After I moved into my dream house a dozen Christmases ago, I rushed to the tree lot by the old non-denominational church and I bought the tallest, thickest and most beautiful tree I could wrestle away from the throngs of merrymakers trying to beat one another to the perfect tree.
I paid to have the tree delivered and installed in my living room by the French doors I had added after earning extra money translating a book, and I handsomely tipped the two young men who did the work. Those cathedral ceilings never looked better than when my youngest daughter, the tallest, climbed on a ladder and propped an oversized, red-clad angel on that tree.
Those were the days, as we say in Spanish, “ de las vacas gordas,” days of plenty, prosperity, abundance.
Life was good.
Perhaps I should say life seemed good.
Or I should say that I was trying desperately to make it good by following a script — work hard, live large — and I surrounded myself with beautiful things. We all did it, didn’t we? It was part of the equation, of the deal we made with ourselves and our families back then.
But idyllic settings are seldom permanent, nor as pristine as they seem superficially. I didn’t need to wait for the boom and bust of the real estate market, for the onslaught of lay-offs and furloughs, for the uncertainty that would become the “new normal,” to learn that often times you already have what you need.
That Christmas Eve, when the rest of the family was about to arrive for the most joyous of our celebrations , Nochebuena, when I couldn’t wait to show off our tall tree bursting with presents , my daughters and I discovered a terrible stench coming from the tree.
Our dog Azabache had marked his territory around the tree and on the mounds of presents underneath it, over and over. Most of the presents were wet and the tree skirt was soaked with the accumulated urine of days.
We had been too busy with shopping, decorating, and party planning to notice how he had considered this tree an intrusion on his world, or perhaps simply an invitation to transplant his business to the inside of the house.
And that was the end of the perfect Christmas tree.
After the mad rush to clean up and re-wrap presents came the vow to never, ever, get a real tree again.
Good thing I kept the old townhouse tree in the garage.
A little disheveled and with less fake green fir on the branches and more falling into the box where I had stuffed it back after each Christmas all those years, the tree was perfect for a busy woman building a writing career and raising three girls born 2½ years apart.
But still a sturdy tree.
It’s a good, reliable tree to have in a recession.
If you work hard and long enough extending the branches, if you decorate it with heart, history and imagination — and I always did, always do — the beauty of Christmas reveals itself and catches every believer’s attention.