She was drawn to it immediately, standing alone next to a rotting fencepost that was entangled in cinnamon-colored barbed wire. The five-foot cedar was likely an accident of nature: sated bird meets wire roost for small deposit. Years later, wretched girl finds Christmas tree.
“Perfect,” she murmured as she saw the deformity on its trunk. “You, my dear, are exactly what I need. You will make a delightful Christmas tree.”
A collector of stray animals since childhood, Dana had earned a reputation of always seeking out the unwanted. Few really understood that it was empathy born of experience that made her reach out and welcome the unloved, thus negating the term.
Smiling for the first time since classes ended, Dana clumsily dragged the tree across the vacant lot toward her ancient Volvo. Low clouds made it seem later than it was, but darkness would come to this northern city soon. Pulling a mitten off with her teeth, she popped the trunk, glad for its size; she had no trouble loading the slim cedar into its depths.
Using an old paring knife, she whittled at the stubby trunk to fit it into her idea of a tree stand. The wooden slatted box had belonged to her grandfather, but it now resided in the living room of her rented apartment, three rooms in an old home that now held five separate groups of college students.
Settling the tree between two slats in the old box, Dana tied it off with yarn to nails on the walls behind it, ensuring stability. She ran her hand lovingly over the unnatural bulge in the trunk as she tucked a skirt around it. “You shall be a perfectly lovely Christmas tree,” she smiled.
Suddenly needing Christmas tradition, Dana spun awkwardly around and stuck an old Johnny Mathis tape in the stereo. As the tinkling intro filled the room, his rich voice joined in. “Sleigh bells ring. Are you listenin’?” A montage of Christmases Past filled her mind: Mom and Dad decorating a young cedar, then later, in more affluent times, a white pine or spruce, and once, an aluminum tree that needed only a revolving colored light for trim. Hadn’t they even laid cotton batting along each thin tree branch of one tree to mimic snowfall that was seldom seen that far south?
Well, tonight, she would invite this small tree to join her in a new tradition. Now an adult, if twenty could be considered so, it was time to create memories of her own within this transitory home. But, Johnny, most definitely, was invited to stay.
Later, sipping hot cocoa and adding her own harmony to “O Holy Night”, Dana surveyed her tree, now decked in small white lights and a few red balls. What else did the tree need in order to be the ideal symbol for this season of her life?
Cocking her head to one side, Dana pondered as she reached for the old jewelry box she had brought with her when she entered this college last fall. Inside were a pair of long, silvery earrings that had belonged to her mom, and her dad’s cuff links, silver and monogrammed. On her kitchen counter, she found a dear friend’s drum key. Red ribbon made each piece a perfect accessory for her personal Christmas tree.
Rummaging in her single kitchen drawer, she pulled out her grandmother’s cookie cutters and her baby spoon, thankful that so many concrete objects had quickly become a part of her decorations. Even if she were here alone, memories would warm her and keep her grounded. Hadn’t Christmas always been her favorite time of year?
Wind rattled the old window, but the towel stuffed into the crack helped to keep out the worst of it. Nearly done now, Dana reached for Aunt Sue’s old family Bible. Turning to Luke 2, she placed a woven Christmas bookmark along the spine of the page. Gently, she laid the book where presents should have been. Beside the leather missive she placed the final touch, an obviously old Nativity scene, complete with flocked camels and hay-filled manger, as yet still empty of its purpose.
Pleased with her work, but weary now, Dana took in this corner of her spartan living space. She knew that this season of her life would pass, and that she was never truly alone. Mr. Mathis’s voice filled her heart with melancholy laced with acceptance built on hope: “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”
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