But our expressions soon fell as we soaked in the view: It was the ugliest Christmas tree we had ever seen.
I’m talking some kind of Charlie Brown looking motherfcker, peeps, complete with broken-armed dough ornaments and, strung across its skinny, bent branches, those humongous, honking blue and red lights that had gone out of style in the late 70’s.
“What the fck is that?” I breathed, trying to be kind but somehow failing miserably. My older sister gave me a nudge and a dirty look. They were few and far between, but admittedly, there were times when she was the more tender-hearted of the two of us.
Dad looked up, holding a red glass ball with a chip in it. “What? You don’t like it? Since your mother left, I decided to do the Christmas tree my way this year.”
Ah, yes. This was the year that Mom and Dad had finalized their divorce. Mom was currently residing in a 1-bedroom apartment with the man of her dreams, the man with whom she’d cheated on Dad. She’d met him during her brief stint working the line at the local chicken plant, and he now worked at a convenience store down the road.
He did have his own Christmas tree, which I’d seen when my mom had tricked me into stopping by his apartment one day. It was a miniature ceramic tree that came with its own glued-on ornaments and sat on his living room end table all year round.
He was lovely.
It was true that Mom had always been the total Christmas spirit package. She made Christmas the most precious time of the year for all of us by cranking up Christmas music (To this day, my favorite is a Kenny Rogers Christmas CD that she played constantly as we were shoving cloves into oranges until our fingers bled—which was actually pretty fun—or flinging flour around while making Christmas cookies) and breaking out the garland, tinsel, and whatever beautiful ornaments were in style to decorate the tree according to the Dillard’s catalogue that year.
One year we almost died over the bubbling Christmas tree lights—they were all different colors and filled with actual water! THE EXCITEMENT!!
But that year, she wasn’t there to decorate the tree. And Dad? Well, he’d decided that dammit, this was the year he was going to have the Christmas tree he’d always wanted—the Christmas tree that reminded him of his childhood.
Who were my sister and I to argue?
You know, some people act out in the face of a divorce by becoming dirty whores, but my dad? Well, he probably did that, too...but truly, he had decided to assert his newfound independence by re-claiming his right to have an ass-ugly Christmas tree.
I softened. “It looks nice, Dad,” I said, stepping toward the loveseat, where boxes of broken or torn ornaments that we’d made throughout the years at school were resting. I picked one up, but the yellowed construction paper disintegrated during its two-foot trip from the box into the air, so I grabbed another, hoping Dad or the younger kids hadn’t noticed.
Dad hadn’t. He was nodding as he gazed at the tree. “Yeah, I think so. Thanks.” He paused. “Actually, I’m using all of this stuff because your mother ran off with the good decorations…along with my car…and that fat bastard…”
Suddenly, Dad looked our way and shook his head, seemingly breaking out of his unpleasant reverie and plastering a false cheerful smile on his face.
“Ah, well,” he said, taking a deep, cleansing breath. “That’s all in the past, right? And besides, at least I’ve got all of you!”
He stopped for a moment and looked at each of us slowly in turn. “All five of you…”
It was as if he were just realizing everything all at once. He was now a single dad of five kids ranging in age from 5 all the way up to 16. It was kind of a heavy thought, I would guess.
When Dad’s eyes landed on my older sister, that fake smile widened even more, and he was smiling so hard that it looked as though it hurt. Pretty bad.
“Hell, it’s never even been proven that you’re actually mine,” he said, gesturing toward her, “and still I get to keep you!”
When his laugh started bordering on hysterical, my older sister and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows and gingerly stepped toward our dad.
“Dad,” my sister said, plucking a mangled ornament from his bitter hands, “maybe we’ll just finish this for you, mmkay? Why don’t you go make yourself a drink…”
The moral of the story? Decorating trees is a stupid tradition, anyway.
Okay, no it’s not; it’s so totally not. But that’s what we told ourselves that year—the year of many adjustments, not the least being Dad finding his way as a suddenly-single father of five kids who refused to take DNA tests.
Dad soon realized that the tree decs had never actually been that important to him. He’d only fooled himself into believing that they were so that he could try to make the best of a shitty situation.
Most years after that, he’d just stop on the side of the road on his way home from work on Christmas Eve, saw down a tree, and throw that motha up with a skirt just in time for our festivities.
Luckily we were all out of the house only a few years later and could do our own trees. Well, okay, not the 3 younger kids—but who cares about them, anyway? They could still go to Mom’s to get the tree decorating bug out of their systems. She soon broke up with the a-hole and got her own place—complete with all of the good decorations that she’d taken from Dad’s house.
See? Everybody wins.
And honestly, since that year, we’ve all spent every single Christmas together—as a family, Mom included. And it’s wonderful.
But admittedly, tree decorations have never been the same.
So the real moral of the story? Traditions are awesome, and just because my parents screwed that one up doesn’t mean that I can’t have some good ones with my boys.
And one of our traditions is making chocolate-covered strawberries every year on Valentine’s Day. It started out as a fluke one year when I had, once again, forgotten to buy anything for their father and needed something quick. We were at the grocery store and voila! all the ingredients I needed:
It was so fun and easy that we decided that it would be Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present every year.
There are usually about one and a half chocolate-covered strawberries left by the time he gets home from work. See? Everybody wins.
Oh—and the actual recipe? Holy shit, peeps, you melt the fcking chocolate in the microwave and dip the strawberries in…
The chocolate pictured above is my favorite, mostly because around Valentine’s Day they start placing it right next to the strawberries, making it even easier for my lazy ass to get my present together. I don’t even have to walk 10 steps to the baking aisle to pick up the second half of my present; it’s all right there.
But in case you can’t find it, I’m sure Hershey’s chocolate chips would work just fine to melt down and use to dip.
Or not. But it’s worth a try, right?
Happy Valentine’s Day, peeps!