I bought a Christmas tree a few weeks ago from a Russian man who was selling them outside the CVS on 31st Street.
This is how we do it in New York City. We buy a tree off a dude on the street corner. We hand over $35 and $10 more for a plastic tree stand and we lug it home and put it in our living rooms and we think GEE ISN’T NATURE GREAT?
Anyway. I’ve never had my own Christmas tree before. Every year I would mention to The Roommate that we sure could use some Christmas cheer ’round these parts! but then we’d get busy drinking eggnog and baking cookies and the days would pass and by the time I was finally like OKAY I AM READY TO DO THIS, it was like, February 12th.
So, it was a big deal, me getting a Christmas tree. It’s a small one, about four feet tall, but he’s all lit up with environmentally friendly LED lights that will save me 90% on my electric bill according to the packaging. He’s decked out in silver and blue ornaments, or balls, as we call them in my apartment. As in, “I like that glittery ball!” and “I can’t believe you bought so many blue balls!”
He’s cute, that tree.
We had to rearrange our furniture to accommodate him so now there’s an armchair of sorts right next to the tree and you can sit there smelling the pine while
playing Angry Birds on your phone reading your Charles Dickens. It’s cozy. It’s homey.
While sitting there a few nights ago, I was reminded of the time, back in the days of yore, when my parents would take us to a Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree. I’m sure I can write about some fuzzy glowing warm memory of getting the tree and hauling it through the big double doors in our den, how it would sway back and forth nearly crashing into everything and how my dad would fight with the tree stand while my mother looked on from the kitchen pointing out exactly how crooked it was and my God, does she have to do EVERYTHING around here!?
That was not the memory that came to mind.
What came to mind was the time we were driving down 25A to find a Christmas tree and my mom pulled our minivan over to the side of the road to pick up a hitchhiker. Um. As you do. With four tiny children in your car.
And see, okay. This is the kind of crap my mother does all the time. She is picking up hitchhikers and asking them where they’re going and HEY MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU CAN SQUEEZE IN BESIDE LAURA and I’m thinking eek, he kind of smells a little and I’ve never seen a beard quite like that and my parents are not at all concerned that at any moment he could whip out a pocketknife and slit my throat. Because it’s CHRISTMAS. And the man NEEDS A RIDE.
I don’t remember where we dropped him off. I have no idea where he was going to. I just vividly remember my mom chatting gaily as she drove our minivan down the street.
“We’re going to get a Christmas tree!” she remarked.
“COLD OUT THERE, HUH?” asked my dad, just making conversation.
“Yeah, man. ‘Preciate it,” said The Hitchhiker.
And I feel like all four of us in the back of the minivan should’ve been used to the craziness of my parents by now but instead we were just shocked because dude, you just picked up a HITCHHIKER and I’m only 9 but like WHAT THE FUCK?
But alls well that ends well or something, you know?
The hitchhiker went on his merry way courtesy of the Dlug Family Christmas Mobile and we picked out a tree and then went to an Italian restaurant and I ate about seven hundred garlic knots. We went home and put it in the tree stand and it was crooked and my mom yelled about that until we fixed it and then I carefully chose my very favorite ornament (which is blue, incidentally, with gold glitter) and hooked it on a rather nice looking branch and I caught the reflection of myself in it and smiled, said CHEEEESE.
So, I thought of this recently while sitting in my armchair
checking Twitter knitting an afghan. I thought of how my mom is one of those Christians who actually does nice, charitable things on a regular basis. She doesn’t seem to hesitate. Ever. A hitchhiker needs a ride? She pulls over. Someone’s in the hospital? She’s in her car with flowers. Someone had a baby? She cooks them dinner and drops it by.
My mother is constant motion. Always on the go. Whirling around in her own Rita tornado of I GOT IT! and I’M RUNNING OUT THE DOOR! and SO AND SO NEEDS MY HELP! She always has a joke, she always has a story, she always has someone on her mind other than herself.
That is Christmas to me.
That is love to me.
So I put up a tree in my living room with blue balls and white lights and when I look at it, I think of my mom.
I’m on my own now, in my dark quiet apartment, miles away from where she is. But I’m easily transported through years of memories to that evening in the back of our minivan. My mom is driving and talking happily and my brothers and sister and I are bundled up in hats and mittens and we are sitting beside a hitchhiker who doesn’t have a family of his own, who’s trying to go somewhere but can’t afford the trip.
How lucky am I, to always have a place to go and the means to get there. And when I arrive, how lucky it is to have a woman waiting for me with outstretched arms, her face lit up at the sight of me. Who always looks delighted, who pulls me in close for a hug, who teaches me how to love again and again and again.