The tree is finally up in my living room. For a while there was debate over getting a tree this year, thanks to a new addition to our family–a gangly, orange tabby named Shane. We rescued Shane from the local shelter in September. Thankfully, the five-month-old hasn’t pulled a Tarzan on the tree—yet. There was a time while decorating, well, several times, I found myself muttering under my breath at how much of a bad idea the huge temptation of a tree with dangling, shiny objects was going to be on the fuzzball with golden eyes and a tail longer than his body. But, after the initial novelty wore off, he seems to be content with simply taking a drink out of the tree water and splashing around in the stuff with his paws for entertainment.
This year’s tree came from a temporary tree lot. It had probably been cut down a good month ago. I couldn’t tell you if it’s a spruce, fir, or a pine. All I know is that it’s green, smells good, and doesn’t do a bad job in holding up my ornaments. Our tradition of going tree hunting quietly died as the children grew older. My daughter has been out on her own for a few years now, and my son is seventeen. The beginning of December used to be the time when we’d all bundle up and head out to a tree lot we discovered sixteen years prior. It had been our first Christmas in the country here in southern Indiana. It was also our first time in getting a real tree. I grew up with first having an aluminum tree and a three-colored wheel, before my mom bought a prickly tree which we stored in box that had to be drug up from the basement. The thing not only smelled musty, it felt horrible to the touch, and not matter how much my mom took fingernail polish to paint the ends, discerning which branch went where was never easy. So, yeah, after getting the first real tree, the had been no turning back.
It was December, 1997, when we headed up toward Scottsburg, Indiana, following signs for a Christmas Tree farm. My daughter was seven and my son was one. After finding the lot, we piled out of the van and headed for the man standing at the barn. My husband told him we were here for a tree. The man simply nodded, then disappeared into the barn. After a few minutes, he emerged walking a llama. Yep, you guessed it. Us city folks had no earthly idea what was going on. The man pointed to the trees ready for cutting and said “He knows what to do.”
We trudged through the snow and checked out the trees with the llama following behind. After making our choice, my husband cut down the tree and followed the man’s instructions of tying the rope attached to the llama to the tree. When he straightened, the llama began walking back to the barn, pulling our tree for us. That was one day I really wanted to kick myself for not having a camera on me.
The tree farm quit doing the llama fetching after that year, but we continued to patron the tree farm every following year except the last two. The tradition died. No one wanted to go out in the cold and walk through the snow to pick out that perfect tree.
So, that’s my tree story. One I will always carry in my heart.
Marie sat Indian-style on the floor in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree. She felt Kern’s presence moments before he walked up behind her. He handed her a mug of hot cocoa, then sat on the floor at her side. “It’s so beautiful,” she breathed.
Kern leaned in and kissed the top of her head. “Yes, you are.”
Marie glanced at Kern and laughed. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
The four Watchers and three mates had headed out together earlier in the evening to pick out a Christmas tree. Marie had thought it comical shopping for one at night, but thankfully, the tree market was open and brightly lit so they had an idea of what their selection would look like when adorned with lights.
Gold trimming sparkled among white lights. She had helped the gang decorate the tree while they joked and laughed. Never had she experienced such a joyous Christmas Eve, and it was not over yet. At midnight they were all going to exchange gifts. To keep it simple, they opted to draw names. Gifts between mates would be a private affair.
Marie had drawn Tank’s name. At first, she was terrified. Though he had always been sweet and caring in her presence, the Watchers’ Commanding Officer was built like a Mack truck and someone who would make you piss your pants if you came across him in a dark alley. bservation over the week they were to purchase their gifts had been her saving grace.
The grandfather clock began to chime. Kern stood and held out his hand, pulling Marie from the floor. Robyn, Trigg, Vane, Rosa and Tank stepped into the living room, leaving their game of pool and accusations of cheating behind.
Rosa, who was tucked into Vane’s side, began to sing. Marie had never heard such a beautiful voice. After the first verse, they all joined in the chorus, the words of Silent Night echoing throughout the old converted warehouse.
Marie’s eyes filled with tears. Not only because Christmas songs had always made her cry. She was so full of joy it was hard keeping it in. Luckily, the gift giving had started and saved her from embarrassing herself.
When it was her turn, Marie reached under the tree and picked up the present she had purchased, then handed it to Tank. His silver eyes sparkled as he smiled and thanked her.
>Marie held her breath as he tore off the wrapping paper, hoping she had made the right choice. At first, she couldn’t judge his reaction as his face seemed expressionless and his eyes distant. Then he turned and gave her a big bear hug, resulting in a low growl from Kern and laughter from the others.
Turning on his heels, Tank bounded up the stairs to his room and closed the door behind him.
“What did you give him?”
Marie turned to see all eyes upon her and questioning looks on everyone’s faces. She wasn’t sure if it was Robyn or Rosa who asked the question. She had been so astonished at the way Tank had accepted her gift, she was still momentarily speechless.
“Um. Just a CD. I noticed him listening to classical piano, so that’s what I got him.”
Kern brought an arm around her and pulled her to his side.
Trigg frowned. “You know, he started listening to that crap right after the fireworks festival in April. It’s gotten to where I hate riding with him. Every time I try to change the channel he threatens my life.”
“Do you think it has something to do with the piano player he saw at the hotel that night?” Vane asked.
Everyone seemed to shrug mentally, not knowing what to make of Tank’s behavior.
Music wafted through Tank’s closed door. It was a soothing melody. Marie found herself humming along, trying to follow the notes as talk and laughter surrounded her. She turned to Kern and saw him staring at the top of the tree. “What are you looking at?”
He turned to her and gazed into her eyes. His beautiful, blue irises were almost glowing. “I was looking at the tree topper and thinking of my own angel. The one who came a long way to rescue me.”
He pulled her close and kissed her. She felt all of his emotions in that kiss, the most powerful one being love.
Okay, I’m sniffling. Yes, I know it’s dumb. I cried when I first wrote this scene. I cried every time I had to go through and edit. I’m crying now even though it’s been years since I’ve last read the story. I cry because of the beauty that is Christmas.
I hope yours is merry and full of peace and joy. I pray no matter where you are or what your life entails, that you will find the hope and the promise that is Christmas.