Several years ago, at the suggestion of Seth and Julie, our family started a new Christmas tradition. Each year, one of us is to write a memorable family story to share. Seth wrote chapter one which recited the tale of a Mason jar filled with a very special gaseous gift given by Pete to Andy. The details are not PG rated but as the story was read by Seth to the family, tears of laughter rolled down our cheeks.
I have not received permission from Seth to post his story. As he now teaches English to high school students in Asheville, NC, he has a reputation to protect. However, I have rewritten chapter 2 of our Christmas Family Journal as an early Christmas gift to my family and friends. With great love and affection, I present,
The Flying Christmas Tree
Ordinarily, the Rowe household at Christmas was full of cheer, fun, gift giving, churchgoing, and Santa. However, there was a year when Santa was cranky.
At the time of this misadventure, four of our five children had been born. Nate, Andy, Pete, and Ginny were at an age when Santa’s presents under the tree were sleeplessly anticipated. Lauri was also often sleepless at Christmas time for reasons only mothers can fully appreciate.
No matter the season or circumstance, when Lauri was home alone with the kids, I was completely confident they would be safe and loved. And when Lauri and I were both home with the family, an energetic but safe order existed. When she was not there, the ever present possibility of chaos breaking into uncontrollable disaster became a near certainty.
Our first family home was on Hayhurst Avenue in Worthington. As our family grew, the house shrunk. Lauri and I agreed that more space to raise our family was essential. The remodeling doubled the size of the family room and kitchen and added a pantry to hold the food for our large clan. We also built a mud room with lockers and a shower. We convinced ourselves that the kids needed a downstairs shower when coming inside from a muddy or snowy outdoors adventure. As often happens, the mud room idea had more promise than benefit.
The potential for chaos when the kids were “in charge” of me most often turned into a harsh reality when their mom was at the grocery. I often wondered why her “milk runs” took so long, until I realized years later that Kroger represented Lauri’s only opportunity for peace and quiet and possible adult conversation.
On this December evening, supper had been completed and I was happily doing dishes in our brand new kitchen. Christmas carols played in the background. Lauri had a tired look of relief on her pretty face as she headed out the door of the mud room to “pick up some groceries”. “Hurry back, honey!” I encouraged her as a sense of dread drifted into my gut.
The kids were in charge! And they were excited!! The Christmas tree had been decorated and stood tall and proud on the brand new carpet of our remodeled family room.
As was the tradition of my parents, once the tree had been precariously placed in the stand, I had added pancake syrup to the Christmas tree holder. Without hesitation or doubt, I insisted that my family would put into practice my parents’ heart felt understanding that a freshly cut Christmas tree would absorb pancake syrup thereby replacing leaking pine sap.
The goal – keeping the tree fresh longer. I am still unclear where the pine sap went but I needed no scientific evidence to affirm the unassailable validity of the Rowe reality that syrup was better than water.
As Lauri headed out the door, I was in the kitchen finishing the last of the dishes. The kids were playing loudly and cheerfully in the family room. The sounds seemed to be coming from an area near our beautiful Christmas tree.
By that time, our kids had provided Lauri and I enough on-the-job-training for us to know that when the kids became deathly silent there was only one thing to do – WORRY!!!
Suddenly the silence was deafening. I yelled out from the kitchen “Kids where are you?”
“Kids, I mean it where are you – what’s going on?”
With great dread, I walked into the newly carpeted family room. Glancing to my right, I was shocked to see the 7 foot Christmas tree on its side. Ornaments were everywhere. The Christmas lights still twinkled as the maple syrup slowly dripped into a 2 foot circle of sticky mess on the brand new carpet.
I am not typically a man who loses his temper or yells. When upset, my actions demonstrate the degree of my anger. Saying nothing as my face began to feel white hot, I surveyed the room. No children. The culprits had escaped.
I slowly walked into the kitchen and opened the newly constructed French doors leading to the deck. Returning quickly to the family room, I called upon my adrenaline assisted strength and grabbed the stricken tree. As I lifted, light cords ripped out of the wall socket. With tree overhead and ornaments jingling, I briskly walked past the pantry and towards the open French doors. Upon arrival, I launched the Yule tide treasure onto the empty snow covered deck.
I firmly closed the doors and returned to the kitchen. The kids were silent and hidden. I sat alone, also silent. Until Lauri returned, that part of the evening was truly a Silent, Unholy Night.
Shortly, she entered through the back kitchen door with grocery bags under her arms. She anxiously asked: “How did things go?” She was wise enough to know that “things” did not always go well.
“Fine”, I replied with an edge.
She then walked into the family room. In a remarkably calm voice she asked, “What happened to the Christmas tree?”
“It is on the back deck”.
She walked to the back porch and observed the sad sight of a fallen tree. She said nothing. I mean what could a wife say to make that mess any better?
The next morning, nothing was said about the tree. The kids and I avoided direct eye contact. I went off to work as if nothing had happened. When I returned home that evening, the tree was standing tall and proud in the family room. The syrup stain had miraculously disappeared. Lauri had wrestled the tree from the back porch, redecorated it, and like a guardian angel replaced the tense air in our home with a spirit of the joyful expectancy of Christmas.
As she has always has and continues to do, Lauri created the secure sense that her family would be ok.
Since that night, maple syrup has been replaced by water in our Christmas tree stand.
As often happens with memorable tales, the flying Christmas tree story added a chapter that spring. As Lauri began to prepare the garden around the deck for spring planting, she discovered several Christmas ornaments -some broken -some not- under the deck.
My children are now raising children of their own. In fact, this Christmas of 2014 will see 4 grandchildren gathering round our solidly standing tree. And so I offer them this parenting advice learned from the flying Christmas tree: Never wish your kids would be quiet when their joyful or not so joyful childish banter or screaming is driving you up the wall. For if silence greets you as a parent and it happens around Christmas, you may discover a cranky Santa in you!