bitterness. He did, shortly thereafter. But not before Aunt Natalie put me in mind of John Cheever’s words: “The irony of Christmas is always upon the poor in heart; the mystery of the solstice is always upon the rest of us.” ________ W hen talking family, I don’t exempt myself from having Christmas quirks. My wife, who is not otherwise given to salty language, regularly calls me “the Christmas dick.” Probably because I bark at her when she starts playing Christmas music shortly after Halloween. It’s usually of the punishing variety – think Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” – that sounds like a bad PsyOps experiment in which Christmas radio DJs are trying to make the Jews come out with their hands up. For a few years, I played phone-Santa to my nieces and nephews, calling them days before Christmas from the “North Pole” to take their gift requests. But I did Santa in the voice of a bullying John McLaughlin shouting down Eleanor Clift. By the time I’d given them the third degree on whether they’d been naughty or nice, the children were so intimidated that they couldn’t recall what they wanted. It seemed instructive to portray Santa as a projection of God/McLaughlin... a semi- stern, half-joking Jesuit flapping his flews, leaving you off balance, wondering if blessings would be given or taken away. Fear often inspires reverence. Like most Christmas dicks, however, I am at heart a sentimentalist. Especially when it comes to my Christmas Tree Graveyard. I don’t view the end of Christmas as a time to drive my tree to the county dump, or to chop
it up for the outdoor fire pit. Instead, I haul my Fraser fir out to the deck and throw it over the railing into the backyard where it might stay anywhere from a week to four months, depending on my winter sedentariness and/or spring’s first lawn mowing. But eventually, on the tree’s stump heel, I carve the year that the tree faithfully stood sentry over our family room. Then I drag it out to the woods behind my house to its final resting place. I don’t walk the woods much in the summer, when they’re thick with poplar and beech and sweetgum, along with a heavy tangle of underbrush. But in the winter, especially after a light snow, I love to clear the head and lungs by crunching over dead branches down a steep ravine to a trickle of stream where I look for magical totems like snowy owls or white-tail deer sheds. But the most magical of all is the Christmas Tree Graveyard. For as I see those carved years on the Christmas tree stumps, now stacking up like cordwood, it brings everything back. Not just the Christmases, but the family who populated them. Some living, some dead, but all living in memory. The bible-chuckers and the scent-chip eaters, the plugged-in illuminators and the car fumigators. They’re all there, making life what it should be: weird and warm and raucous and loud. It’s my hedge against the sound I dread more than any other... their silence. Excerpted from The Christmas Virtues: A Treasury of Conservative Tales for the Holiday , edited by Jonathan V. Last and including stories from P.J., Christopher Buckley, and plenty more fantastic writers.
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