“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.”
I won’t, though, and it sucks. I’ll be in Washington, DC. It’s a great place, but none of my family will be there. We’ve been traveling around so much that I haven’t been able to decorate, or bake, or wrap or any of those things that make Christmas feel Christmassy. My AirBnB’s have not had cable, so I’ve missed out on all of the 25 Days of Christmas showings on the Family channel. I haven’t picked out a Christmas tree with my Dad…
Every year for as long as I can remember, my dad and I have gone to the tree lot to pick out the family tree. It has ALWAYS been my job, and I have always taken it very seriously. My dad and I drive to the lot and begin the search just after dinner. Dark settles in and we walk around, sizing the arbors up. Either a Scotch Pine or a Fraser Fir. Shorter needles. Darker greens. More fragrant. Lots of sap. Sticky hands. My Dad puts on a glove and stands the trees up as they lean against a fence or against each other. I take a step back and give an appraisal.
“Spin it, Dad”.
“Does this bald spot bother you?”, he’ll say.
“What about this one?”.
“Too thin on the bottom.”, Dad replies.
“This one! Look how straight the top is for the star!”.
We drag it to the workers who net it and give us a fresh cut for the stump.
“Got to make sure it can take in water!”, Dad assures. (His most important job is to constantly check the water level in the tree stand.)
Next is the very best part. We tie it to the top of the car and ask the people from the tree farm what their coffee orders are. Hot Chocolate? Cappuccino? We then drive to Tim Hortons to become beverage elves. My dad is heart broken when they don’t require anything, but if they do, we fill the orders and drive the tree home. Dad takes the tree to the back porch and we set up the stand and move the couch to make room. We’ll put on a holiday movie and up the tree goes. Dad does the lights, mom surveys the ornaments going on. We smile at “Baby’s first Christmas” and old candy canes and the hand made ornaments from elementary school.
The same over and over. Few additions. Rare edits and corrections. Still, the same story, since about 1994. Sure, the timing has changed over the years. As I got older I didn’t push for the tree to be purchased on December 1st, like I used to. My little brother and I stopped needing to share a room to distract us on Christmas morning. Mammaw and Pappaw began to call and wake US up during mine and my sibling’s teenage years. Shivener Family Christmas.
Not this year. I’ll have my husband. I’ll have some dear friends that are coming to visit. I will be getting a live tree, finally, though December 19 is far too late for my liking. I will bake cookies. Muppet Christmas Carol will be played on Christmas Eve. But it still isn’t home. Home can’t be captured and replicated. Home is a feeling, a feeling that is burned on my heart and memory. As I pick out my tree I’ll hear Greg Shivener whispering in my ear, “Make sure the trunk is straight on the bottom. It’s got to sit well in the stand”.
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”