Simple Christmas Tree

Christmas Ornaments left: Blair holding an ornament over Carson's head 1997, Right Carson and Blair snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 2003
Little Tree

“Time to get in the car to buy the tree!”

Carson doesn’t look up from playing Grand Theft Auto. The sound of it is like a cheese grater on my nerves. I take a breath with my mouth closed. Christmas season is something I love.  Hearing: “Like it says in the book... We are both blessed and cursed” from his game  console one more time is not going to rattle me.

“I put your jacket in the car, your sister is waiting.”

“I don’t want to go. Pick what you and Blair like Mom.”


He doesn’t answer. My son is a teenager. He’s an excellent student and amazing athlete but "pouty" seems to be a family pattern at this age. Rather than force him, I exit.

“O. K.” I quote from his game, “see ya 'round, like a doughnut, Carson.”

He nods.

Once I am in the car, Blair decides she will return into the house and convince Carson to join us. The radio is playing Bing Crosby.

"I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams..."

To my surprise, my son walks with his toes lifted. He’s joining us.

“Shot gun.” He shouts to his sister behind. She allows the one time pass.

“You can change the radio station Carson. Thank you, for coming.” I say.

“Blair said I can pick the tree.”

“Well- O. K.”

“No. Mom. You and Blair always pick your tree. I never even get to have my ornaments where I like them.”

Blair interrupts from the rear seat, “That’s because you put that giant ugly mafia mouse on the front of the tree.”

Carson spins around in anger, “you never let me do-” His voice cracks. He is about to cry.

“You can choose the tree. This year - do it your way.” I try to make peace.

He’s quiet looking out the passenger window so we won’t see his face.

“I’m sorry Carson but you have to admit that Star Wars figurines and a  mouse in a blue top hat don’t  belong on the front and center.” Sister negotiates from the back seat as I drive.

“Blair we are going to do it Carson’s way this year.”  I put my hand up in a traffic cop gesture to stop her.

He’s silent.

It’s my fault.

 I obsess about making our house into winter amazement for Christmas. I have more than two thousand tree ornaments. I create homemade gifts from plants, trees, and organic delicacies from my garden.  

I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. My children are my greatest treasure.

We arrive at the tree lot. A mix of teenagers and Carney lumberjacks work the lot. Local teens get Christmas jobs at night helping people tie off their cars. The guys who cut the timber and unload the container resemble the characters on my son’s game. Rough on the edges with a tender heart, we would like to think. I’m still fantasizing about wishes for Christmas.

My son grins.

Daughter and I go and inspect the Noble Firs, and a specimen Red Cedar. The smell of an open fire in a red metal trash barrel fills the sky. I struggle to hold the heavy trunk straight so daughter can see the back.

Carson arrives with a Balsam fir in his hands. It is about three feet tall. Balsams are also called blister pine for the cancers on the trunk that exude sappy tar. A Charlie Brown tree, you might recall.

“I’ve picked the perfect tree.” Carson smiles.

“Oh no Mom, you can’t let him get that ugly thing?”

“You made the bargain.”

I think he is pulling my piƱata and will back out of the joke when I go to pay. Twenty four dollars for the puny thing, the cost is about eighty percent of a nine foot tree. Carson doesn’t back down.  Daughter argues with him. I leave it alone. We made our deal. The tree doesn’t require tying it off on top of the car.

Driving home it starts to rain, just a sprinkle enough to make the windshield dirty. It may as well be tears. The radio is tuned to some rock station.

I choose not to be moody about it. The little tree is fragrant when we bring it inside. Carson places it in the stand that I have prepared in the living room. The stand is wider than the tree is tall. I let him figure out the logistics of the lights. In the past, Blair fussed over lights vertical on the trunk, then winding spirals around each branch. She might spend three days on the lights alone. I begin unpacking the boxes and trunks of glass ornaments. As I carefully remove the tissue wrapping, each one unfolds a vision of the past. I realize that daughter has gone upstairs and her bedroom door is shut.

“Blair come down, I made vegan chili for you.”

