Leaning against Mama, I whined, “Why can’t we put up our Christmas tree?” Longing for Christmas was beginning to make me feel sick. Hearing holiday music on the radio, listening to letters to Santa on the radio, knowing everyone in the family was secretly wrapping presents behind closed doors and talking about Christmas with my second-grade friends was nice, but I had an anxious, deep desire for it to finally come. In the past week, my longing for Christmas had started to feel more like pain than pleasure.
Mama sighed but patiently repeated, “I told you, we don’t put up the tree until Christmas Eve.”
I wailed, “Other people don’t wait until Christmas Eve! My friend Peggy said their Christmas tree was put up last week.”
“Peggy’s family has different traditions.” The look Mama gave me as she answered told me no amount of begging would change things.
December 24th finally arrived, but I continued to wait, pining for Christmas. Daddy and my brothers had time to bring the tree into our house before the noon meal. Mama wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted we sit down to eat first.
I felt like everyone was moving in slow motion. It took the family a long time to clear their plates. Then it took my brother a long time to retrieve the tree from the machine shed. The decorations for the tree were in an upstairs cubby hole, but the length of time it took my sister to find and bring them to the living room felt like I’d aged one hundred years.
The moment the tree was carried into the living room, the smell of balsam filled the air. I nearly passed out with joy. I watched with concern as the tree was put into the tree stand. The tree was flat on one side. My brother said, “No worries. It’ll fit against the wall better.” The branches showing to the room were beautifully shaped, but unfortunately, some very important branches were missing half way down. I started to cry. I had wanted a pretty tree.
“Hang on!” My brother Billy said. “I have a fix for this.” Selecting two boughs he’d brought in for decorating, he cut them to proper length and whittled the ends. Picking up an electric drill, he drilled two holes in the trunk of our Christmas tree. A moment later he inserted the branches into the holes. I blinked with surprise. The tree was beautiful. The adopted branches looked for all the world as if they had grown there.
Casper, my oldest brother was in charge of decorating. First, he checked the lights to make sure none were burned out, then he put the angel on the top of the tree. The winged angel was ancient and looked more like an American Indian wearing a yellow dress and a head band with a star on it. All of our familiar, beloved ornaments were then distributed among the boughs. I was allowed to put on very few of them because my brother was very particular. Casper didn’t allow anyone to help him with the lead strands of tinsel. He put them on one at a time. Dusk was quickly gathering outside the house as Casper meticulously laid the last tinsel on a branch.
I stood in the middle of the living room staring at the tree. It was surely more beautiful than any other Christmas tree in the world! Shadows in the living room grew darker, but the tree’s colorful lights made even the darkness beautiful. Flashes of light reflected off mirrored ornaments as they swayed in the breeze from the heat register. Tinsel glittered and glowed.
Mama stepped into the living room and said, “Kathy, you need to go take your bath. The new flannel nighty I made for you is on the counter in the bathroom. Hurry up now, before Daddy comes in to wash after milking the cows.”
Christmas wasn’t really here yet. Daddy and my brothers still had to finish their chores, but the ache I’d had in my belly for the past several days was beginning to let up.
I wanted to do a fairy princess dance around our magical, clean, treat-stuffed, present-laden house. Looking forward to taking a warm, bubbly Vel-scented bath and putting on my brand-new nighty, I raced to the bathroom. Having our tree up gave me the taste of Christmas that I had longed for, the prelude to so much more to come.