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Laugh With Lisa: My First Tree

"Dear Santa,I know I’m probably not on any of your lists, but if you could find it in your heart, I’d really appreciate you bringing me a Christmas tree this year.'' writes Lisa DeMarco.

Christmas trees have always been taboo in my family. Probably in part because we’re Jewish, but mostly just because my dad always says, “NO!”

I can remember as far back as the second grade longing to have the one thing that I knew I wouldn’t be getting as a Hanukkah gift…for my own Christmas tree. For years, me and my best friend Joe, an Italian-Catholic boy, tried to come up with a feasible plan in changing my dad’s mind. We would actually rehearse what we were going to say for days before even approaching him, lying through our teeth and involving anyone who would partake in our escapades. Yet, never in the 21-years that I lived “under his roof,” did he give in. Nevertheless, my dad always did gave us an “A+” for our effort.

I recall one year we swore he had the fool-proof plan. Joe came over to my house, just after supper like he always did. However, this night instead of going straight to my room, Joe stopped in the living room for a quick chat with Teddy, my dad. Nonchalantly, he mentioned that his family had just put up their Christmas tree and how it was looking awfully festive at his house. “You should stop by and take a look,” he suggested. “My parents have been asking about you.”

“Sure, Joey, tell them I said hello,” he replied as he continued flicking through the T.V stations with the remote controller.

“Whatever,” Joe laughed as he skipped down the hallway to meet me in my room.

“STEP ONE is complete,” he snickered as he gave me a high five. “Your tree is almost in place.”

A couple of days later, right as we were about to sit down for supper, Joe came running in my house all flustered. (STEP TWO) “Lisa, Lisa… You’ll never guess what happened?” he said gasping for air.

“What?” I asked, as my mother insisted he sit down to catch his breath.

During the next ten minutes or so I, along with the rest of my family. watched Joe act out one of the best performances I had ever seen by an amateur youth. “Well, you see, still a little out of breath, “Do you remember back during Thanksgiving I entered that contest at the mall? Well, I won!”

“Oooo,” my sisters and I said in stereo – trying not to play it up too much.

“So what did you win?” my mom, who was also involved in the trickery, asked.

“A Christmas tree!” Joe answered. “Can you believe it. The one thing I don’t need.”

Then Joe went on to tell us all how his family already bought their tree this year, and what a shame it would be to let it go to waste. “We just don’t have enough room in our house for two trees and my parents insist we always get a real one,” he added.

But before another word could be said, my father stood up from his seat at the dinner table and walked slowly towards the living room. “Nice try,” he laughed. And that was that. Another year down the drain. No tree at the Goldstein’s.

Nevertheless, with each new year came a new attempt at the impossible. We did try everything, but through all our efforts all I managed to get the approval for was one of those little tiny table top trees, which lasted about two days before my father started complaining about the flashing lights and the waste of electricity.

Of course we cannot forget to mention our famous paper tree. This above all had to be my most pathetic attempt to defy my father’s “NO CHRISTMAS TREE RULE.”

I was almost 14-years-old and this holiday season I swore that my presents on Christmas morning were going to be placed under some kind of tree, or I would finally just throw in the towel. Well, like I said, I had a Christmas tree that year, and although it was beautiful in its own way, it was PATHETIC!

I had taken a large piece of green cardboard and shaped it like an evergreen tree. Then Joe and I made the decorations. It had everything a Christmas tree was supposed to have. Joe brought over some extra tinsel and angel hair, and the rest we made from scratch. We had glitter, rainbow paper, glue…you name it. We even had gold aluminum foil for the star, which appropriately I shaped like the Star of David.

For days we cut and pasted little ornaments together and carefully glued them to the tree, and by Christmas Eve we had it all in place. We cleverly set a table against the wall and under the tree, so that when our presents were in place they would appear to be under the tree. Sure there were no blinking lights or smell of fresh pine, but to me it was better than nothing.

After that I guess you could say I just stopped believing in Santa Claus. My mother and I continued to hang the holiday cards along the molding, and I took advantage of any invitation I received to help friends with their decorations. But even to this day, I still do not understand why my father – being the not-so-religious man that he was – felt so strongly against the one thing that would bring everlasting joy to his baby girl.

Last year, however, was a major turning point in my life. It was the first year my sisters and I were formally “out from under daddy’s roof” during the holidays, and I knew exactly what that meant. Yet it wasn’t until the 15th of December that it actually CLICKED in my head!

I was standing on the second floor balcony looking out at the flashing lights lights and decorations around the neighborhood, while my sisters were below me in the living room watching “Frosty the Snowman.”

Suddenly it hit me. We were not planning to go home for the holidays nor were our parents flying down… “I’m getting a Christmas tree,” I screamed. “And it’s gonna be the biggest, most beautiful, picture perfect tree anyone has ever seen.”

