Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree! Thy Leaves are so Unstable

christmas-tree-decor-ideas-5

By Karen Topakian

Every year my mother wanted a nice Christmas tree. Because my father chased the elusive good deal, he picked the wrong tree, repeatedly.

Christmas One

My mother pressed the heel of her hands on the edge of the kitchen sink as she peered through the snow-streaked window looking for signs of my father’s car. She spied him turning into the driveway, with her eyes squinted, she hoped she would see a Christmas tree. Without a tree, it hadn’t felt like Christmas yet.

My mother audibly sighed in relief as she watched him wrestle the evergreen from the back of the station wagon. And drag it over the snowy driveway, through the kitchen and the hallway into the living room.

“Here’s your tree, Alice,” exclaimed my father proudly.

My mother stood with her hands on her hips in the living room doorway inspecting his purchase.

“I got a good deal.”

“Another good deal. Remember the last one?”

“But this one has only has one bad side.”

“Can you turn it around?”

He tossed his icy gloves on the floor, twirled the tree while watching my mother’s face.

She pointed to the short branches, barely long enough to hold an ornament. To the sparse amount of branches, leaving big spaces between the boughs. And to the trees thin frame.

“Only one bad side? I see four.”

He turned it again, this time looking at the tree.

“Alice, I swear, at the lot it only had one bad side.”

My mother walked back into the kitchen shaking her head.

 

Christmas Two

“I think it’s raining,” announced my mother during dinner one night in December.

My father looked out the kitchen window. “I don’t see any rain coming down.”

“I hear something that sounds like rain.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

My sister, Gail, and I ate our spaghetti and meatballs in silence until my mother corrected me for slurping.

When we finished eating, Gail and I asked if we could turn the lights on the Christmas tree. My mother agreed. We ran into the living room.

“Mom, come quick,” we called in unison as we stood in front of the tree.

My mother hurried out of the kitchen, “What’s all the yelling about?”

As she approached the living room, the ‘rain’ she heard grew louder.

“Armen, Come. Look.”

My father strode in from his chair in the den.

Now do you hear it?” asked my mother as she pointed to the needles cascading onto the wrapped packages under the Christmas tree. “Another one of your great tree deals.”

“But I was right. It wasn’t raining,” responded my father sheepishly.

 

Christmas Three

“Armen can you straighten the tree?” my mother asked my father one evening after work.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s tilted.”

My father reached through the decorated branches to give a tug.

He looked over to my mother for her approval.

“Better.”

Pleased with himself, he walked back into the den.

The day before Christmas, my mother again noticed the treeing leaning in a different direction.

That night, she told my father she was worried that the tree might fall over.

“It’s not going to fall over,” declared my father as he tugged on a branch.

The tree shifted.

He dropped down to all fours, brusquely moved some wrapped packages out of the way and inspected the tree at its base.

“The guy at the lot didn’t cut the bottom straight.”

“Would a tree with a straight cut have cost more?” she queried while rolling her eyes.

“Get the girls to hold the tree.”

My sister and I wrapped our small hands around the lower tree trunk while my mother grasped it tightly higher up. My father sprawled out on the floor, carefully unscrewed the bolts holding the tree upright jostled the tree into place and retightened the screws.

When he gave the all clear, we stepped away.

“Much better,” applauded my mother.

My father stood up, brushed off his hands, pleased with himself.

After everyone went to bed on Christmas eve, my mother hung our stockings and admired her handiwork one more time.

But the tree seemed to tip again, in a different direction than it had before. She attributed it to her blurry tired eyes, turned off the lights and climbed into bed.

She arose first on Christmas morning, donned her bathrobe, padded into the living room cast her eyes toward the tree and let out a shriek. My sister, father and I jumped out of our beds and ran into the living room.

There lay our fully decorated tree face down on the carpet, across the perfectly wrapped presents. Ornaments, tinsel and lights splayed out on the living room floor.

My mother covered her face in her hands and groaned.

“That’s it, no more bargain Christmas trees,” announced my father as we struggled together to right the tree.

And my father kept that promise. Until the next year.

