The scratchy pine needles tugged on my flannel pajamas and poked their stinging tips into my skin, but nothing was going to stop me from crawling under our Christmas tree that winter of 1964.
Dad had taken three hours stringing the big bulby lights around and around the huge tree, and then Mom, my sister, brother, and I had carefully unwrapped and placed each ornament over the twiggy arms of our special tree.
In my memory, the whole scene is aptly colored with wonderfully fuzzy and smeared images of red, blue, yellow, and purple shimmering lights, dark green piney-smelling needles, and the laughing faces and happy chatter of my family. But what I was impatiently waiting for that night was the chance to scoot on my back under the tree and gaze up through its sweet smelling greenery to the tippy-top--far, far away.
When we finally had the lights and bulbs in place, Dad turned off the lamps, and we viewed the lit tree in all of its lovely splendor. It glowed in softly muted shadows of rainbow colors and glistening golds and silvers. Now was the moment I’d been waiting for: time to explore the hidden and secret world from underneath our Christmas tree.
I managed to squeeze myself below the lowest branches and then lay quietly on my back as I slowly focused, limb by limb, upward at all the colored lights that greeted me.
They were blurred and unfocused, their edges twinkling like stars within a dark forest. The winking hues stretched and shimmered, and then a funny thing happened: I suddenly noticed that when I squinted my eyes tightly, the bulbs took on sharp and distinct shapes and forms. The reds grew intensely redder and the blues shone more brightly, and I realized that I was not seeing the lights the same way I saw them when I’d looked at the lights before. Was it magical under here in this verdant green world I wondered.
“Robert,” I called to my little brother. “Come under here and see if you can see these lights more clearly from the bottom of the tree like I can.”
Soon, the towhead of my brother pushed under the branches with me, and he replied, “Looks the same to me. What’re you talkin’ about?”
“Well, see how the lights get brighter and clearer when you squinch your eyes tight like this? Try it.” I squeezed my eyes shut in demonstration and my brother mimicked me.
“It looks the same to me, Dodo-bird,” he snorted. “You’re dumb—this is a stupid way to see the tree.” He clambered out and returned to running his cars in circles around and around the edge of the tree skirt.
After a few more minutes of my squinting experimentally under the tree, Mom leaned her head down and asked me, “Can you see the tree clearly without squinting, Debbie? I heard you telling Robert you could see better when you squeeze your eyes tightly.”
“Yes, Mommy! I think it’s magical under here! When I look at the tree out there, it’s all blurry and fuzzy, but under here, I can see clearer when I squint. Watch me.” I squinted happily while Mom smiled.
“Come on out from under there now, and get ready for bed.” She patted my head and muttered something about calling the eye doctor soon.
Sure enough, the next day Mom took me to see Dr. Gordon, and by the end of my visit, I was sporting a brand new pair of turquoise-framed, cat-eyed glasses. My nine-year-old glam factor rose fifty percent that day, and the bright new world I marveled at on the drive home thrilled me to pieces.
Under the tree that night, I carefully positioned myself on my back and reclaimed the magic of the blurry lights and twinkling colors. Now I didn’t have to squint, I could just push and pull my glasses up and down over my nose: blurry…sharp…blurry…sharp. I didn’t know it then, but that was my last Monet* Christmas.
The childish wonder of that night, however, has stayed in my memory through the years, and every once in a while, I lie on the couch and gaze at my Christmas tree with my glasses perched above my eyebrows to let the Monet Christmas magically return.
*Claude Monet was a French Impressionist painter whose paintings were known for their blurred and indistinct images.
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