After sharing in the complimentary hot chocolate, my parents and I were soon walking on a narrow, shoveled path toward a tree grove. With a foot of snow on the ground, we were in a winter wonderland as we sought out a Christmas tree to chop.
I was ten. My parents bought most things pre-packaged, but cutting your own tree was all the rage; so there we were. Given the fact that we usually had a Charlie Brown tree anyway, this hunt for the perfect tree seemed unnecessary. We picked a tree; my father cut it down and carried it back over the snowy path. Though we had silently decided we wouldn’t do this again, we traveled home amidst excited conversation about the event.
Just like any other year, we moved the parlor furniture around to fit the tree, put down newspapers and then a Christmas mat. Around that time, my mother put on Perry Como’s Christmas record. My father brought in the tree and set it in its holder. My parents spent forever deciding whether the tree was straight before we added the lights. Each light bulb had a festive foil protective collar; my mother was a stickler about that.
My father affixed the star and put water in the holder. Then my mother and I finished decorating the tree. After adding the garland and ornaments and icicles, it could never help being a good looking tree; we were pleased.
We put our Christmas tree in our parlor, against the wall, across from the picture window. It was one of the few times that we would tilt the chairs inward instead of toward the window. Our picture window started at ten inches from the floor and rose within ten inches of the ceiling; it was six feet high and ten feet long. (The wall-like window was a godsend for small children and dogs, permitting easy visibility of the outdoors. My early memories include ducking the snowballs my brother threw at me from the other side of the window. If anyone noticed a colorful sunset, we would gather at the window. When guests departed, we would wave from the window until their car was out of sight.) Though the picture window let you see our Christmas tree from the street, that didn’t stop friends and relatives from stopping by to see our tree. People did that in those days.
That Christmas morning, my eighteen-year old sister was still adding water colors to her drawing that would be a gift for my parents. She sent me out to stall the opening of gifts. As the youngest, I was the mediator and bottlewasher in the family. My twenty-year old brother and older parents were amenable to rescheduling so we had more coffee and enjoyed the morning.
All was calm until almost eleven o’clock. As my father and I were standing at the picture window, admiring the distant Mount Wachusett, I thought the glass seemed splashed with dirt. Something was moving. I exclaimed, “There is something all over the windows!”
Our picture window was crawling with tiny, black bugs. After each family member, even my sister, confirmed these were bugs, my mother started barking orders. We attacked the bugs with ammonia soaked paper towels. They were so tiny, it was unclear whether there might be more. Everyone was rubbing down everything. My brother washed down the other windows in the room and the mirror too. My father took out the vacuum cleaner.
The family consensus was that the insects must have been brought in with the tree and hatched in the heat of the house. (That was another reason we wouldn’t be cutting down our own tree next year. )
We settled down to open the gifts piled under the tree. My sister re-emerged with her wrapped gift. Her picture showed our family enjoying a summer day in the front of my parents’ yellow house. My parents hung the picture in their kitchen for decades. For those of us who were there that day, it would always remind us of the Christmas morning infestation.
TATTOO—Journeys on My Mind
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