One Christmas Eve, when I was about four and my brother was two, we sat patiently (as patiently as two young kids can) after dinner as we watched our mom and dad trim the tree. Dad had brought the tree into the house that evening. Yes, he was one of those dads who does his Christmas shopping and Christmas tree buying on the Eve. My brother and I could barely contain our excitement through dinner as we kept stealing glances at the enormous bare tree in the living room.
Finally dinner was over, the table was cleared and we could run out to the living room. I remember squirming with excitement as we watched what seemed to take forever-Dad attach the lights and fuss with them until they all lit up (yay!) And then we watched Mom and Dad unwrap, one by one, beautiful glass-blown ornaments, with sparkly, glittery frosting, and hang each delicate decoration on the tree. Some came from my dad’s family, some from my mom’s. I doubt if we were allowed to even get near them. We were told they were VERY fragile.
Finally, the box of ornaments was empty. It was our turn to throw on some tinsel on the lower branches while they handled the rest of the tree. It was perfect. The room smelled of pine and the lights were sparkling. My dad went to get his camera-but wait a minute-where was the star? We all stared at the tree for a moment. I remember my mom quietly suggesting that maybe we should just skip it. But my dad was going to put the star at the top of the tree, no matter what. Maybe she told him to be careful, or maybe that’s just the words I heard in my head.
He climbed up on a chair. It was a tall tree. Our Victorian-era house had high ceilings. He leaned over carefully. He put the star on top. He leaned back, smiling. And then … BAM. The whole thing went crashing over-beautiful ornaments shattered-colorful, glittering, shards all over the floor.
My brother and I started wailing. My dad still poised on the chair, and my mom looked at each other silently. Then he climbed down, put on his coat, and headed out into the night. I think the only shop open after 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve was Woolworth’s. He came back in with a bag full of little square boxes. He put the tree back up, more securely this time. Mom had swept away the broken ornaments. We all put on the new ornaments together this time, and also what few had survived the crash.
I still have one or two of those Woolworth’s treasures left. I also have the same star. I always put it on first, at the very top of the tree, and smile and think of my dad.