Tale of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree

Sharon M. Kennedy

The perfect Christmas tree is elusive. Does it really exist or is it only something we imagine? Something magical remembered from a book or a childhood corner of our mind where myth and reality merge and blur until we cannot tell one from the other?

One thing is for sure. Our Christmas tree of 1986 left no doubts in my daughter’s mind or mine. Our tree screamed the truth. “Take me back to the forest and let me die in peace,” it said. “Back in the woods, I’ll be shelter for chickadees until all my needles fall off. Then I’ll be food for pileated woodpeckers.” At least that’s what I imagined it was saying as it stood alone and forlorn in a corner of our living room.

Although it didn’t breathe one word, I knew that tree was no more at home in our apartment than it would have been in Macy’s Department Store. My buddy, Roger Pilon now of Grand Marais but at the time of Sugar Island, had insisted we needed a balsam instead of the traditional spruce. He scouted his property three weeks before Christmas and found what he considered the “perfect” tree. By the time he threw it in the back of his truck and dragged it into our home, it had been leaning against his shed for a week.

I always told my daughter to tell the truth no matter what. I said it was much better to be truthful even when there were consequences, but I have to admit I didn’t follow my own advice when it came to that tree. Roger was so proud of it the buttons on his jacked almost popped off when he showed it to us. Before he brought it in, he shook off the loose snow. The frozen stuff stayed in place until hit by heat. Then it dripped all over the carpet.

Anyone could see Balsam was gasping for water so as soon as it was screwed into the stand, we gave it a drink. Then Stephanie and Roger set to work decorating. Earlier in the day, I had hauled out new decorations and some from my childhood. Everyone knows strings of lights are the first things to put on a tree. The ones I had were from previous years so naturally they were a tangled mess. We plugged them in to make sure they all worked and they did until they were strung around Balsam. It was only after they were neatly in place they decided not to work.

The hunt for the culprit was on. In olden days, Christmas lights were the size of your thumb. If one went out, they all went out, but when mini lights came on the market, it was a different story. Unfortunately, I was still using the lights from my youth. Roger unscrewed each one and finally replaced the defective bulb. Then it was on to colorful ornaments, strings of silver tinsel, paper chains, and finally the angel on top. Roger lifted Stephanie and I snapped a picture as she put the finishing touch on Balsam.

We darkened the room and stood back to admire the tree. We stood in silence for a long time. We were searching for the right words to describe what we saw. I coughed. Roger cleaned his eyeglasses. Finally Stephanie, who was four at the time, spoke. If my recall is correct, her words went something like this. “That is the ugliest tree I’ve ever seen, but thank you Roger for giving it to us because nobody else would want it.”

With those few words we knew we needn’t hold in our laughter. We thought Stephanie might not notice how pathetic Balsam looked, but once the truth was out, the tree was fair game. Even Roger admitted the popcorn balls had to be bound with string and tied to the branches because there was no place to hide them. The bright lights exposed the sparse needles that were falling as fast as the snow outside our windows. After placing nicely wrapped presents underneath it, our Balsam was still the sorriest tree in all the land.

I know you have had at least one Charlie Brown Christmas tree in your living room. Maybe your father, brother, uncle, cousin, boyfriend, husband, or child chose it for you and you didn’t have the heart to tell the truth. You suggested maybe it would look better if the side facing out was turned towards the wall. Maybe it needed just another box of tinsel or a dozen more ornaments. It might have been a bit too tall or 3 feet too short. Perhaps it was a white pine instead of a spruce and everyone knows pine trees are impossible to decorate.

So what did you do when confronted with an unwanted tree and eager faces looking to you for approval? You lied, that’s what you did. You lied to protect those you love. You found one thing to praise and then you found another. You said it smelled nice and the decorators did a good job. You plugged in the lights, played a Christmas CD, passed around mugs of hot cocoa, and declared the tree was the most beautiful ever to grace your home. Because when it comes to Christmas, we’re all liars. You know what I mean, don’t you?

Merry Christmas everyone!

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle format