This is for all the returning troops and their families … and for those yet to come home. Wishing all a peaceful holiday season!
A week before Christmas 1969 and we still did not have a tree. In our house, Christmas was never a lavish affair, but our tree usually went up a few days after Thanksgiving and stayed well past the new year.
That year though, my parents were told neither of their eldest sons would be home for Christmas, due to their military service. As proud as they were of their ‘boys’ and as much as they believed in what they fought for, both were worn down with the war as reported by Walter Cronkite. I was twelve at the time and able to understand their tension … but being twelve, I also wanted the house to exude holiday cheer.
Finally, two days before Christmas, my brother Joey and I decided to take matters into our own hands. Typically, the family would go down to the local fire station and purchase a pre-cut tree. Since Joey and I had no money to pay for one and no car to get there, we climbed into the attic and took down the old Evergleam.
It stood about six feet tall and consisted of shiny silver arms inserted into a tall straight middle, along with a rotating color wheel, lit from behind by a single light bulb, creating a spotlight to illuminate the tree – red, then green, then blue.
Our ornaments filled a shoebox – cracked, chipped bulbs and homemade toilet paper drums that Joey and I hung with uncharacteristic care. We were quiet as we worked, wanting this to be a surprise for our parents, hoping it would lift their spirits along with the weight they carried. Joey and I had no gifts to put under the tree, but when we finished, we felt good.
I do not remember where my parents were while we decorated, but when we called them into the room, we knew the plan had not worked. My mother burst into tears (something we seldom witnessed), while my father blustered for a minute or two and then said, “That’s real nice” before walking away, hands in pockets.
Again, we were both old enough to feel their sadness and fear, along with our own, but I also remember feeling hurt. We were proud of our selfless act (not exactly selfless when you’re hoping for a new sled) and just wanted things to go back to the way they used to be, before our brothers became soldiers. We wanted them to come home too.
Years later, Joey and I talked about that Christmas. Being older, he knew a lot more about what was going on beneath the surface of our family at the time. He understood why Mom and Dad were too overwhelmed to care about a tree. He didn’t really care either, but helped decorate because it meant so much to me and our younger brother, Chris. After hugging him for that admission, he added – “Besides, where would they put my new BB Gun, if there hadn’t been a tree?”