Submitted by John L. Lincicome.
“Come Liebchen, we’re going to go get a tree. Put on some clean clothes!” She said.
It was a declaration, not a statement. She said it with authority. A rare thing, that, the authority thing, especially when it came to a topic that was not generally hers to make declarations about like goin’ to get a Christmas Tree and stuff. Oh, she could get snippy now and again like all moms can, eh? Don’t get me wrong. But this was a different thing. I could feel it in my deep down. There was something in her tone & eyes that conveyed to me I had to do what she said and do it quick fast like, too. Kids know…
She was on a mission that evening and I was her willing hostage. I was okay with that. I loved my mom. Besides, I had my heart set on an air rifle for Christmas that year, and so bein’ a good & compliant kid in the weeks leadin’ up to Christmas was part of the deal, eh? Yes. I’d picked it/air-rifle out of the Montgomery Wards Catalogue and made darn sure I left plenty of clues around the house so “Santa” could figure it out.
It must’ve been early to mid December sometime in the middle 60’s. 1965 or so? Not sure no more. Christmas was drawin’ near and for some reason we didn’t have a tree yet. That fact irritated the bejeebers out of mom. The whole “goin to get the Christmas Tree” thing was always initiated by the old man/dad, on a day he wasn’t working or golfin’ or at The Club or somthin’, but for some reason he was late that year. Sometimes frustration just gets to a boiling point, eh? Yes.
“Sure ma” I said, and quick fast like I got my stuff together. Clean underwear and all. She put on a long coat and a goofy old lady hat of some sort, and that made me feel better about havin’ to change my shorts and stuff. Kids got boundaries, too, eh? Yep. Anyway, together we got in the car and then lumbered to Bridgeport Way where the Christmas Tree places were.
The AM radio in the car was on KFHA, a country station, mom’s favorite station back then. The station itself was on the outskirts of Steilacoom. I got to go there once. Chubby Howard was the Dj that night. He spun tunes by Eddy Arnold and Roger Miller and all sorts of other folks that I could’ve cared less about at the time. But, pickin’ the radio station in the car wasn’t among my privileges when I was a kiddo. It wasn’t long before we got to a Christmas Tree place not far from Fel’s A&W on Bridgeport.
“Come Liebchen” mom said after she put the car in park and pulled her keys, “let’s go pick out a Christmas Tree!”
The happy in her voice transcended all my kid snippy & stuff at the moment. It was really good to see her happy. She spent most of the part of her life that I was around bein’ sort-a-withdrawn, sad like in a dark sort o way. But, I said nothingas I set foot on the grounds of the Christmas Tree Lot and shut the car door, but I had kiddo hopes for stuff I knew nothing about.
Together the mom and I walked the outdoor aisles at the tree lot that evening. There were plenty of other people there that night, too. A busy place, the Christmas Tree place at Christmas time. Christmas Music was piped in via some tinny speakers mounted on poles around the place. It felt kind-a-festive all in all to the kid I was.
Mom had become quiet. She was thinkin’ about stuff that mom’s think about when they’re out Christmas Tree shopping by themselves with their kid for the first time in their life. I was quiet, too. A kid generally knows when to keep his/her mouth shut, eh? Yes – well, generally…
We watched as the other folks that were there shoppin’ for a Christmas Tree, too, pulled trees out of the piles of trees and stood ‘em up, shook ‘em down to take a good look-see at ‘em. The voices of families discussing the merits of a particular tree conflicted with the Christmas music comin’ out of the tinny speakers. I’m 67 years old as I write this, but that evening is one I never forgot. Life is like that, eh? Yes.
There were all kinds of trees cepin’ for Monkey Tailed trees on that lot that night. Some were nice, some weren’t. Some were too tall; some were too short. Some were too wide; some were too skinny. Seemed that the “pickin’ out a Christmas Tree thing” was a lot more work than I thought it should’ve been, eh? Pfft.
We came to an area that had many trees that were white or blue or pink, none green. Somehow them trees had been dusted with Walt Disney color stuff. Pixy dust of some sort. They were awful pretty, and mom took a shine to ‘em, too. We stopped.
