“Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” from the Desert

As a single parent with a sick child, I couldn’t afford to buy a Christmas tree. I hadn’t been able to afford a turkey and all the fixings at Thanksgiving – we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Trees of any size or kind were rare in the Nevada desert, populated by sagebrush, tumbleweed, coyotes, horned toads, bull snakes, rattlers, and antelope. I loaded my seven-year-old son, Luke, and our dogs into the truck and drove out into the desert to find a Christmas tree. We drove up and down dry washes and on such faint narrow trails that it seemed inevitable that we were going to get stuck even more in the middle of nowhere than where we lived. Finally we climbed a steep, dusty hill and found a few scraggly mountain junipers crouched between rocks. Luke was thrilled!

Luke examined each tree critically, scrambling over rocks and climbing up steep ledges to view each tree from every angle. Then he picked his favorite and cut it down. We bounced back home over rocks and through dry washes and carried the little tree into our mobile home.

The tree trunk was as twisted as egg beaters and the branches not much better. It was difficult to keep the tree in the stand because no matter which way it was turned – it over balanced and fell. Finally, I managed to wrap towels around the trunk tightly enough to make it stand and Luke joyously dragged out decorations and glorified the juniper with lights, bulbs, and handmade decorations.

I fought back laughter every time I looked at that scraggly tree weighted down with twinkling lights and colorful decorations. It reminded me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

Enter Missing Dad who had hardly seen Luke after his fourth birthday and who had never sent a penny of child support. MD immediately declared the little tree was the ugliest thing he had ever seen and berated me for not having bought a real Christmas tree for my son. Luke left the room in tears and MD stomped out the door and drove off – forever, I hoped. Sometimes things are not forever. MD was soon back with a large store-bought, pre-decorated Christmas tree. He moved Luke’s tree into the corner and installed the “real” Christmas tree in its place. Then he berated Luke for not being excited about the purchase and for insisting that he liked his Charlie Brown tree better.

Fortunately, MD did not stay in our lives long. He never had. Still criticizing us for keeping Luke’s tree in the house when we had a “real” tree, and still criticizing me for not having purchased gifts to put under the store-bought tree (even after I explained I couldn’t afford to buy anything), he drove away. We watched him until he was out of sight and shared a sigh of relief.

Eyes sparkling, Luke turned to me, “Mom,” he said. “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but now that he’s gone, can we have the real tree back? Please, Mom.”

So we stuck store-bought tree out back and hung popcorn strings on it for the birds. We put Luke’s “real” tree back in its place of honor in our home.

Love, not money, makes things real. Luke loved his “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.


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