The Early 1950′s
Nana has no idea she is relaxing under the glow of a stolen Christmas tree. Neither will her daughter. It won’t be until the late 1960′s that Poppy will begin bringing accomplices along during his Yuletide crime sprees.
December 18, 2014
It may be shedding. It could be a bit dry. It’s definitely a tad bit reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s holiday foliage but my Christmas tree is up and semi-running. And you can actually see the twinkling of lights from behind the shrinking rows of packing boxes. In the twenty-five years that I have been someone’s mother, I have never missed having a Christmas tree in the house. It’s my job. Just as it was my mother’s. All parents want to make whatever holiday they celebrate special for their kids, certainly, but we single parents? It’s a different ball game for us – because if we don’t do it – no one else will.
The Late 1960′s
“Lissen tah me, kid! You just go up to the guy, see? Right up in the front. And say, ‘Have you seen my grandmother?’”
I’m shivering in four layers of heavy layered clothing that Nana insists winterizes” us. The scratchy wool scarf is wrapped around my head is a smothering mummy’s bandage and is caught in my bottom eyelashes.
“But Poppy, we told Nana we were going to BUY a Christmas tree…”
My grandfather waves me off with a smelly cigar waft. Even between the wind, the snow and the muffle of the mummy’s wrap, I am sure that while he can’t really hear me, he knows what I am whining about.
“Ya, no. Ya grandmother’s so cheap all she gimme was ten bucks. What the hell kinda Christmas tree can ya get for ten bucks?”
He leans in close. “Santy Claus ain’t gonna come if he knows your Nana is so goddamn cheap! That ain’t Catholic charity, shortin’ me on my Christmas fund! He’ll punish us all!”
I know for a fact Nana gave him twenty dollars and half of that went to the Blue Plate Special that my grandmother – had she known – would have yelled, “Why do you have to eat at a diner when I’m cooking?” But she would have gotten the frying pan out if she chipped a level deeper into that lie because the Blue Plate Special – in reality – involved no food and was just theDraft Beer Special.
“She tells me that in the olden days her father used to go out to the woods and cut down a fresh tree!” Poppy fumed. “If that ain’t stealin’, I don’t know what is! Tree mindin’ its own business out in the woods and BAM! Some stingy old Irish guy comes along and gives it a whack! These here trees…” He jerks a thumb toward the gas station tree lot. “These trees are already cut down! If no one takes them, they’ll end up in some rich peoples’ fireplace.”
He bent down to eye level and looked me straight in the eye.
“Jesus and Santy Claus do not like that at all. Don’t waste nothing. That’s why Jesus made a forest out of one Hanukkah bush he got from Moses so the Jews had some shade when they were eating all that fish and boozing it up on wine water. That’s what it says in The Bible!”
Even I knew that Santa Claus had penned no biblical chapters and Jesus wasn’t in the tree business but I kept my mouth full of wool shut and nodded. I would not risk the repudiation by Kris Kringle should he be offended by my budget-conscious grandmother.
“Go on! Go!” He shoves me toward the tree lot and turns to stealth around to the back fence.
“Geez! It’s hot as crotch in here,” I grumble to my accomplice who shall remain nameless. I think you can figure it out if you are a regular reader of this blog. We are crouched behind a tree lot of Biscayne Boulevard. We are hiding in a bush full of lizards.
Christmas trees are topping a hundred dollars this year and the Eve of Santa is dangerously close. The last twelve months have been work-lean and we stayed afloat by joining the rap video boon in Miami. For six months we worked steadily and stashed our cash in cereal boxes and coffee cans. We were not only the only Caucasian producing team welcomed into the area – we were the only women.
Whenever you think something will never end – it screeches to a halt so fast you pitch forward. With the record label wars exploding from coast to coast, Miami’s burgeoning rise could not avoid disaster. Our client, a handsome gentle young man who dressed impeccably and spoke like a Harvard grad was found early one morning in his Mercedes, his throat slashed. There was no more work that year because we didn’t have the stomach to begin again with a new label.
“Will you shut up?” she hisses.
I roll my eyes. “It’s always the same with you. We have to go everywhere two hours early.”
She cuts her eyes at me. “I like to be prompt.”
“Yeah, ok on that but if you’re stealing a Christmas tree, I say the later the better.”
“It’s NOT stealing!” She points the wire clippers at me for emphasis.
