Growing up we always had a fake tree. My dad’s allergies and our yearly trip ‘up north’ to Pennsylvania meant artificial fakness and plastic branches.
Most of my friends had real trees and they seemed so magical! I pined for one (no pun intended). The scent, the view, the needles – I wanted a chance to experience the beauty first-hand.
The year I turned 19, my first Christmas in my parents newly built home and not in my childhood digs, my last living grandparent passed away a couple months before the holiday. My mom handled it the best she could and with strength I always admired. That year we would not make the annual trek to see the relatives, but my mom and dad drove up to settle her estate. I remember they left the week my winter break began. I was 18, home alone, with seemingly nothing to do. You can practically see my teenage dreams coming true before my eyes. My parents left me eighty dollars in cash in case of an emergency while they were gone. Looking back, eighty dollars will buy you a lot of beer but probably would not get me out of true trouble. I guess that’s how much they trusted me.
My parents were scheduled to come back on Christmas Eve. In their haste to wrap up the grieving process, there was no time to decorate the house before they left. So I took those four twenty dollar bills and set off to a tree stand on the side of the road in central Florida. We had orange groves a plenty, but no tree farms. My boyfriend at the time and I picked out the best tree my extra cash could buy, and set it up in the middle of my parents’ home. Just the process of buying the real tree, getting it home on the roof of the car, into the house, and on a tree stand proved to me why we stuck with the fake tree. But we decorated it, sometimes watered it, and admired it. I put up more decorations and felt pretty good about myself. There might have been a small gathering of people over later, too, but I promise we were safe.
My mom’s face was priceless when she got home, probably a mix of shock, horror, and appreciation. They never got another real tree for the holidays, but I know that one year we had the real tree will always stick with us all for our own reasons.
Note: this is a picture of my parents fake tree, the one the lights and ornaments stay on all year long, the one they shove into a giant closet in the garage and pull out every year. It may not be real, but hey – it sure is pretty. See also: this post needed a picture at the end of it.