The scraggliest tree on the lot found a loving home with my mother. Well before A Charlie Brown Christmas became a movie classic, she cherished the lopsided trees with sparse branches.
“We’ll cut off these bottom branches,” she would say, “and wire them in the empty spaces. Besides, this gives us space for more ornaments.”
A single mother with two children and a low-paying job, she never let a lack of funds come between us and Christmas cheer. Early in December we would pile in the car and head to one of lots raising funds by selling Christmas trees.
Row upon row of fragrant trees seduced my brother and me. Mother would patiently follow us as we sought the perfect tree. We always had visions of a tree as tall as our living room could handle, perfectly shaped.
I don’t remember her ever discouraging us from looking for that tree, but she knew a magic trick that fooled us every time. Somewhere in the back of the lot, tossed with the other rejects, was a tree waiting to be loved.
After we had inspected the trees that would end up in the fancier homes in our town, we came to the corner of the lot reserved for those destined to be discarded. They would never be strung with Christmas lights and hung with ornaments and tinsel. No one would breathe in their heady scent. No family would gather around them to sing Christmas carols. Gaily wrapped packages would never pile up beneath their branches. After Christmas they would never become a prop in children’s play times. They had done their best to grow into fine Christmas trees, but their short lives would have no meaning.
Unless, that is, my mother cast her eye on them. She would immediately see their possibilities and engage us in her rescue plans. We would pay a token price, strap the tree onto our car, and drive triumphantly away. We, after all, had seen the beauty in something others had cast aside.
Our living room would fill with the fragrance of Christmas. As soon as dark fell, we would plug in the lights and sigh with pleasure. In our eyes those sadly misshapen trees were beyond splendid. They were the very spirit of Christmas.
I was well into my adult years before I realized my mother would have loved to buy us the most beautiful tree on the lot. They cost more than her meager budget would allow.
Instead, she gave us something far more enduring. She taught us to look beyond twisted limbs and missing branches, to find the beauty that dwells in the heart.