“Who are you talking to?” The sistas asked.

“I’m talking to myself,” I said. “No…actually I am talking to you two.

“What is the one thing we’ve wanted for ever and it had to do with Christmas?” I asked.

“To win the lotto?” My oldest sister, Mina laughed.

“No, stupid. A Christmas tree! We’re finally gonna get that Christmas tree we’ve been waiting our whole lives for!” I sang.

“Don’t you mean the Christmas tree you’ve dreamed about all your life, little sista?” The middle child chimed in.

“Fine, then. You can’t even look at it when I’m done. It’s gonna be mime and mine alone,” I declared.

“Yeah, no,” Mina said quickly. “I’m with her, I want a tree too.”

“Okay. Whatever. I’ll help with a tree,” she agreed making it unanimous.

Talk about pathetic. Here we were, three young Jewish women in our twenties, talking about shopping for our first Christmas tree. What should we do? Where should we go? “Don’t you think we should get a fake tree so it won’t make such a mess?” Mina, the least likely of us to clean up any mess, asked.

“No way,” I said. It’s going to be real and it’s going to be big and it’s going to smell like fresh pine. Get it?” I stated confidently. And so it was.

The next day, we all piled into my car and we began to search through roadside stands for the best little Hanukkah bush in Florida. We drove up one highway and down another, passing one tree stand after another, but nothing seemed to interest me. North Carolina Pine, Blue Spruce… I didn’t know what I was looking for. I just wanted to find the tree that had been occupying my thoughts for nearly 22-years.

You have to remember, we were new at this and we were embarrassed to admit that we had no idea what we were doing. Finally, we stopped at a convenience center near home to gas up and we noticed this guy with a really nice looking tree tied to the top of his car. Trying to not make it sound like a pick-up line, I asked, “Hey, where’d you get your tree?”

“My Christmas tree?” he asked glancing at his wedding band on the hand that was holding down the gas pump.

“We’re new to the area,” I said with a smile, “And we’re just just looking for the best around.”

The man – nervous as can be – answered, “WE just got ours across the street. They sell them in the grocery store parking lot.”

Just then, a woman exited the store and approached. “Thanks for the help,” I said. “Merry Christmas!” “We all yelled as we drove off.

We drove to the stand the man spoke of and eagerly began poking around. The beautiful Poinsettias set around the fence caught my attention at first, but before long I was considering buying one of everything. I could see it now, my house– a complete vision of red and green lights, with bows on every railing and candles on every ledge. Decorations and wreaths everywhere. But no, I thought. Lets not go overboard, just the tree and maybe one or two Poinsettias.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it. The tree that had occupied my thoughts for nearly 22 Christmases gone by. It was about six feet high, with a full, thick spread of branches. It didn’t have any bald spots or browning, and it smelt strongly of holiday cheer. “We’ll take it,” I said to the man who seemed to be in charge. By the way, what do we have to do with it?” I chuckled.

Next, we were off to the local craft store. Here, like three children in a candy store, my sisters and I pushed a cart around each and every aisle tossing in a few of these and a couple of those until our cart was full.

When we arrived at home, it took all three of us to get the tree out of the car and into the house – struggling to force it through the sliding glass door and into the tree stand.

“Perfect,” I commented. Even bare, I knew it would be perfect.

We all spent the next couple of days together making bows out of spools of ribbon, and gluing our names in glitter on stockings. It was coming along quite nicely. Vivian used her collection of small sea shells like popcorn strands – to give it a little touch of Florida, and Melinda dug out all of her miscellaneous Christmas memorabilia, and before long the tree began to show its true potential.

Sure, it took us over two hours to figure out how to connect the lights and control the flash pacer, and we must have moved each ornament at least two times before its found its given place on the tree. But when we were through, it was well worth it.

As we sat together on Christmas Eve, looking around the house – at the cards taped along the door moldings, the ribbons draped over the railings, and all the presents that were neatly placed under the tree, it was then that I realized what it was I had truly been longing for. It wasn’t so much the materialistic sense of the Christmas tree, or whatever religious connotation my father thought the tree represented; it was the spirit of togetherness our family lacked during the holidays – mainly because we didn’t really celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas – we just bought each other gifts. But with the tree, the gifts didn’t seem as important. They could have been empty boxes, and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit to me. For I had finally gotten the one thing I had always wished for and that gave me more than enough to be thankful for.

We never did tell my father about the tree. I guess out of pure respect, and the fact that all the photographs we had taken turned out black and spotted when we developed them. But I did learn to never give up on a childhood dream and that the true meaning of any holiday is to enjoy the togetherness of family and loved ones.

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