A Different Christmas Story (Chapter 17)
Danny’s Christmas Story
Danny was still organizing memories in his head when Mouse called out, “Do you have a story or you just selling wolf tickets?”
“Yea homeboy, I got a story. If you would quit interrupting me I’ll get to it.” The light banter felt good and morphed into Danny's Christmas story......
When I was growing up, my family didn't have much but we had a lot of love. There were four big holidays in our household -- my birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The last one, always a bigger than life event. One year Christmas became magic.
Our family had a holiday tradition of waiting to get our tree until it was just a couple days before the big day. My parents would always say we wanted to have the tree fresh for Christmas Day. If we got it too soon it would dry out. Years later I learned our tradition was actually due to financial necessity. My Dad would wait until he could barter the price down knowing that the trees dropped in value as the holidays got closer. Every penny counted in our household.
This one year, my mother carried a fruit basket with us to the tree lot, one my Dad had been given at work in appreciation for another year of loyalty and service through the hard times.
My mother basket clutched the basket tightly as a new born baby.
And believe me that little act made that fruit basket extra appealing to the tree lot manager.
We walked the aisle up and down, my mom and dad rambling on in Greek, their native tongue, as we searched for the perfect tree. They spotted one and told me in Greek to go stand next to the most beautiful white flocked tree I had ever laid my eyes upon, playfully setting the trap that would snare the one tree we really wanted. I didn’t speak much of the language but I understood.
My mother clutched the basket as tightly as a newborn baby as the tree lot manager walked up to us. That little act made the fruit basket extra appealing to the lot manager. He sized up the basket and asked my mother if a trade would be possible. She coyly said “Oh no, we couldn’t. It’s a special basket. It was from my husband’s boss.”
The lot manager played right into her hand and replied “Not even for that tree your son is admiring? It’s the best on the lot.”
My mother looked at the tree and slyly said “Oh my, now that’s a special tree--isn’t it George?”
My father, playing along, nodded then leaned over to whisper in her ear. She shrugged her shoulders. Ten minutes later we said goodbye to the fruit basket, now in the arms of the lot manager, and hello to the six foot white, perfectly flocked Christmas tree.
Now the tree turned out to be the perfect fit for our humble home. There was only one thing missing… presents. There were not a single present under its beautiful white flocked limbs. The neighborhood kids wasted no time in letting me know -- especially Jimmy Smith.
What happened next was pure magic. My mother, out of nowhere, says, to me and all my friends, “You know this tree talks.” Of course they all challenged her, especially Jimmy. My Mother hushed them, telling them “If there is one person in the room without Christmas spirit it will ruin it for all the true believers.”
She instructed everyone to go home to get permission and be back at our house at five sharp -- not one minute early or one minute late. “Don’t be late” She told everyone how the tree spirit could be very temperamental, especially this time of year. She raised an eyebrow and said the tree spirit could also see everything. “Don’t try to fool it either or you could end up with nothing but a chuck of coal in your stocking.” The warning shut everyone up and they all left my house in orderly and quiet. As they left my mother added “Come hungry. I will have hot cocoa and homemade sweet bread for all of you to snack on.”
Then my mother looked at me. She lifted her right hand and extended her index finger, wagging it slowly in front of me. “You know Danny, jealously is not the Christmas spirit either. Don’t be a bad boy. Go out and play now. Be back here at five.”
As you can imagine, at one minute after five, every kid in the neighborhood was sitting around our Christmas tree. My mother told them all to join hands, close their eyes and to wait -- no talking. Less than a minute passed and Jimmy had started to mumble something about told you so when a voice came from the tree.
WHAT'S YOUR CHRISTMAS WISH THIS YEAR?
The kids all squealed with delight and, with eyes as big as silver dollars, looked at one another in wonder. They all started to talk at once when the tree said “Let's start with you Jimmy, what were you about to say?”
Jimmy looked amazed and a little fearful that he had been singled out. He answered loudly, trying to speak above the chatter in the room. “A bike, I need a new bike.”
The magic tree gently asked him, “What would you do with the blue bike you ride now?”
The kids looked around at each other, now speechless. Jimmy answered that he didn’t know as, he too, looked around the room. The magic tree suggested it would make a great first bike for his little brother. Jimmy smiled and said “Yes, yes I will give it to him, it will be a perfect fit.”
So it went from child to child -- from suggestions for the undecided to reprimands for troublesome acts that had been perpetrated during the year.
The tree then focused on me. It didn’t ask what I wanted but instead, it told me what I had been given. “You, Danny, have been a very special boy this year. This is your Christmas gift. The magic of making everyone in this room feel special.”
“And you know what Mouse? The tree was right. I did get a few things that year but nothing compared to what the tree had given me.”
Both Danny and Mouse were silent for a good minute and then Danny continued with his story. A few years later my Mother got a Christmas card from our old neighbor "Chubby" who had moved back to Texas. In the card was a line that caught my attention, "Hope you found a new voice for the tree".
At that point I was older and had come to terms with a lot of things about life… one being, Christmas is really a state of mind. That evening at dinner I confronted my parents about the magic white tree from many years ago. At first my mother told me she had no idea what I was talking about. My father scolded her in Greek and she answered him back saying “Ok George, if you want to tell him you go right ahead.” She abruptly excused herself from the table and left the room.
Even as he began the story my father was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. In the other room, my mother had positioned herself behind the door. I could see her shadow, casting a long image on the floor, and I could hear her muffled laughter.
“Well Son, remember, anytime that tree was going to talk we had to have you get out of the house so Chubby could get up in the attic crawl space. She would wiggle her way to the heater vent over the tree and then talk to you all.
Boy had I been fooled. Soon my mother returned to the table and we all laughed, recounting story after story of me and my friends sitting in front of the tree trying to get it to speak to us, asking question after question with no response. We tried everything -- holding hands, closing our eyes, changing places, you name it, we tried it. Jimmy and I had become best friends during that time -- from that point on we inseparable.
“Well Mouse, that's my story.”
“That's one hell of a story,” Mouse chuckled. “It sounds like you had some really good parents Danny. They loved you. So, whatever happened to Jimmy?”
Another pause, then Danny spoke in a low tone. “I went to prison. Jimmy went to Desert Storm, he never made it back.”
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