The view this time is a little different. I want to tell you a story - a story of a mother and a father and a lesson gently and indelibly learned. Allow me to first introduce the cast of characters.
They were total opposites. She stood only 4’11”, and he was 6’4”. She came from a dysfunctional, alcoholic, abusive family. She was married at 16 and a widow with two little girls by 19. She remarried a few years later.
He came from a family of love, church and respect. He married the first and only love of his life and loved her children as much as he did the three more they were to have together.
While he was hale and healthy and active, she was one of the first women in the country to have triple bypass surgery. That was in the early 70’s and she had the second bypass, a quadruple, in the late 80’s. Living that long after the first surgery defied all the odds at that time and being able to tolerate a second bypass and an aortic valve replacement made her somewhat of a medical miracle. She endured tortuous pain in her feet from peripheral neuropathy but she never lost her warmth and her smile.
Her health problems slowly changed this outgoing, fun loving woman into a woman who couldn‘t make herself leave the house. Agoraphobia took hold of her until it required an inordinate amount of courage and preparation just to attend a supper or a celebration in one of her own children’s homes. Her visits were rare and treasured. She welcomed one and all into her home. The coffee pot was always on and no one was allowed to leave her house hungry! Yet the thought of going to anyone else’s home or even to a store terrified her.
Despite their differences, Ma could play Dad like a fiddle. She did it with an impish smile and a twinkle in her bright blue eyes. With her good humor and a lot of love she was the perfect counterpoint to Dad‘s gruffness and lack of sentimentality.
Ma loved Christmas. Dad tolerated it. No example could be better than the year the last of their five children moved out to start life on her own.
Dad always came home for lunch, partly because he was hungry but mostly to check on her. When he arrived home on this special day Ma asked him when he was going to go out and get a Christmas tree.
Dad scowled down at her and said, “LaVonne, for crying out loud! I ain’t going out and spending money on a Christmas tree when we don’t have any kids at home. We’re all going to be at Linda’s for Christmas anyway, so there ain’t no point.”
She didn’t argue, whine or complain. She got busy. After he went back to work she slipped on his spare pair of huge overshoes. Despite the pain in her feet and the bitterness of a South Dakota winter day, she hobbled out to the back yard and searched in the snow until she found a tree branch that suited her purposes. She spent the rest of the afternoon getting that clumsy branch to stand up in a coffee can. She made her way upstairs and managed to get back down with a small box of ornaments. Patiently she decorated that spindly tree with a grin on her face and her Bing Crosby Christmas record on the old stereo. Her tree leaned precariously against one wall of its corner, and a little bird doo-doo was overlooked, but Ma was satisfied. Typical of Ma, she found a way to let Dad know how important a tree was to her without anger or ugly words.
When Dad got home that night, he spotted her tree first thing. “LaVonne! What in the hell is THAT?”
Ma‘s blue eyes sparkled with pride and just a little orneriness. Looking up at Dad she sweetly told him, “That is my Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and I think it’s beautiful.”
Dad never said another word. He put on his coat, boots, hat and gloves and left the house, returning later with the biggest, fullest, most beautiful tree he could find. He dragged down the rest of the ornaments and lights and they spent the evening after supper decorating that tree. They laughed and talked and remembered Christmases past. In the corner, overseeing the impromptu party, was Ma’s Charlie Brown tree.
Every Christmas from that day on, Ma had two trees. Without a cross word being exchanged, she had, in her own way, let Dad know how much the tradition of a tree meant to her. She did it with determination and humor and love, and he responded by recognizing that the hopes and dreams of someone you love should never be dismissed just because you don’t understand their reasons.
A few Decembers later Ma was hospitalized for the last time. We buried my mother on Christmas Eve, 1991. After her funeral we all quietly noticed that in the corner at Dad’s house was a Charlie Brown tree. Dad had gone out while she was in the hospital and made sure that when she came home her tree would be waiting. She never came home. She was only 58 years old.
All over the country, Charlie Brown trees are still waiting. They can be found in the homes of each one of her children, and we, in turn, have passed the tradition and the story on to our children. In our house Ma’s tree has been a tumbleweed, a bit cut off our big tree when we were attempting to make it fit, or currently a scruffy, sad looking miniature artificial tree. One year my oldest daughter’s Charlie Brown tree was simply garland taped to her living room wall in the shape of a tree. One of my nieces puts a pine cone with glittery painted tips in a candle holder.
What the tree is made of doesn’t matter. The lesson does. When Ma took those painful steps to provide for herself the tree she so badly wanted, she taught us that making do is often more important than making a point. And when Dad recognized how important having a Christmas tree was to her and responded with kindness, humility, and generosity, we learned that giving with love expands that love.
May there always be a Charlie Brown tree in your heart, and a gentle spirit guiding your deeds.
Katie LaVonne when she was 3 or 4, getting to decorate the Charlie Brown Tree for the first time.
Kate and Evan reciting the story of the Charlie Brown Tree a couple of years ago. Now they can recite it so well, with no prompts, and they do it after they decorate the tree each time.
The Charlie Brown Tree.....all of the ornaments have the grandkids', the spouses' of the ones who are married, and the great-grandkids names on them. I think Gramma LaVonne and Grampa Ron are proud and happy that the tradition continues.