39: The Tree Trimming Party

39: The Tree Trimming Party

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Tree Trimming Party

When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses.

~Joyce Brothers

Although it was Wednesday and not an ideal night for a party, I still held out hope that our kids and their friends would make the drive home from university safely. Here, large snowflakes floated gently from the sky, but it was hard to know what the weather would be like between Owen Sound and Waterloo. It could be a clear starry night or a raging ice storm, as Highway 6 was famous for high winds and zero visibility during snowstorms.

Little scraps of material, piles of glitter, beads and buttons littered the entire dining room table, as I hurried to sew a Santa hat on the last snowman. “I hope they appreciate this,” I groaned.

“Of course they will, sweetie,” said Ed, my husband, as he stood by the patio door with the last empty gift box under his arm and a roll of wrapping paper in his hand.

“They’ve been wanting crazy Christmas sweaters for years. They’re going to love them.”

“I hope so. Don’t tell them I’ve been working on them since Thanksgiving. They’ll feel bad I wasted so much time on them… especially when they’re only going to wear them for two minutes in a silly family picture.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Ed replied. “Looks like our neighbours have stopped by for a visit.”

“No way! Who is it?” I jumped off the chair and ran to the window.

He laughed and I smiled. Two deer had wandered into our back yard looking for something to nibble. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they bounded toward the woods, disappearing into the darkness. Something must have scared them.

“Oh no, the kids are here.” Panic set in. I raced for the table, grabbed the sweater and threw it at Ed. He calmly folded it, placed it in the box and began wrapping. Car doors slammed and giggles became louder as they neared the house. The kids blew in the door, dropping their bags and backpacks in a large pile. There were six of them. Three were ours and three were tag-alongs. I reached out my arm and dragged everything on the table into a large bag, making my mess disappear.

“Is that pie I smell?” asked Ona, our oldest. “Lemon and pumpkin? Wow! This really is Christmas!” She started bouncing around the kitchen. By the way she acted, you’d never know she was turning twenty-two this year.

I looked up to see Nika, our middle child, as she kicked her shoes behind the door and ran toward me. She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me. “Missed you, Momma.”

“Where are your boots?”

She dropped her head like a sad puppy. “I left them at school. We didn’t have snow in the city . . . besides, who needs boots when you’re spending Christmas in Cuba?” she sang.

How could I forget? Christmas in Cuba. What kid wouldn’t love their father flying them to Cuba for ten days over the Christmas break?

“Well, we’re in the middle of a Grey-Bruce blizzard here, so you probably should’ve brought your boots home anyway.”

Ignoring me, she ran into the kitchen.

“Meatballs! My favourite! And is that shrimp?”

Our son, Foxton, dropped his huge hand on top of my head and gave it a twist, messing up my hair. He’s the baby of the family, only sixteen, but towers over all of us at six feet four inches.

“How’s my Mooo-der been this week without me?” he asked grinning. He’s a cow lover and finds it important to be the funniest person in the room.

“Good, thanks, but I missed you, of course,” I replied, flashing him a smile.

“Of course you did,” he said. “That’s because I’m your favourite child.” He never missed a chance to use that line. “Come on Ben, I hear there’s shrimp.” He pulled his friend into the kitchen behind him.

After filling their bellies they all raced to the living room and circled around the naked artificial tree.

“Time to make our magic,” announced Ona. “Jesse and I will put on the silver garland first. Foxton, you and Ben put on the Ottawa Senator and Toronto Maple Leaf Christmas balls, and Nika will do the blue and silver balls. Carlie, you hang the snowflakes. Special fragile ornaments go last, well not last, because the angel is last and that’s my job… because I’m the oldest.”

Everyone stood there making faces at her as she bossed them around, directing the tree trimming duties. It went like clockwork. Ed supervised, while I snapped pictures.

“Should we open one present tonight?” asked Ed, already knowing what their response would be. Our three kids dove under the tree and pulled out the gifts. Excitement filled the room as everyone pulled on their homemade sweaters and admired the unique Christmas themes.

“How cool is this?” Foxton asked, modeling his sweater, with his hands on his hips. “It’s a camel in the desert with a Christmas palm tree. I love this!”

“Look! We have matching red sweaters,” exclaimed Ona as she stood beside her boyfriend, Jesse, hers with Santa and his with reindeer peeking out from behind a giant Christmas tree.

“Mine is a cardigan with buttons… and a snowman. Did you make this? Are you sure you didn’t buy this somewhere?” asked Nika.

“She spent about a week on each one, sewing until her fingers bled,” responded Ed. “Oops! Sorry. I wasn’t supposed to tell,” he admitted, covering his mouth. He winked at me and smiled. I threw a candy cane at him.

I snapped the lid off of the last box. It was full of reindeer hats with antlers, elf hats with bells and fuzzy Santa hats. “Grab a hat and sit in front of the tree. It’s time for the family picture,” I said. I motioned for Jesse, Ben and Carlie to get in the picture. “Come on, you’re our family too.”

This had become our new family tradition: the tree trimming at our house before the kids flew south with their father. Not exactly fair, but it’s what works best for the kids, and it’s not like we could afford to take them south. Holidays can be a battlefield when dealing with blended families and quality time is hard to schedule, so we decided to celebrate with smiles, laughter and making memories with them, even if only for one night.

“Now it’s rink time!” yelled Foxton. “Right, Ed?”

“Oh, it’s definitely rink time.” Ed grabbed the dozen hockey sticks leaning in the corner and hauled them outside to the truck. This was followed by hooting and hollering. Heading outside, the kids grabbed their ice skates, hockey gloves and helmets. Everyone sporting their new Christmas sweaters forgot their coats, as their heads and hearts were already in hockey mode. Renting the ice at the Keady arena for an hour of family hockey was always the evening’s icing on the cake. It made the night complete. It was perfect. I grabbed my skates too, and I tried not to look at the clock, knowing soon they would be on a plane, leaving us behind.

~Lori Twining

Owen Sound, Ontario

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