When I was a child, my dad, uncles and grandpa had a tradition where they all got together and got real Christmas trees. They cut the trees down on land my grandfather inherited. Dad always picked out big trees, ones that had to have half cut off to fit in the house, some that had to be tied to stay standing, and those that took up a big part of our living room. To this day the ritual continues. Except now my husband and Dad go, the trees are smaller, and they pick them from a farm that already has the evergreens cut.
My dad made putting up real trees look easy. He stuck them in the stand, he, screwed them in, and they stood up straight. We covered them with decorations, and they looked perfect. To this day my parents’ trees still stands perfectly. Lou and I aren’t so lucky. We kind of struggle with the tree in the stand thing. For many years it was because the metal stand, we had was lopsided. We had to put a book under one leg and still our tree leaned to one side. It became our tradition.
This summer I bought a new stand at a flea market for fifty cents. When my husband and I brought our Christmas tree home at the beginning of December, I was excited. I was determined to start a tradition of having a straight tree. This year we were going to break the crooked tree tradition, I just knew it.
A few days before we got the tree the doctor said I could gradually do normal activity. I could bend, twist, and reach once again. I was happy I could decorate the tree and help Lou put it up. The day we brought our evergreen home Lou put it on the stand. I got on my stomach and twisted the screws into the trunk. Lou helped me to my feet, and we admired our straight tree.
Lou went to bed early since he had to work in the morning, and I decided to start some decorating. I hung the lights and then I started to put on my husband’s delicate Steelers ornaments. Then, timber! The tree started to fall over. I grabbed a hold of it before it could go all the way down. I was in a debacle. I tried to balance the tree so my husband’s ornaments wouldn’t crash to the floor. I’d be dead if his Steelers bulbs broke, but I needed to stabilize the tree. How could I do that with one hand?
I yelled from the top of my lungs, “Lou, Lou, help, help!”
Lou came running down the stairs. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, but the tree is falling,” I said.
He held the evergreen while I tried to tighten the screws. After a few tries we got it to stand, but it was slightly crooked. I was tired and decided I would finish decorating the next evening. Maybe I’d have more luck once I got some rest. It takes time to get your energy and strength back after surgery.
The next day Lou brought the plastic container with the rest of my ornaments down. When he had gone to bed I went fast to work at decorating. The tree was looking nice and I was happy even though it was slightly slanted. Then once again, timber! The tree began to fall. I grabbed it in time. A few decorations fell off and I was lucky enough to catch a glass Steelers bulb. Man, I could have been buried in the backyard weeks before Christmas. The headlines would’ve read, “Wife killed and buried after breaking a precious Steelers ornament.”
Once again, I screamed for my husband. He came running again. He repositioned the tree and I tightened and loosened the screws several times, but each time he let go, the tree started to fall. After Lou’s hand went numb, we finally got it to stand. The only problem was it was leaning to the left a lot. The angel on top looked like she was going to jump for dear life.
Lou said, “Well at least it’s standing.”
My dreams of a new tradition shattered. Frustration, exhaustion, and anger flared. Lou ducked as a small stuffed teddy bear ornament went flying and just missed his head. The tree was even more crooked than usual. I stomped over to the couch and flung around empty and partially full boxes of ornaments. Tears streamed down my face.
Lou walked over to me and pulled me into his arms. “Calm down baby. You’re overdoing it. Just leave the tree alone.” He wiped my tears away. “At least we are keeping the tradition of having a crooked tree.”
So, the crooked tree tradition continued. I sat down and stared at our very slanted tree and thought about all we faced this year: Lou laid off because of COVID, pain shooting down my legs as I forced a smile at work, having to take an early leave of absence two months before surgery, surgery and a rough recovery. My crooked back from scoliosis caused a broken bone, a year slanted with politics, and a deadly virus only revealed an imperfect world. The only thing that can stand our world and my life up straight again is God.
If I only have a crooked tree on a perfect holiday that celebrates the wonderful birth of our savior, I’m doing well. God loves us with all our imperfections. He loved us so much that he gave us his son, a child to grow up and die so we could be forgiven for our sins and loved no matter how many mistakes we make. Like my crooked tree, we are not without flaws, but God loves us as we are. We need to love ourselves, too, with all our imperfect ways.
I think next year we will have a crooked tree to keep the tradition alive and to remind us how much God loves us no matter what. My slanted tradition keeps me standing in God’s everlasting light.