I hope whatever holiday you choose to celebrate this season, that you choose to frame your experiences into stories that will overflow with meaning and last a lifetime and beyond.
Tonight, I wish to share an earlier Christmas Eve story than my harness boot story. I was thirteen years old, and my sister, Shelly, was eleven. I have mentioned that my parents were alcoholics, and that definitely affected my sister and I in addition to my parents themselves. Sometimes, even from a relatively early age, I would take matters into my own hands to try and make things as normal as they could be.
The year I refer to stands out in my memory as one of those times. I may not have always shown it, but I always cared for my little sister and tried to protect her from the deleterious effects of the alcoholism. That Christmas Eve morning was one of those times.
When we got up, the snow had been falling hard overnight and continued to do so. It was magical, beautiful, and definitely Christmas-y. However, in classic fashion, we did not yet have a Christmas tree. It always seemed like life was out of sync for us — great Christmas snow and feel but no tree.
The news and weathermen kept referring to blizzard conditions. It was enough for my dad to make the definitive declaration that no tree would be possible. My mom knew we were upset and tried to explain why it would be like that. I was old enough to understand, and I was old enough to know the procrastination caused by drinking was the real reason, although there was no way in hell I could have explained it.
At the time I had a deep feeling of injustice, more for my sister than myself. However, I deserved a tree, too. I was angry, angry enough at the injustice to go outside, look around, feel how cold it was, and check the depth of the snow. I marched with hard, angry steps to the basement, dug out the sled, and tromped upstairs, banging the sled outside our door in the apartment stairwell.
“Shelly, if I pull you on the sled, will you go with me to get a tree?”
She was delighted, excited.
My mom was not. “Mikey, you can’t go out in this. That’s a long way to Ted Drewes tree lot. No, I won’t let you go.”
It may have been one of the first times where I was cognizant of being deliberately defiant. “I got the sled out, I’ll take care of Shelly, and I’m using my money to pay for the tree.” (I had worked for the apartment complex pulling weeds for a couple years by then, and I saved all of my money.)
I wouldn’t even acknowledge my mom. I guess in some ways at a subconscious level guilt was at play. I didn’t think about using it, but deep down my mom must have felt guilty. My dad was already back in bed.
I made sure Shelly and I were bundled up correctly. Out we went into the blizzard, and it was bad. I wasn’t big for my age, but I was an average thirteen year old size. The snow was past my knees as we passed through our huge schoolyard on the way to Ted Drewes. In three months of the year, they sold frozen custard treats, and at Christmastime they sold trees, great trees if you were willing to pay for them. We usually had one of those where a side has to be hidden in a corner. I wasn’t going to cheap out.
I still remember it very clearly, decades later. I had started out angry, but very quickly my sister and I were caught up in the magical beauty of the snowfall. We laughed as I pulled. I definitely had the sensation and mindset of being a pioneer, which added a real element of excitement.
Looking back, I don’t know if I had evaluated the situation as a normal, sane adult I would have ever done it — a three mile round trip pulling my sister on a sled.
Once at Ted Drewes, I don’t think the attendants really believed how far we had come in such weather. Beyond that, I don’t think that I had the money to actually pay for a tree, especially when I told them I wanted a seven foot tree with zero bare spots. No one else was buying trees. In fact, hardly any cars were on normally busy Grand Avenue in south St. Louis city.
When they saw me whip out my money, they were falling over themselves, exclaiming how brave I was. Another declared how sweet I was to pull my sister a mile and a half on a sled in that weather.
“Where is she going to ride on the way home?”
Oh, shit, I hadn’t even thought of that. An older gentlemen must have seen my perplexity, and he took over. He bound that tree as tight as could be done, and secured it crosswise to the front of the sled. It wasn’t budging.
Shelly and I were definitely in that pioneer mode, kind of like the Griswolds going for their tree in Christmas Vacation. On the way back, we stopped several times, and I helped people push a couple of cars away from the curb where they were stuck.
Basically, from the end of Scruggs schoolyard along the maybe six or so blocks to our apartment was a general downhill grade. I knew we would get home. Before then, even though I was excited, I wasn’t sure, and my sister had to pee. It was dicey. Should I dump the tree and just make a mad dash for home with Shelly on the sled?
In the end, it all worked out, and my sister and I were proud of our accomplishment. We had saved Christmas. I think my dad gave me like five bucks for the tree. He did not know how much I had actually spent, which was the better part of my twenty dollar bill. It didn’t matter, though.
In my mind, somewhere deep within, I had overcome an injustice. I had accomplished something significant in the real world. I cared for my sister, and we were closer because of our adventure.
And that was the first year I put the lights on the tree. It was magical for me. I thought it was perfect.
Now, although my parents’ addiction played into this and initiated my response, I chose then — why I don’t know except that my Heart was working through all that to help me — and I choose now to view, filter, and experience that time in love. Love and a sense of achievement, accomplishment, and satisfaction. Yes, love was primary, especially for my sister, and in a pity way for my parents.
We get to choose, you know, whether we use ego or Heart to run our minds and souls. We can use Heart to process not only the present but also the memories. We can use Heart to reflect and assign significance and value to life. And when we do that, we grow in positivity and love and gratitude.
This Christmas or any holiday you celebrate, please try it. You will only strengthen all of us who will benefit from the positive life energy of love.
Much peace and love this Christmas Eve!
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!