I carried the tree over my shoulder through my front door like a returning hero. Yes, there would be Christmas in my house. Yes, I had a tree.
I laid the prickly, still bound and still bailed bundle of branches across the floor in the living room. Then I went into the hall, pulled down the trap door and climbed the rickety ladder into the attic.
I’m always half-certain that this ancient ladder will give way and send me falling backwards, where my half-eaten body will be discovered several weeks later or whenever my son comes out of his room — whichever comes first.
It could go either way,
Carefully, I brought down all the Christmas stuff boxed from last year. There’d been no reason to bring any of it down until now.
While I was spending this month doing a lot of Christmas-related activities, I wasn’t necessarily feeling all that festive. I’d struggled to get a tree. My son, Joel, who abruptly moved to Colorado, had taken some of my Christmas spirit with him (though, he did leave some dishes and some laundry in trade) and I still hadn’t bought any presents or sent a single Christmas card.
I was in a bit of funk, though friends and well-wishers were trying to help. A representative of WTSQ sent Christmas beer and Evan Osborn, the executive director of the Capitol Market, offered me a tree that had been abandoned on the outdoor lot.
The tree seemed like a shot of holiday spirit for me. As I hauled the plastic tote down the ladder, I looked over toward the ratty box holding the perfectly legitimate artificial tree I’d refused to put up and felt something like victory.
That chunk of rusting wire and green plastic represented all kinds of bad and by God, it was going to the curb. Out with the old, in with the new.
I dragged the box into the living room and began to methodically fling out the contents — ornaments, saved gift bags with my name marked out, a scruffy looking Santa hat and a knotted ball of multicolored lights.
Somewhere in the attic, there were four unopened boxes of blue lights, purchased on sale after Christmas and then lost before the end of 2012.
I looked at all the things. I had ornaments. I had lights. I had a tree skirt. What I did not have was a tree stand.
For a second, I wondered if I could somehow rig something with a bucket but remembered being an idiot college student and trying to prop up a Christmas tree with a cinder block. That hadn’t gone so well. I’d taken out a couple of curtain rods and made a mess of the drapes.
It took a while. I managed to locate a tree stand, but it was nearly midnight by the time I got the bottom of the tree recut and the thing mounted upright.
I went to bed with the backs of my hands scratched up and my face sticky with what I hoped was just sap. It didn’t happen immediately, but from there, my holiday mood improved.
In the morning, I strung the lights and hung only the ornaments I cared about. The cheap plastic balls and baubles I’d picked up at K-Mart 10 years ago stayed in the box. I only used the wooden ornaments made by my mother and the handful of decorations given to me by friends and family.
This included a gaudy-looking green and purple skull. Maybe it belonged to an elf. I have no idea.
Then I covered my kitchen table in newspapers and finally unwrapped the cheap wooden ornaments and acrylic paint kits I’d bought at a craft store. These weren’t as nice as what my mother painted when I was a little boy. They would not mean as much to me or to anyone else as those old ornaments did.
Also, Mom had a much steadier hand.
But whether they became family heirlooms or not, it didn’t matter to me. They fit with what I wanted my tree to be about, what I wanted my Christmas to be about.
I texted my sisters in Tennessee and Virginia, told them I was at long last decorating my tree and that I missed them.
In turn, I braved the traffic in Southridge and got my Christmas shopping done. I also got flipped off more times driving five miles than I did driving for three months around the state of West Virginia.
I addressed my Christmas cards, hung stockings and made a cream cheese pound cake for my co-workers at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
It got rave reviews. They told me I should mention in my column that I did a good job. Seriously.
The last real Christmas thing I did was to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with friends.
I hadn’t intended to. That particular Christmas special hasn’t been a tradition for me since I was a kid. Sure, I’d caught it here and there over the years, but I didn’t feel like I missed much if I didn’t see it by Christmas.
I was at a dinner with newspaper friends and retiring statehouse reporter Phil Kabler asked to watch it.
It was an annual tradition for him. He said he hadn’t missed a viewing since the show first aired in 1965. Phil seemed to know a lot about the backstory of the special, which interested me. I’m a sucker for pop culture trivia.
Phil told us that CBS hadn’t been crazy about the Christmas antics of Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy, but they were on the hook, had it scheduled and locked into a time slot, so they were sort of stuck.
Network executives were so unhappy with the show, he said, that they planned to air it just once and then bury it in the vault, but the show connected with people right out of the gate and became a holiday tradition.
Honestly, I doubt anyone at the network really minded. Advertising dollars earned from a show you don’t like still spend the same.
I didn’t mind watching the show, but I also wasn’t all that invested.
Right at 7:30 Sunday night, the bunch of us gathered around the table, put down our dessert forks and craned our necks as we watched a 55-year-old cartoon.
The Christmas special is a different sort of thing to watch when you’re a grownup. I’d forgotten some of it. I remembered the gist of the story about a Christmas play and Charlie Brown being tasked with finding a tree.
In typical Charlie Brown fashion, he’d sort of blown it — or more accurately, he’d failed to live up to the expectations of others.
What I’d forgotten was why he’d let himself get roped into yet another responsibility.
I think Lucy was ultimately right and saw that Charlie Brown needed to stay engaged and active. He needed to push through what can be a noisy, bright, busy, but sometimes difficult season.
He needed to seek out his people, too.
I finished the month with a tree, all my chores done and content that my son is doing what he wants in Colorado. I think he’s doing OK. He’s already asked me to consider moving out there and barring that, wondered if I’d share my Netflix password.