Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Black Christmas

(Black Christmas tree from

Sometimes I despise this season. The unrelenting stress wears me down. I'm irritable and it doesn't take much to make my temper flare.

It was a few days before Christmas. I worked outside and in the garage most of the day. When evening finally arrived, I was cold and tired. I pulled off my boots and gratefully sank back across the bed, thankful for the warmth and a bit of relaxation.

Mary walked in and announced that I had to pick up a Christmas tree at WalMart. Instantly, my mind was black with anger, but I'm still a dutiful husband. I pulled my boots on, bundled up against the cold and wind, and set off for Wally World.

I usually deal with anger and stress by going out for a bike ride. But since I've been tiling the floors this fall, my knees are hurting almost constantly. Riding only aggravates it, so I've avoided riding my bike. I'm avoiding stairs for the same reason. Going without regular exercise adds to the stress and causes depression. Regardless, I do not want to do permanent damage to my knees.

The drive to Wally World passed quickly. I parked the truck and struggled across the parking lot like Doctor Zhivago on the Russian steppes. The wind went through my clothes, leaving me chilled to the bone despite the heavy winter coat and sweater. I thought hateful things about WalMart, Christmas trees, and marriage as I walked. The thoughts brought little warmth.

There were few trees left. Some were obviously twisted and would be impossible to balance on our stand. Others were scrawny, “Charlie Brown” trees that no one wanted. I found a six footer sitting alone in a corner. The trunk was straight, but several branches were broken. “No matter,” I thought. “We'll just turn that side toward the wall anyway.” I took the tag from the tree and went inside to pay for it, annoyed at the idea of exposing my hands to the cold while I tied it onto the truck.

I joined the line snaking toward the checkout. Just ahead of me stood a young mother with a baby in her cart's child seat and two more small children maybe 4 or 5 years old. Like me, Mom seemed stressed out and harried, but then she turned from the clerk, looked at her kids and smiled. The two older ones were dancing and singing about Christmas and Santa Claus, making up the words as they went. The baby watched from the cart, then looked toward me with a huge toothless grin.

Who can stay angry when confronted with a smiling baby? My anger blew away on the warmth of that smile, and I smiled in return. The other kids capered and sang about Santa, happily excited at the upcoming holiday. The baby's eyes twinkled.

Moments later, I was in the parking lot lashing the tree down. Sure, it was still cold and the wind was fierce, but that was all on the outside. Inside, I was warm and happy.

Merry Christmas.



Blogger Yokota Fritz said...

Merry Christmas to you too, Ed. We went to a "chop your own tree down" place in the hills just five miles from home. First time we ever did that and it was a blast.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Thank you, Fritz. We have a chop-your-own-tree place just north of town and I like to get a tree from them. It's a small way of fighting suburban sprawl. But it always saddens me to kill a living thing for use as a temporary decoration. Mary says we'll buy an artificial tree after Christmas. Then I'll whine about finding storage space for it! On the other hand, maybe I can get an aluminum tree (if that's still possible) and use it for a receiving antenna on my amateur radio equipment. I know she'd be thrilled.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Jamie Fellrath said...

Merry Post-Christmas, Ed! This is a great story... thanks for sharing it with us. I'm fortunate in that I have that smiling baby waiting to see me every morning and then falling asleep in my lap at night. It really does make the day better!

9:45 AM  
Blogger A Midnight Rider said...

I can surely relate to getting the tree. Every year I get frustrated trying to get the dam thing down from the attic. This year, in the cellar it goes.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

My babies are 18 and 20 now, and I'll admit that they still have the capacity to make me grin, even if it's only after one turns down his stereo or the other arrives home early from a night out with friends.

Infants are entirely within the moment. Whatever they're doing is the most important thing in their lives at that very minute, and they give it their full attention. I think that's why a smiling baby is so captivating.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Coelecanth said...


I wrote this about a six months ago:

The wonder that radiates from babies is not all encompassing; it's strictly line-of-sight. It's not all powerful; those who can only see the banality of humanity, and I've got to admit that 6.6+ billion is pretty banal, are completely unaffected. But for everyone else it's magical. Strangers on public transit smile, they let their commuter guard down and pull silly faces. It's not just little girls and women, I've seen teenage boys and crusty old curmudgeons transform.

This effect is already diminishing. She's only 10 months old and is starting to look like a little girl rather than an infant. I suppose it's inevitable, it's happened to all of us.

The wonder that is life, the incredible gob-smacking unlikeliness of it is most evident in babies, pouring out of them in an invisible nimbus. As they get older it pulls in, one has to move closer and closer to feel its heat. Little babies grow larger too, filling up the space where once we stood and basked.

We're surrounded by adults, faceless masses, utterly banal, but they were all radiant babies once and the wonder is still there somewhere.

Have you seen it?

7:23 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Lovely! Thank you, Fossil Fish.

10:12 PM  

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