Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Perfect Tree

     When I was growing up, I always thought our Christmas tree was beautiful.  Twinkling colored lights, red velvet bows, a serene, holy angel gracing the highest peak - it was the epitome of Christmas wonder.  There was just one problem.

     Our ornaments were dumb.

     I dreaded having people admire our tree because I knew they would inevitably move in for a closer look.  Mom would proudly answer questions and show off her most special mementos.  As I cringed in the corner, Mom would exclaim, “Now this one is so sweet.  Bertha cut a lopsided little circle out of a cereal box and then wrapped some yarn scraps around it to make a wreath.  Isn’t it adorable?  She used one of her hair ribbons as the bow!  I just love it.”  I grimaced with every re-telling. 

      This went on for years.  Slowly, Moose, Wolverine, and I all moved away but the Christmas tree has remained unchanged, frozen in time.  I never understood how on earth Mom could become so attached to my efforts with cardboard and aluminum foil, which ended up looking more like the ruins of Sputnik than the Star of Bethlehem.  It, and countless other atrocities of elementary art class, seemed to be the highlight of her Christmas decoration bin.  Could she not see how horrible they looked?  How their garish colors and sloppy splotches of streaky glitter paint clashed with, well, everything?  It was just pitiful. 

      As I started my own household, I made a point to collect the most beautiful, the most heartwarming ornaments the store or my craft stock could produce.  Mine would be a tree of unparalleled perfection.  My friends, my family members, my children would marvel at this gleaming, sparkling tribute to the glory of Christmas, and no “ruins of Sputnik” would ever spoil the view. 

      Until Buttercup started preschool. 

      She has always been very small for her age, thanks to her birth status as a micro-preemie, so my heart is very protective of my precious, petite, steel magnolia.  As she bounced in from preschool at four years old, her eyes shining and her size 24-months dress emphasizing her tiny frame, she proudly handed me a wreath she had made. It was a paper plate (yes, the cheap picnic variety) that had been relieved of its middle, sponge painted a streaky green, and decorated with construction paper “holly” leaves and berries.  A bit of yarn at the top served as a hanger and a dash of glitter haphazardly sprinkled in two small spots served as a decorator’s flourish.  It was gaudy.  It was streaky.  It was just the kind of thing I had criticized my mother for loving. 

     It was the most beautiful wreath I had ever seen.

     Over the years, my tree has slowly given way to the crafty creations of a petite steel magnolia with a flair for all things artsy.  I no longer scour stores for the most beautiful, the most heartwarming ornaments, and I suddenly understand my mother’s tree and the dumb ornaments she treasures.  Where I see the ruins of Sputnik, she sees a 5 year old mini-Bertha hiding behind her bed in secret, working at a furious pace with blunt-tip scissors and library paste to finish a gift for her mother.  Where I see a crooked, butchered cereal box covered in stupid yarn scraps, she sees a treasured hair ribbon, sacrificed for a wreath no catalog could ever match.  She sees living memories of her children, now grown with homes of their own.  She still feels the love, the pride, the immense effort of unskilled, clumsy hands trying so hard to create beauty.  I think of Buttercup and how she’ll react to the paper plate wreath when she gets older.  “Oh, Mom,” she’ll sigh, rolling her eyes, “That stupid wreath is so tacky.  Let me buy you a real one.”  I gasp at the horror of my own daydream.

      If she so much as touches my paper plate wreath …

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

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