I go into the kitchen and turn on the two pots, one with meat sauce and the other without. In the refrigerator are a couple bowls of "Fixings" I chopped  earlier that they can choose as toppings. Grated cheddar, chopped sweet onion, parsley and cilantro from our garden. The aroma of roasting brings her down the stairs.

Her cheeks have those mascara streaks. I wipe them off her face with my hand.

“Come just enjoy being together.”

“O.K. Mom but it was mean.”

“No, I don’t think he meant to be – he wanted to be in charge this one time.”

“It’s not fair.”

I hug her, “it is fine, let it go.”

Waiting on her, I fill a Santa bowl with steamy beans. Sometimes hot food and a piece of cornbread can turn things around. She smiles that she gets the good bowl. We once had three, but the others were cracked and gone.

Going back into the living room, Carson has progressed quickly and now has picked only the handmade ornaments. Bless those teachers who convinced their class to finish a Christmas ornament for their parents tonight. He has also included some toy cars from his bedroom. A red Hot Wheels Camaro and a green muscle car hang in the front. The two are tied with the twine from the tree. It’s not our usual showy silver and gold design, but his delight.

When Carson was finished we stoked the fire and streached out on the floor in front of his modest tree. Happiness came over each of us. Carson got to do it his way, Blair will have more time to study and I won't have to clean up much.

May you appreciate things simple. I wish you a Merry Christmas.



Blair's handmade ornament with puzzle pieces and her hand print. The teacher who did this with her class was so loving. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

Antique ornaments: the turquoise ones with star shaped centers were ones I found in the basement of my Gerardo Grandparent's house nine years after the Holyoke Massachusetts house was sold. They were in a little cardboard box in between the studs. My grandfather once had an elaborate train set that wound around the whole basement. I think my cousin Butch got the set.  The bells on the far right were a present from my neighbor at 6th Helena Drive. She had Alzheimer's. She often wandered to my house to sit in my studio or pretend to play the piano. Sometimes she only wore a bra. Her husband gave these after her funeral.
"She loved when you made her tea. I'll be damned how she could remember your name and not even know her own." He said when he gave me those wrapped in tissue at Christmas.
I once had almost twenty glass snowmen. They symbolize a fleeting fun of winter. Below the feet of the center chubby glass guy are two shell ornaments. Those are the first ones I bought with babysitting money in the 1970's. The silver bell was given to me by Aunt Brandy when Blair was born 1991, it needs some polishing every year.

The pear is one of Blair's favorites. I bought that at Macy's in New York 1988.

Hand prints I get out for Christmas
I have three wooden Pinocchio's but there is one pointing his nose at and ornament Carson made in 5th grade. Also above right corner one with a grape wreath around Carson at his first Christmas 1996.

Chandelier crystals from the light fixture that was once in the Alta Vista house in Bakersfield. Funny how they have come full circle and that fixture would demand a pretty penny today as shabby chic. The yellow crystals are from the Pomona Building, on Holt. I think it is mostly torn down.
Top right those gold fiberglass balls were the only decoration your Great Grandmother Rufener owned. She had a gentleman who owned the florist on Chester Avenue come and bring decorations every Christmas. He would box and take them after New Years. Something strange about that memory of Ann Rufener not actually touching and my joy of unwrapping each surprise old friend.

The giant iridescent bubbles were from a glass blower in Laguna. I bought those in 1989.

There in the bottom right corner is the mouse man that Carson picked at Roger's Gardens with Tony Smith, Ali and Boo. Tony told all three they could pick any ornament they wanted.

Hand painted rose clear one top left I made for Noni then years later she gave it to me. Noni had a zest for life. She loved to decorate for every holiday. Do you recall her costumes for Snoopy? He had a Valentines outfit and would have red hearts everywhere, then March everything would be green for St Patrick's Day... The mouse ornament is bottom center. Every Christmas Carson would put him in the front and Blair would move him to the rear.

Actions are signs ~ tea leaves reveal hearts in wind ~ dancing wash for all.

A haiku to end my little story. Copyright 2013 Caroline Gerardo

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