This I Believe

Gretchen - Seattle, Washington
Entered on March 15, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in lopsided Christmas trees.

Last Christmas Eve, for the first time, my two grown sons brought girlfriends home, and we all put up the tree together. I tried to explain the funny-looking tree and the beat-up paper decorations among the fancy icicle lights and glass ornaments. I finally said, “They represent one of the hardest times and one of the richest.”

Choosing the less-than-perfect Christmas tree began as a whimsical taste, but one year I was flat broke, in a tiny apartment after my divorce, trying to make it a home for the days that my 10- and 11-year old sons spent with me. That year, the lopsided Christmas tree became a tradition.

It had snowed in Seattle and then the temperature dropped. The streets stayed icy for days. It wasn’t safe to travel to the family tree farm in the country, and I couldn’t afford a tree from a lot in town.

I had already gone to the mall and back home in tears because I couldn’t afford ornaments or lights, but the local drugstore had a 50% off sale, so I could buy a string of inexpensive lights and a tree stand. The kids brought some ornaments from their father’s house. But there was no tree and no way to get a tree.

My younger son worried a lot about this. A couple of days before Christmas, he talked me into bundling up and walking carefully across the icy street to a mini-market with a tiny tree lot. They had sold out by then except for a tree they couldn’t sell and they let us have it for free. It was round and bushy with a heavy, thick trunk. The top was a stick. It looked like a fat baby rat that had been dropped on its head.

It was hard work carrying that heavy tree home, but we managed it, my 10-year-old son and I. The tree was too big for the few ornaments we had, so he went to work making more with cheap construction paper and even cheaper cellophane tape that didn’t stick very well. He made a yellow fleur-de-lis shaped tree topper and a paper chain of fat links taped together: yellow, green and black. He and his older brother put them on the tree, and it was beautiful.

Over the years, we have continued to choose lopsided trees: crooked top, flat side, uneven branches—whatever makes it lopsided and passed over is what we look for. Every year, we decorate it with more lights and ornaments. The paper top and paper chain—several short chains by now as the tape has come unstuck—go on last. Always. It’s a tradition.

And the thing about a lopsided Christmas tree? When you turn on the tree lights in the evening, it’s beautiful. It’s always beautiful. I believe in our lopsided Christmas tree because it reminds me of a hard, lopsided time in our lives that is rich in memory.