The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

The Christmas Tree

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Anne Frank

Christmas 1970 was going to be a very special holiday, even though my husband, Joe, was away. My entire immediate family was going to be at Mom’s house. I was so happy to be a part of the celebrations that year; with my husband in Vietnam and me expecting a baby any day, the best place for me and my two-year-old, Melanie, was at home. My two brothers, Mom, Dad, Melanie and I would all be together.

Even though Joe couldn’t be there, I knew that his job as an army intelligence officer was very important to him. He was happy to be able to serve his country, even though he was doing it on the other side of the world.

When I was a child, the Christmas tree was always the most fun to decorate. Dad would chop down a tree from our property, and no matter how oddly it might be shaped, we would decorate it with love. This year, Dad went out and bought a beautiful tree, fresh and perfectly shaped. It was standing proudly in the corner, bare and green, while Mom and I cleaned up in preparation for our big Italian family.

Neither one of us heard the knock at the door. Suddenly, my sister-in-law and two handsome men dressed in full army uniforms appeared before me. They introduced themselves as casualty-assistance officers. The news was the worst a young wife could receive: Joe had been killed on December 16 in a helicopter that crashed and burned. My world was shattered at that moment.

After the officers left, Mom and I knew that we had to cancel Christmas. The first thing that went was our beautiful Christmas tree. There are many foggy memories of that first horrible day, but the image of our Christmas tree being dragged out of the house is still vivid in my mind. Little Melanie couldn’t understand why so many of us were crying.

Early on Christmas Eve morning, I gave birth to my second child, Josette. Later that morning, my husband was buried. My family was emotionally exhausted, and I didn’t know what was going on, as I was still sedated from the birth. Since I was in the hospital for Christmas Eve, Mom, Dad and my brothers took care of Melanie.

On Christmas Eve, my brothers brought out all the gifts from Santa Claus, but there was no tree. My brother Charles, a forester from the state of Washington, told the other family members that Melanie couldn’t go through Christmas without a tree, so he went out late at night and chopped down a short, skinny “Charlie Brown” tree that could hardly hold any ornaments. They decorated it as best they could. On Christmas morning, Melanie woke up to see all her gifts under the little tree. As in most Italian families—and especially because of the circumstances— relatives came to visit, and Melanie was the center of attention.

Melanie was excited about the toys and gifts, but the most fascinating thing for her on that Christmas morning was being surprised by the “beautifully” decorated little tree. When everyone asked Melanie what she had gotten for Christmas, she proudly announced that Santa Claus had given her a Christmas tree.

That tree helped make Christmas wonderful for a little girl who had just lost her daddy.

Joanne Danna

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