Confusion Corner: A wish to be a family

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GRAPHIC BY DAVID SOLINSKY / THE FLAT HAT

I need a pick-me-up. They say this is the most wonderful time of the year. Instead, I’m playing a role I never would’ve dreamed of playing: the guinea pig for Mom’s new and allegedly improved “reduced fat” hot cocoa recipe. I think it went about as well as you’d expect a kid being deprived of his rightful dose of sweetness would go. I guess that’s what “mama’s boys” are for.

Still, it’s Christmas and my holiday cheer is running on empty. I need a pick-me-up, damn it — too cold to sled. Too sluggish to play with the dog. What I’m really in the mood for is a story. It’s still early. Surely, I’ve got enough time to coerce Dad out of the basement before he books his one-way ticket aboard the booze bus for the rest of the evening. It’ll just take five minutes, come on, Dad… To my surprise, he comes up without a fight.

The powdered-white aura outside seeps through the frostbitten window and permeates the entirety of the lofty living room uninhibited until its violent clash with the thick dark brown veneer-coated oak wood floors. Enter the one thing it always seems like I can count on: the secret hiding place. The harsh ripping of Velcro stings my eardrums as I tear away the faux leather couch cushion. My eye is now on the prize. It’s the moment that only comes once each year. My all-time favorite book ices my body with unadulterated elation. “A Wish To Be a Christmas Tree,” written by Colleen Monroe and illustrated by Michael Glenn Monroe, has returned to my clutch at long last. Dad stumbles in behind me as we take our places. He yanks the cardboard covers apart and the story begins.

The big tree stood tall bracing the winter winds year after year. Idly, he’d observe as the likes of the fat Scotch pine and the fir so fine caught the eyes of each new, shimmering young family that would pass through the revolving door of the Christmas Tree farm. I can’t refrain from asking, although I already know the answer: “Dad, what happens to the trees after they get picked?”

“They get turned into mulch,” he’d reply.

I’d then follow with, “But Dad, don’t the families dress them up and down with lights and glitter? Isn’t that all the trees really want?”

“Yes. But then they get turned into mulch,” he’d reply.

The big tree sheds a frozen tear or two as the story goes on after another year of not being selected. This haunts me deeply. You’re telling me he’d rather end up as a pile of mulch just to be ornamented for a week or two? Doesn’t he understand that nobody is going to care about him once Christmas is over? The only reason they let him stick around any longer is because they’re too lazy to take him down. Maybe it’s a price he’s willing to pay. He wants to be adored. I glance over my shoulder at our Christmas tree shining, erect and proud. A shiver runs down my spine knowing it won’t be long before this evergreen must meet the inevitable just as all others do.

Except the big tree, that is. He towers, sobbing above his brothers, sisters, grandchildren and friends as they leave him behind. Little does he know, his sense of abandonment is quite misgiven, for he is adored. The squirrel seeks refuge from the hideous blizzards inside the thick branches of the big tree. The deer curls up under the lush layers of pine needles each night to doze off and dream her snuggled dreams. Like me, the squirrel is troubled. The big tree is his friend. The big tree is a friend to all the woodlands. How would they get along if he were gone? He’s given them everything, and he’d give it all up just to feel pretty for a day or two. Maybe all the big tree needs is a pick-me-up. The squirrel calls the troops to attention. Their friend deserves to open his eyes with a smile.

The big tree awakens adorned from root to tip with the finest relics his forest friends could muster up. It’s quite literally “rise and shine.” In the end, the big tree is happy.

Dad closes the book and descends back into the cellar for his drunken hibernation. Mom still hasn’t tried the cocoa, although she doesn’t like the critiques blaring from my sister’s direction. I wander by the kitchen island and get stranded inside the granite countertop for a while. Around the mound of feldspar and through the cavern of quartz we go. A happy holiday was hiding away inside the big tree all along. All he had to do was take a look inside. Maybe I could do the same.