I’d never seen trees like that. They were awful fancy. They captured a part of me, and a part of mom, too. A fella there, a worker bee sort of fella pulled one out and asked mom how she liked it. She got shy in that moment. Her eyes glistened a glisten thing, and it felt to me that she liked it. She didn’t answer the fella, not yet. He, the tree fella just stood there holdin’ up the tree up like he was supposed to do. Mom did the look-see thing like she was supposed to do. Seem as if she looked at that tree forever. It was a nice tree. I watched ‘em all; the tree, the fella and mom for a few beats.
“You like?” asked mom as she turned to me.
She looked a look at the fella holdin’ the tree and then he walked off with the tree in hand as mom and I followed him. We got to the checkstand thing, and mom pulled out a checkbook and paid for it. She worked at the PX on Fort Lewis back then, and so she had money enough to spend on a tree. They did the deal and then the fella toted the tree to mom’s car, and with some twine and skill and a crocodile smile he tied that sucker down.
“There ya go, mam” he said, then added “Merry Christmas!”
Mom and I got in her car and she started it up. The radio came on, and she fiddly farted around with the heater controls, then we laced into the evening traffic on Bridgeport Way, bound for home.
“It’s a beautiful tree, don’t ya think?” she said to me.
“Yeh ma, it’s a pretty tree…”
“Do you think dad will like it?” I said.
She said nothing.
When we got home I was tasked with fetchin’ the Christmas Tree stand out of the attic, along with all the ornaments and lights and tinsel left over from last year, and stuff like that. Mom and I figured out how to put the tree in the stand and when it was finally vertical, she looked a look at me like mom’s do when they’re all lovey and stuff, and she shed a tear. I just looked back her like a dumb kid does, eh? And wondered why girls tend to cry so much.
Together we opened up the boxes of ornaments that I’d toted down from the attic, and one by one she told me stories. Stories about the ornaments. She told ‘em with eyes overflowing with teary emotion that I only sort-a-understood. Kid’s is smart, but it takes a good log while for a kid to get really smart, eh? Yes. Anyway, the stories she told me that evening in December all them years ago have evaporated from my remember. I wish they hadn’t. Life is kind-a-crummy sometimes when it comes to the remember thing.
As the evening progressed, and…
…under her direction I helped put the lights on the tree. Lights were first. That was the rule. Then the ornaments. The big ones on the lower limbs and the smaller ones above. When all the ornaments and the lights were on the tree, it was time for the tinsel. But, putting on the tinsel on a Christmas Tree was something that only she could do. Kids don’t know how to put tinsel on a tree, eh? No.
I sat on the couch and watched her put the tinsel on. She quietly sang Christmas songs in German as she did the tinsel deed. A part of me wanted to turn on the television, but she wouldn’t have it. The kitchen radio was off, and we didn’t have no other music machine in the house cepin’ for the radio in the kitchen, and one in my bedroom. It didn’t really matter because the music that was comin’ out of mom’s mouth was kind-a-nice. I sat in kid-dumb on the couch, and watched and listened to my mother for the longest time. Came the time she was done.
“Plug in the lights, Liebhen” she said kind-a-soft and quiet like, but knowin’ I could hear. I did the deed.
“You like?” mom asked more like a statement and less like a question.
“Yeah mom, I like it a lot…”
The tree was flocked white. It was very pretty with all the ornaments and the lights and tinsel. They all morphed that tree into a memory emblazoned somewhere in my deep down where stuff like that lives, to this very day.
Came the time she was spent from her works. The old man hadn’t come home yet. She lit a Winston and took her perch on the end of the couch and just stared at the tree. The smoke from her cigarette drifted into the abyss. Her silhouette and the smoke and the tree was all I saw. Came the time she was done with her quiet time, her smoke.
“You hungry, Liechen?” she asked.
“Would you like Chicken Delight?”
Ah man, music to my hungry…
“Yeah mom!” I said.
I pulled out the phone book and found the page, dragged the black, desktop dial phone to the coffee table in front of her and she made the call.
Dinner by the tree was wonderful. Life is like that sometimes.
And “yes”, Santa brought me an air-rifle that Christmas, too. Go figure, eh?