What Should We Buy Your Father for Christmas?

Grandpa K

Grampa K

by Karen Topakian

At holiday time, my mother shouldered the Christmas shopping responsibilities. She took great care to find the right gifts for my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. But every year, she struggled with ideas for one family member – my paternal grandfather, Grampa K.

Grampa K, a mild-mannered man by nature, didn’t know that he caused such consternation. He wasn’t a fussy man just a man of very simple needs who often lamented the consumer culture pervading America.

“Boys,” he said to his adult sons when they helped him empty his barely filled wastebaskets. “America is drowning in trash.”

His lack of need or desire for material things may have stemmed from his emigration from Turkey to the US at the age of 16, to escape conscription in the Turkish military. After leaving everyone and everything behind to make a new life in the US, he learned to live on very little.

Or his lack of need or desire may have appeared after seeing his life almost end at age 49 when he suffered from his first of several heart attacks and then retired. Regardless, he lived a quiet life with my grandmother, Liz, who co-owned the family business, General Plating, with her two sons. He spent his days volunteering for Armenian Church organizations, gardening, reading books about Armenian history and culture and teaching himself French on educational TV.

His sedentary life didn’t require much stuff. Because he was retired, he didn’t need work or professional clothes. He rarely needed or wanted anything.

The two gifts that offered him the greatest joy and pleasure were flowering houseplants to supplement his indoor garden of robust African violets that occupied every window ledge in his two-story home. And cow manure for his vibrant outdoor vegetable garden. He could barely contain his delight every spring when my father drove up the driveway with a station wagon full of steaming bushel baskets from the local dairy.

His lack of want or desire for anything else presented a great challenge to my mother. And every year she struggled. My father offered little assistance.

“Armen, one last gift. What should we buy your father?” asked my mother as they walked into Macy’s Men’s Department

“I dunno,” answered my father as he faced a display of men’s dress shirts.

“Give me some ideas,” begged my mother. “He’s your father.”

“Ok. A shirt,” suggested my father.

“We bought him one for his birthday,” responded my mother.

“Then a sweater?” shrugged my father as he touched a wool pullover.

“We bought him one last year,” answered my mother putting down her heavy shopping bags for a moment and rubbing her wrists.

“You always say they don’t turn up the heat and their house is cold. Maybe he needs another one to stay warm,” said my father holding up a pair of corduroy pants to his waist.

“It’s just so boring,” lamented my mother as she wandered past a row of sport jackets and suits.

My father drifted toward her.

“Armen, think of something?”

“I’m drawing a blank.”

“Look around. Maybe something will come to you.”

“I doubt it,” muttered my father under his breath as he returned to the stack of corduroy pants.

“Ah hah! This is perfect. Armen, what about this?” asked my mother holding up a charcoal grey v-neck sweater vest. “It will keep him warm but it’s not one more sweater.”

My father gestured two thumbs up and walked back towards her. “Good idea. How did you think of that?” asked my father.

“It came to me,” she said pointing to a table piled high with them. My mother couldn’t wait to wrap it up and hand it to my grandfather.

Though my mother sought a unique gift for Grampa K, he never seemed to mind receiving the same gifts. Grateful for any present, large or small. He always smiled followed by a thank you, which erupted slowly from his thin lips in his slightly high-pitched and melodious voice tinged with an Armenian accent.

“Lizzie, look at this,” he would say holding up every gift for my grandmother to see.

That Christmas day, like every year, we spent eating breakfast with my paternal family at my grandparent’s home in Cranston, RI.

After enjoying a hearty meal, all 11 of us relocated from the dining room table to the living room to open presents.

First, he opened up the gifts from his wife, smiled broadly and said, “Thank you, Lizzie. How did you know I needed more socks?”

My mother proudly handed my grandfather his present. He carefully unwrapped the red and green paper without ripping it. Folding it neatly, so it could enjoy a second life. He gingerly opened the box, peeled back the tissue paper and removed his gift.

Holding up his sweater vest for all to see, he smiled and stated, “It would be nice, if it had sleeves.”