Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Christmas Tree (Monologue)


I remember the Christmas my grandma dragged home a madrone tree from up the hill instead of a real Christmas tree, and I thought the world was gonna end. As it was, I was having some trouble picturing Santa Claus squeezing his belly down the stove pipe in our new house. Besides, it was a sin NOT to have a real Christmas tree. We could get in trouble for it.

The Christmas before last, my Santa logic was seriously shaken when I saw all those Santas ringing bells over black cauldrons all over the City. Then, one of the Santas dragged me onto his lap. He asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I could see his beard was fake, there was this little bit of white elastic around his ears—like on my underwear, so I peed my pants and cried. Then they took my photo and laughed and put it on the mantle next to the angel.

Early Christmas morning, I tripped down the stairs, my head bouncing on each step did funny things to my vision. But when I rounded the corner and saw the Christmas tree with its glass bulbs and icicles blazing, it was like the sun on our diamond-rainbow glass cabinet, I forgot to cry. Huge piles of presents! All the little presents are mine, ’cause I’m the smallest. But why did Santa give me all these key rings? There must be some mistake. Was he still mad at me ’cause I peed my pants?

After that New Year, we moved, my grandma closed up the house with its diamond-rainbow glass cabinets where the Blue Willow bird bowls lived—I loved eating my cereal out of those bowls—and all the hidey-holes with old shoes and dust. I also loved how the fireplaces in every room whispered—sometimes you could hear cars driving in them.

We moved to the country, Grandma said it was our summer home. But it had a firebox attached to the stove—and it was our only heat. No more fireplace chimneys whispering, only a stovepipe the size of my grandma’s leg.

I remember I was newly five and my momma said I was on temporary loan to my grandmother to keep her company. When we moved, it broke up the family. Only the two of us. The aunts and uncles were all gone. I missed the dogs. Towser was all mine, and Mickey was my aunt Toddy’s. They were boxers. Grandma said that my parents were divorcing, and I knew both my uncle Myles and my grandpa were dead of cancer. But they always whispered that part.

I remember my grandpa standing at the front door, a suitcase in his hand, and he was saying goodbye. I wanted to know exactly where he was going ’cause Uncle Myles went away the same way too and he didn’t return from the hospital, they said that he would never return. I remember how his freckles looked like cereal flecks on his skin—it was all orangy-yellow like my crayons.

My grandpa’s voice was different, it was rough like the cat’s tongue. I don’t remember when it changed. Sometimes he’d whisper. Said his throat hurt too much. Was it the cigars? They made my throat hurt and my eyes too. He whispered, “To the hospital.”

And then I wanted to know when he’d be back. I was not ready for the answer of “heaven,” so I asked where else it was beside in the painted dome of the Star of the Sea church where I was baptized. Grandpa pointed up to the clouds in the blue sky and said something about angels. Sometimes they called me an angel, but mostly I was a little monster; did he find another angel he liked better? Was it ’cause I stamped my foot at him?

Of course I wanted to go too; he’d need someone to blow out his cigar matches there too, I said. They laughed and shuffled their feet nervously. I was born on his birthday, a whole month before Christmas, they said I was Grandpa’s little monster. They said I’d also learned some nasty habits from him—to cuss, and drink stale beer. I remember that I liked the taste of cigarette butts and licking the saltiness off the new red match heads.

I hid in a forest of legs watching the stained glass window spill its red and green light onto the black & white tile floor. If I went with my grandpa, would I see the rest of my family again? Why was everybody leaving? I was relieved when he didn’t ask me along with him. I just wrapped my arms around my grandma’s leg.

I don’t remember my grandpa returning home from the hospital, but they said he did—only to die again on New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember that part either but I do remember the doctor coming over and taking a bit of meat out of the big hole in his stomach. It looked like what they fed the dogs. Or bits of tuna. They said the whole family all returned home from their parties early. No one could exactly say why. Was heaven in the room, in the bed he died in?

Our first Christmas on our own in the country, I was mad ’cause Grandma sneaked out of the house without meearly in the morning before the fire was lit. She hiked up the top of the hill with the saw. I remember when she came home she was wearin’ lots of sweaters, and baggy black pants over her longjohns. She was dragging a bare madrone tree, the only leaves were in her hair—it always smelled of Wildroot—she put it on after every hairwash.

We have to heat water in a big tub, we don't have a hot water heater so she didn’t wash her hair very often. Sometimes she trimmed it herself with small scissors in front of the bureau mirror, with pictures of Jesus and Mary watching on, and there was a crucifix over a small crowd of perfume bottles—unused Christmas gifts. She said she liked the Bushmills better, dabbing it behind her ears.

I just wasn’t ready to let go of the Christmas Tree, so I trudged up the ridge in a drizzle on ly tiny five-year-old legs and dragged home my own tree that I cut down myself—it was a fir that was more sprout than tree. We made another cross for the base and the two trees stood tied side by side, my tree was too weak to hold ornaments or lights, and the one angel we had kept doing swan-dives off the top. But the red-skinned madrone tree, with its lights, silver glass balls and songbirds, was strong enough to hold up the Christmas angel. So I climbed up the ladder and placed her at the crown of Grandma’s tree.

Her madrone tree was beautiful, but at the time, it just didn’t feel right. I remember she told me the story of Rhiannon’s Birds, how their song could make the dead come alive and the living to forget everything. But I didn’t forget. She said we were building a new life, starting with the bones of the tree. And the red-skinned madrone, peeling from the heat of the firebox, showed us the heartwood under it—green with the promise of life to come in spring.

© 2002 Maureen Hurley for Roy Conboy's monologue class. Well, Grandma never said that last part, she didn't articulate feelings like that, she was more private, but it needed an ending...

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