Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Old Man and His Tree--A Christmas Story

At this time of the year it is often fun to remember Christmases past.  As I grow older, I find my memories turn back to my much younger days when the season of Christmas seemed filled with magic and wonder.  There was something about that time between the carving of the turkey on Thanksgiving Day and that special moment on Christmas morning when you awoke to discover what Santa may have deposited under the tree.  

What follows is a story that was repeated every year for the first nine years of my life.  The memories are so vivid that if I but close my eyes I am transported back in time to the late 50's and a tiny living room in a modest house on Summer Street in a Midwestern town known as Pekin.  There was nothing remarkable about the house except that it was the home in which I grew up in.  No one but my family ever lived in that home and it was the center of my world.  

I spent my childhood within these walls along with my mother, grandmother and grandfather.  It was a wonderful childhood and I wanted for nothing.  The times were far simpler than today's world and the pleasures were, likewise, far simpler. And, despite all of our modern conveniences and technology, including the machine on which this piece is being created, there are times when my mind takes me back to those times and I find myself wishing that I could go back and relive those day.  Of course, I know that life wasn't nearly as idyllic as my memory presents it, but those little trips back in time do allow for some respite from today's frenetic pace.  

My grandpa was the world and everything in it as far as I was concerned.  He was a man of deep principles and an amazing discipline.  He was a hard worker who took great pride and even greater pride in his family.

We were a small family living in a home of simple pleasures.  We enjoyed Sunday dinners together each and every week.  During the summer, the happiest part of the day came when my mother arrived home from work.  We ate dinner, waited the appropriate amount of time for the food to settle, and then we were off to the pool for a swim.

But one of the greatest pleasures I had was the annual decorating of the Christmas tree.  My grandpa enjoyed the season but one of the traditions of the season that he didn't look forward to was the purchase of the Christmas Tree.  He put it off for as long as he could and then, finally, at the insistence of my grandma, he headed out on a usually inclement night, to pick the family tree.

What he brought back usually, could barely be called a tree.  Because he waited so long, often the only trees left in the Christmas Tree lot were the "orphans."  These were the trees that had been rejected by everybody else because they just weren't quite good enough.
To say that our tree was usually scrawny would be a supreme understatement. There were holes and gaps where most trees had branches.  Its needles seem to drop off at a mere thought.  And its trunk was usually rather serpentine, making it nearly impossible for grandpa to line it up in the stand properly so that the tree would stand straight as an arrow.

Below, you will find a poem that I wrote many years ago about this annual ritual in my home when I was a child.  In the poem you have my grandpa and grandma, along with me.  While there is no mention of my mother, rest assured, she was right there, helping to decorate this poor creature with the rest of us.

But the main character in the poem is not my grandpa or grandma.  It isn't my mother and it certainly isn't me.  No, the main "character" of the poem is love. That is what my home was filled with and it was no more powerful and evident than at Christmas.  And that is what I hope you get from this little piece.  I was fortunate to have grown up in a home of love and peace, the same kind of love and peace that was bestowed upon the world with the birth of Jesus Christ.

So, now, allow yourself to be taken back many years to that little living room in my home as the four of us, grandma, grandpa, my mother and I gathered 'round "The Old Man and His Tree."

The Old Man

And his tree

He was a proud man
Who year after year
Brought into our home
A sad, misshapen fir.

He was happy to shelter
Those poor misfit trees
Giving them a place of honor
With dignity and ease.

Proudly he set the tree
In its proper place.
Adjusting to the right, then left
Till it filled that corner space.

“gaps and branches Must be covered,”
Said his wife of many years
As about the tree she hovered
Concealing her laughter’s tears.

Dutifully he twisted
The oh so crooked boughs
Until, upon inspection,
It passed my grandma’s browse.

From the basement came boxes
Filled with ornaments and lights.
They were thoroughly examined
With anticipation and delight.

Carols of the season
Warmed the room
As he took his seat
Taking in pine perfume.

Lights were first
Upon the orphaned tree.
And as they were strung
Something began happening magically.

His cigar smoke circled
Above his old bald head
As the tree took shape
The homely, now somehow beautiful instead.

He smiled and hummed
As the ornaments were fixed.
And we were cheerful
To have the right color mix.

Tinsel was then hung
As the lights danced to and fro.
Christmas filled the room
With its special kind of glow.

I climbed the shaky ladder
And reached for the tree top.
I placed a shining star gently
And all came to a stop.

Oh, for those days
When an old man and his tree
Became a powerful symbol
Of his special love for me.

Silent night, holy night.
The gentlest night of the year.
I fondly remember grandpa

With a sentimental tear.