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HoHo Shorts Countdown: "Oh! Christmas Tree" by Mary Kaye Hester

Avanti Cards

We received so many wonderful submissions to our 2013 Homemade Holiday Shorts Story Contest that we wanted to share six more of our favorites with you! Every day this week we'll post a different author's story.  Homemade Holiday Shorts will air live on December 15th at 6pm on WHQR 91.3 fm. Tune in (or purchase tickets to the live performance) to hear Rachel Lewis Hilburn read the winning story, Mebane Boyd's "Kurisumasu."

Oh! Christmas Tree


It all started with the sunken living room. When I was ten years old and my brother was nearly seven, we moved into a big older house in southeast Charlotte. Built in the 1920s, it featured cut-glass doorknobs and wavy-paned windows. It had clanking cast-iron radiators and no air conditioning. The formal dining room was large enough to accommodate my mother’s massive family antiques.

But the coup de grace was the sunken living room. It had 12-foot ceilings and ran the entire depth of the house, all the way to the French doors that led onto the back porch. The sunken living room was its own entity. 

My parents attended a Christmas party there while the house was on the market. It had seen better days and was priced to sell. My mother had to have it. 

Fast-forward a year later: Scraped and painted and lovingly redecorated, the sunken living room was ready to host the holidays. The Christmas tree, of course, would go at the far end of the room, in front of the French doors.

The search for the perfect specimen was on – no artificial evergreen would do in the sunken living room. Not only did it have to be nearly 12 feet tall, the tree had to be perfect in every way. Not too skinny, not too fat. No gaps in its branches or kinks in its trunk. We all piled into the station wagon and ventured forth on our quest.

As I remember, it always went something like this:  My dad would have scouted ahead and located “the perfect tree” at a lot near our house. We would go there so my mother could approve it and then we would take it home. That was always our hope. That was never how it happened.

My mother would inspect the tree while we held our breath. “But the branches on this side are all squished,” she’d say, frowning. Dad was ready for that one.

“We’ll put that side against the door, no one will even see it.” He’d lean in close to her, so the other shoppers wouldn’t hear. “The guy said he’d make me a deal.”

See, he would try to reason with her. Always a lost cause. I knew this. My little brother who was only in first grade knew this. My dad, married to her for more than ten years by that time, apparently did not.

“I think we should look at that lot near the mall,” Mom would say, turning away from Dad’s pick. “I saw they had some big ones when I drove by there yesterday.”

“Alright,” he’d say, and throw up his hands. We’d all sigh and bundle back into the car.

At Lot #2, my mother would make a beeline for the biggest trees and find one she adored. “Oh,” she’d say, starry-eyed, “I like this one.” She’d look the tree up and down, fluffing its branches and smiling at it. They never put price tags on the really big ones, so Dad would have to ask the guy standing nearby with a big ball of twine on his hip, “How much?” Of course, Mom’s perfect tree was grossly more expensive than Dad’s at Lot #1.

“We are not paying that much for a Christmas tree!” Mom would hiss, appalled at the price of perfection. “Let’s try that other place.” Back in the car, my dad would grip the steering wheel and try not to swear.

On we’d go to Lot #3, Lot #4, and sometimes, God help us, Lot #5. Even if they had a tree that met the height requirement, it was never “the one” for my mother, either perfection-wise or price-wise. Inevitably, we would return to Lot #1 for Dad’s original tree. So he would win out, eventually, but she made him work for it.

One year, Dad’s tree at Lot #1 was sold by the time my mother finally gave in. Back in the car, Dad blew a gasket. There was a shouting match. He used the GD word. She called him an A-hole. He told her she couldn’t make up her mind on a bet. She told him where he could go. He stopped the car at a red light next to a busy shopping center. In a furious fit, he threw the gearshift into Park and got out of the car.

Without missing a beat, my mother slid across the front seat, put the car in gear, and drove away when the light turned green, leaving my dad standing on the median with his hands on his hips. I was horrified, sobbing and screaming out the backseat window, “Daddy! Daddy!”

Even if they had a tree that met the height requirement, it was never "the one" for my mother...

“Oh, stop that,” my mother said. She looked back at my dad in the rearview mirror. “We’re only a few blocks from home, he could walk from here.” She lowered her gaze to catch my eye. I sniffled. “I’m just going to drive around the block and pick him up,” she assured me. “I want to teach him a lesson.” Certainly taught me a lesson: If you ever get in a fight with my mom, for God’s sake, don’t get out of the car.

After a few years wrestling a 12-foot tree through six-foot French doors, my dad met his match. The “perfect tree” that year must have been less than fresh when we bought it. It started dropping needles while we were decorating it. By the week after Christmas, rigor mortis had set in. Dad could not get it back out the French doors. My mother came home and found him in the sunken living room dismembering the monster with a chain saw.

The next year he built a two-foot wooden box to accommodate a shorter tree. This solved a number of problems and reduced the holiday trauma significantly.

Every Christmas, decorating the tree would officially end when my mother placed the last single strand of silver tinsel on it and sighed, “I think this is the prettiest tree we’ve ever had.”

The two-foot box brought peace on Earth, or at least to the sunken living room.

Mary Kaye Hester is a freelance writer living in Carolina Beach. Her parents live in Sunset Beach these days, where they have a perfect, artificial, Christmas tree.

A Raleigh native, Michelle Crouch got her first taste of non-commercial radio at Swarthmore College's station as an undergraduate. She returned to North Carolina in 2011 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing at UNC Wilmington, where she also works as a graduate teaching assistant.