95: The Holly Trees

95: The Holly Trees

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

The Holly Trees

A garden of Love grows in a Grandparent’s heart.

~Author Unknown

Growing up in the sixties wasn’t easy when your parents were divorced and your dad seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet — especially when everyone else seemed to be living like Ozzie and Harriet. And although my mom worked hard to keep us clothed and fed, when Christmastime rolled around, life suddenly seemed rather bleak and barren. About the time of the school Christmas party, all I could think about was making that threehour drive to my grandparents’ house where Christmas was really Christmas. Where food and relatives abounded, and artificial trees, like the cheesy tin-foil job in our tiny living room, were not allowed. You see, every year, my grandpa cut down a tree tall enough to touch the high ceiling in their old Victorian house. We often got to help; but some years, especially if we arrived just before Christmas, the tree would already be up, but we’d still help decorate it.

One year, just two days before Christmas, we arrived and the tree wasn’t up. I asked Grandpa if we were going out to the woods to get one. He just smiled his little half smile, blue eyes twinkling mischievously, and said we weren’t going out to the woods this year. I worried and watched my grandpa all afternoon, wondering what we were going to do about the tree, but he just went about his business as if nothing whatsoever was unusual. Finally just after dinner, Grandpa went and got his axe. At last, I thought, we are going to cut down a tree. But in the dark?

Grandpa grinned and told me to come outside. I followed him, wondering where he could cut a tree down at night. My grandparents’ large home was situated on a small lot in the middle of town, with no U-cut trees anywhere nearby. But Grandpa went out to the parking strip next to their house and began whacking away at the trunk of one of his own mature holly trees — the tallest one, a beautiful tree loaded with bright red berries. I stared at him, in silent shock. What in the world was he doing? And what would Grandma say?

“The city says I gotta cut these trees down,” he explained between whacks. “They’re too close to the street. I figure if I take one out each Christmas, it will keep us in trees for three years.” He grinned down at me, and the tree fell. Then my sister and I helped him carry it into the house, getting poked and pricked with every step of the way. I still wasn’t sure what I thought about having a holly tree for a Christmas tree. I’d never heard of such a thing.

But when we had the tree in the stand and situated in its place of honor in one of the big bay windows, I knew that it was not a mistake. It was absolutely gorgeous. We all just stood and stared at its dark green glossy leaves and abundant bright red berries. “It’s so beautiful,” said Grandma. “It doesn’t even need decorations.” But my sister and I loved the process of decorating, and we insisted it did. We began to hang lights and ornaments — carefully. It isn’t easy decorating a holly tree. But with each new poke we laughed and complained good-naturedly.

For three years, we had holly trees for Christmas. And now, whenever I get pricked by holly, I think of Grandpa. Later on in life, after my grandpa passed away, I learned about the symbolism of holly and why we use it at Christmas — and how the red berries represent droplets of Christ’s blood. I don’t know if my grandpa knew about all that, but he did know how to be a father to the fatherless. And he knew how to salvage good from evil. My grandpa didn’t like to waste anything.

~Melody Carlson
Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury

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