When my boys were growing up, we always had a real tree. I didn't have any extra money, so I would wait until Christmas Eve and find a tree lot with a scattering of Charlie Brown trees. I am not ashamed to admit I had a madness to my method. I usually got the tree for free or for little money, like five bucks. It helped that the three of us looked like orphans, Mama orphan and her two little orphans, huge eyes, hollow cheeks (but rosy just the same), worn coats that looked like they needed to go out in the garbage behind Goodwill, not in Goodwill. The decorations were handmade. I also used old Christmas cards and cut out balls, bells, angels, and Santa's and strung them on the tree. Very frugal and creative.
When my boys were 20 and 21, my Dad was very ill. On my son's 21st birthday, December 10, my Mom called to say Dad was dying and didn't have long. So I rushed to Eugene, Oregon along with my sister from Seattle. We played with, cared for, and loved and petted our Dad for his final days. Nine days later, after a bittersweet, beautiful, and terrible time with our Dad, he slipped away. Mom, my sister, and I watched the hearse drive away down the road, we silently waved, said goodbye, and immediately went into a rote mode. We gathered up all the clothes that needed washing in the house and drove to a Laundromat and washed several loads of clothes like we had nothing better to do with our time. It was so eerie and unreal – there were a couple people in there, doing their laundry and we just sat, numb, stoic – I kept thinking "do you know my Dad died?" It was ethereal.
I took a Greyhound bus home, arriving the next morning, the 20th of December. After sitting around in a fog for a couple days, I realized I had to do something for Christmas. My oldest was in the Army, stationed in Korea. The Red Cross brought him home because my Dad was his main father figure. I decided I wanted to have some semblance of Christmas spirit in the house. But I couldn't muster up the spirit. Christmas in 1993 was a real afterthought.
Finally I raced to Wards in the evening; a spur of the moment, last minute thing. I ran through the store and bought three of everything, one each for my sons, one for my significant other.
And then I found an artificial tree in the back of the upper floor of Wards – all alone, all by itself. The store lights were dimming for all the shoppers to get done with it, buy it, pack it, take it, and just get out. The salesman came up to me as I was looking at that little artificial tree. He said it was 60% off and now only nineteen bucks. I bought it.
Ran home, wrapped shirts, sweaters, slippers. Slammed the tree inside a tree stand, decorated it quickly with every decoration I could find, discovered that the lights actually worked this year, for some unknown reason, and called it good.
That year we were having my mother-in-law over and her mother, who was 93 years old. I couldn't cook. Well, I could cook, but poorly and I plainly just did not want to and in any case I had nothing to make. So we decided to go out to dinner. On Christmas. We went to Granny's Buffet on the north side and were shooed away by the line that went a block down the sidewalk. We tried fast food places. We drove all over town trying to find something open for Christmas, all the time I am mentally reviewing my freezer and I know all I have are ice cream and jalapeño pepper poppers.
We ended up at a new Chinese Restaurant that I will never name because I could be sued. It was dreadful. Nobody spoke English. They just opened THAT day. We waited an hour for anybody to take our order, the place was packed. We waited for an hour for our barbecued pork. Then we waited another hour for our food. While we were waiting, a family of about 20 Asians walked through the restaurant to the kitchen and disappeared. We assumed that they were eating OUR dinner. A waitress flew through the front door, tied an apron on and then came to our table to check on our order. She was from Spokane and they hired her over the phone because she could speak English. I wanted to leave but I didn't know what to do with Grandma. Ninety-three. She couldn't go much longer without food. And my soldier son was fighting the smell of kimshee (fermented cabbage in holes in the ground; a constant odor all around him 24 hours a day). The sooner he ate and we were out of there, the happier we would all be.
The restaurant is still open after 15 years – it might have improved.
So that was our Christmas, and that little tree is still the tree I use. (I now do all my shopping for Christmas in September in case some traumatic emergency befalls me.) (I also stock my freezer with enough food to last a month.)