhere between “E” is for egg and “H” is for hat when we heard the tinkle of falling ornaments followed by the thud of branches crashing into a wall.
She looked at me. I looked at her, and together we gasped, “THE TREE!” before we launched ourselves from her bed and raced for the stairs. The closer we got to the bottom of the stairs, the slower our steps became, until finally, we peeked around the corner like expectant children on Christmas morning. Instead of brightly wrapped presents under the tree, we found tiny shards of ornaments beneath the nearly horizontal branches.
I sent the Young One and her bare feet from the room as I surveyed the damage. I found my most precious ornaments still hanging from tilted branches–the Older One’s first Christmas ornament, the Young One’s Russian Snow Maiden, my prized Audrey Hepburn-inspired stiletto (gifted from a fellow West Point Mom). The only broken decorations were those mass-produced for Garden Ridge and other home decor stores. I heaved a sigh of relief and set to work on clean-up detail.
All the while I pondered how to replace our fallen tree. No successful retail establishment would be having a two-week-before-Christmas clearance sale on artificial trees, and I simply could not bring myself to pay full price when I know with every marketing bone in my body that the same tree I’d buy today would be 75 percent less on December 26.
Faced with such a dilemma, I did what a good football momma would do when a starting player goes out of the game with a debilitating injury…. I called in the backup.
Last year, during a pre-holiday sale, I gave in to the call of the holiday decorating goddess, and purchased a five-foot tree for my daughter to display in the hall outside her room and to decorate with all her girly whims. She chose pink and purple sparkle as her theme, and to this, we added all the homemade ornaments her and her big brother had brought home from school over the years. She topped it with a lavender bow to compliment the gold bow on the main tree in the front room.
I knew this girly extravaganza was meant to lead the team to the home stretch of the holidays.
What I didn’t know when I came up with this game plan, was that I would need a distraction for the entire family last Friday night. With the news on every channel describing the horrors that happened earlier in the day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, we needed to turn off the television, especially when the Young One came home.
So we moved the girly backup tree, decorations and all, from the second floor landing, down the staircase and into the front room.
I stepped back to admire the little tree, and saw a familiar face staring back at me from within a macaroni wreath–the image of my son at age seven. Beside that was a paper candy cane he proudly handed me a year later. On the other side, grinned a picture of the Young One glued to a paper plate with a few haphazard construction paper holly leaves clinging to the side. She gave this to me on her first Christmas with her new forever family.
My heart warmed. My tears flowed.
This tree, with all its lack of grandeur, was simply perfect. It became a perfect reminder to me of the treasure of my children and the happiness of their childhood on a day when childhood stopped for so many.
I think I did need to hang that heavy ornament on the original tree. The tree needed to topple, so the backup could take its place on a day when I needed my children close to me. I needed to see those homemade reminders of peaceful classrooms and children enjoying the anticipation of the holidays. I needed the comfort of childhood.
I wish the families of this tragedy and the community of Newtown, CT, peace and healing during the difficult time to come.