That Christmas My Dad Ripped Off The Top Of A Tree
By Tamara J. Lee
This story is part of The Establishment’s Sadlarious Holiday Series. In lieu of sentimental platitudes and Hallmark-approved happy endings, these short essays focus on the messy, tragicomic spirit of the season.
Turn up your Pandora holiday playlist, spike some eggnog, and enjoy.
Lunching with my pugnacious dad always meant struggling for topics that wouldn’t end in an insurrection. I found that Christmas lunches — with their accompanying pressure to be extra good — demanded saintly composure. Our relationship had always been brittle; the bough bent from a lifetime of mutual disappointments with one another.
Five years before he passed away, my dad was sitting across from me during the holidays at his favorite local restaurant, the White Spot (seriously!), when I mentioned I was considering my first Christmas tree. I thought he’d be pleased by this development.
“But the prices . . . ,” I lamented.
My dad, a man raised during the Great Depression who’d never stopped worrying about money even when he had plenty, glared at me.
“You can’t spend that kind of money on a tree.” He used the same tone whenever he disapproved of an idea I had. But since we actually agreed, I decided to weather the squall and nod genially.
And so the conversation went, the two of us uniting in our indignation until we fell silent, pleased that lunch was ending amicably.
Dad dropped me off at the Seabus, linking his affluent suburb of North Van to Vancouver, Canada. I lived in a downtown neighborhood my father despised. Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest community, originally annexed the dockyards and Chinatown, and has always housed those who struggle with poverty. It’s also grown into an artistic enclave full of a community spirit I never felt growing up in North Van. My father resented the poor neighborhood as a boy in the Depression years; he hated it still, and my living there. It was one of the few things he hated that he couldn’t talk about.
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The morning after that lunch, I was working to deadline and considered not answering the knock on the door. But the second — emphatic — knock worked.
Fir tree branches, like hands, greeted me. A voice bellowed from beyond: “Couldn’t stand you not having a tree this year.”
My father in my neighborhood was shocking enough. My diminutive father in my doorway holding up a perfect, lush tree the same size as him took a bit longer to comprehend.
“Where did you get it?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t have bought it.
“Climbed to the top of that old tree on my lot. Took off the top.”
There, at the bottom of the tree, was the ragged evidence. He hadn’t even used a saw.
I tried not to laugh.
“You want it?” Dad did not like to be laughed at.
“Of course I want it, Dad. Thank you!”
“Gotta go. Don’t want my car to get broken into.” And he marched off.
Watching him at the crosswalk, I noticed he’d pulled his coat sleeve over his hand to avoid touching the button that presumably only lepers used.
He’d never change. But sometimes, worn down by our often-volatile relationship, I’d just conjure the image of my short, ornery father scaling a Grand fir and ripping off the treetop.
And now, when I put up my little retro white tree, loaded with tattered childhood and shiny new ornaments, I know that — like him — it isn’t perfect, but it is well meaning.