At the back of the lot is a pile of trees bound with fishing wire. These are nestled under a soaking wet tarp. At a hundred bucks and above a throw, I do agree the pile will never dissipate.
“They’re just going to a landfill,” my friend hisses. “And we’ve got KIDS!”
We’ve got kids. Our mantra. Single mothers with kids. It served us well as we made our way into the rap world. We didn’t allow alcohol or weed on the set. We’ve got kids, after all. And – much to the vast amusement of our clients – we refused to within earshot of the use of the “N” word unless it was included in the performance. We’ve got kids.
One sunny afternoon we sat poolside, chatting with the elderly grandmother of one of the artists as bikini babes rehearsed. “No one says that word in my house either,” she told us. “They don’t know what it means,” she pointed toward her grandson and his band goofing around.
How times have changed, even since the 90′s.
From my vantage point in the bush, I see the tree guy snap his blinking lights off and head toward his car.
Snip. Snip. Snip. We wriggle through the fence and into the darkened tent that houses the trees.
She begins to paw through the pile and I don’t object. If you’re going to steal a couple of trees in the name of Christmas joy, you may as well be picky. We drag two off the top and sneak back to the hole in the fence.
Just as a dog begins to bark.
The Late 1960′s
“Have you seen my grandmother?” I ask the gas station attendant innocently.
“What’s she look like?” He is immediately suspicious.
Poppy is rustling around the trees behind us like a bear banging into garbage cans at the park. Uh oh. I do what I still do best. Talk.
“She’s old and she’s a lady but she’s not really an old lady. Now my Yaya, she’s an old lady. Both my Yayas are old ladies. Then Aunt Sissy, she’s not so old either…”
Poppy slips on some ice and plops onto the ground. The attendant turns and peers into the rows of trees. Poppy ducks.
I keep it up. “My mom is not old at all.”
The guy turns back to me. “Well, how old is she?”
I must be around seven so I do the math in my head. And not very well. I shrug.
“WHAT? Your mom is twenty?”
I see my grandfather wrestling a huge fir along the back fence. He heaves it over and climbs after it. In a flash he is hanging by his jacket a foot above the snow.
“JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH!” Poppy yells as he struggles to free himself.
The gas station guy whirls again and stares. “EDDIE HART! Is that you AGAIN? MY DAD IS GONNA BE PISSED! Every year it’s the same thin! Why can’t you just BUY a tree?”
Apparently, this is a yearly tradition. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford to buy a Christmas tree, it was just that…well, I really don’t know what it was but that is the way it was.
My grandfather shoves his snow boots against the fence and falls back into a pile of snow. ”GO KID! RUN!”
An hour later Nana sits smugly by the fireplace, convinced she knows how to budget for Christmas.
It’s a classic Christmas cliché, I know. But there’s a dog. A big dog. A big drooling dog. He’s not barreling toward us, jaws bared. He’s ambling happily along, snorting, drooling, farting and barking. He appears to be looking for company.
“Go! Go!” My friend shoves the first tree through the hole, bending under the fence. The dog shoves his snout up against her butt, sniffing a lusty greeting. The smell of the gaseous cloud following him is gagging me. She pushes the tree through, the dog following her hind end.
“Gimme the tree! Gimme the tree!” She’s gesturing but I am gagging. The dog feels my distress and farts in my direction. He begins to bark furiously as it appears I have offended him.
We do make it through the fence with the trees and without the dog. But not without a small amount of my vomit splashed across our shoes. It doesn’t really matter.
After all, we’re used to it. We’ve got kids.
December 18, 2014
My mother always made Christmas special, even when she was a single parent and strapped for cash. While Poppy was out fleecing the local gas station guy, Mom was counting change from a glass jar for ours. The trees had themes from little glass snowmen to ornaments truly made from popcorn and candy canes. Her flair remains unsurpassed by any window dresser at Macy’s.
I’m not my mother, I’m probably more of a Charlie Brown decorator.
I’m no longer my grandfather as I have been paying for my trees for years. Maybe it’s not as thrilling, but yeah – I am still someone’s mother and Christmas in jail is going to really make the holidays suck.
So if you’re feeling low, there’s still time!
Go out and get yourself a tree. Real or fake, white or green, tinsel or plastic. (Or open the FedEx tomorrow, Rosie Bernhard. I just couldn’t help myself).
Go on…go get your Christmas on.
I guarantee you’ll start humming “Jingle Bells.”
What the hell. It’s the holidays!
Whether you like it or not.