The Ugly Tree

When I was younger my brother had crowned me with the nickname “Inappropriate Maureen.” I was your typical cute little girl but had the propensity to shout out and ask questions that would deafen the dinner table like an awkward nuclear bomb. Shutting up a family of ten was no small accomplishment either. Inevitably after the silenced waned, someone would speak up and talk about their day. Maybe my dad would ask my brother “How did football practice go?” or my sister would talk about her science projects. But I was still stuck on the fact that no one made any mention about what I had just said. I used to stand up at the dinner table interrupting their feeble diversion conversations and reroute them back to mine. “WHY DOES NO ONE WANT TO TALK TO ME?” I’d say, sitting there, the true to life Ramona Quimby. Again the silence would pound down the conversation doorway and take our good natured dinner captive and my mom would give me a look that meant nothing other than, not now Maureen. Not now.

My older brothers and sister tended to ignore me for this main reason, but I never meant any harm or purposeful awkwardness. I didn’t even know what awkward was yet. I had no idea that anything I said was ever inappropriate or confusing. It was that one time in life I’d honestly like to go back to. I never judged anything I did or said even one minute when I was younger. The worst things could jump out of my mouth at any minute and cause a horrendous scarring fiasco, but then a red ball would roll across the floor and I’d be following it down the hallway, completely forgetting anything that had just happened. That’s just the way I was.

One year around Christmas time my parents were fighting a lot, and it wasn’t just my mom pit against my dad. It was my mom against my dad against my older siblings for not doing their chores and against the stress of having a family of 10 during the holidays. I didn’t of course recognize that and went about my merry way chasing the cat around the house. I think this moment in time stands out for me the most because it flipped a switch in my brain that had been dimmed since the beginning of my time.

My mom was angry. It was just about a week before Christmas, the house was a mess, my brothers and sisters were in the other room watching tv and playing video games and in the living room stood a dinky bare tree. No ornaments, no lights. If it were any other time of the year, you would have just thought we liked the “nature” of it.

My mom and dad were financially stressed. Christmas was never their best time . I watched her put on her jacket and take her keys. She was yelling to my brothers, “That tree had better be decorated by the time I get back so help me god!” They only half listened. They were too intent on finishing level  6 of Golden Eye. I stood in the kitchen and I watched her walk off, mumbling about her lazy kids in her path. It was the first moment I sat and thought about wanting to do something nice. About realizing that the things we do and say affect others. I knew in the back of my head that my brothers would never get up off that couch in time. That she’d be back and the tree would still be bare, I would be playing with the cat and somehow Christmas would be ruined.

So when the slam of the door, I took it upon myself to decorate the tree. I wanted my mom to come home and that old dinky tree turned into something that would take her breath away. I thought about all the things she would say when she got home. “Oh my god! I never thought it could look that great!” “Who did all this?” She would turn to my brothers sitting on the couch and know right away that they didn’t lift a finger. Left in the awe and befuddled by mystery of this rogue Christmas tree decorator, I would come out of the living room and unmask myself. “Oh Maureen! It’s beautiful!” She would say as she clasped her hands together.

I dropped a few of the Christmas balls on the floor. They were old and glass. I could hear the crashes as I made my way up the steps. There goes a blue one, and a green one, and a red one. I left a fine trail of broken momentos strewn along the hallway. By the time I had finally reached the tree I had only a half a box full of ornaments and maybe a string of lights. The rest were still in boxes down the basement, the other half of the box was on the floor.

Still, I thought, I could make this tree shine without all those ornaments. I could do anything! The tree was about six feet high and I was about four feet low. I was young and had no reached my towering height of 5’10 just yet. None the less, despite my height, I could still make this tree beautiful. I pulled a chair from the dining room and stood teetering at the top trying desperately to loop the lights around the top of the tree.

My brother John had come in once to see what I was doing, but I didn’t want anyone’s help. I wanted my mom to come home and see what I had done all by myself. He didn’t want to help anyway. He was only 2 years older than me and had better things on his mind than decorating a Christmas tree. “Make sure you get the top part.” He said as a last ditch effort to give advice. “Thanks.”

I pulled the ornaments out of the box and hooked each one branch by branch hitting all of the spots around the tree that I could reach. When all was said and done I lit up the tree, stood back and admired my handy work. It was beautiful. I looked at the lights that twinkled beneath the twigs and branches. I saw the bright gleam reflecting from ornament to ornament and patted myself on the back. There was no way that my mom could not love this. I would have been surprised if she could even leave the house after seeing it. “Its so beautiful, I just want to sit and stare at it all day.” I’d imagine in my head.

I saw the car lights pull up in the driveway and I scurried into the other room, hiding behind the connecting wall. I wanted to see her reaction to the beauty of my creation. Maybe I’ll grow up to be a designer, I thought. I could hear the keys jingle and door open and then the “poommfpp!” of a bag dropping to the ground. I saw my mother standing in the doorway staring at my masterpiece. I awaited as she took a breathe and yelled out “Oh my god, that is the ugliest tree I have ever seen! WHO decorated this??!!”

She yelled for my older brothers and sisters who were still seated, still playing games and hadn’t so much as budged the entire time she’d been gone. I peeked my head from behind the wall and looked at her. “I did” I said. “Oh, Maureen.” She started laughing and gave me a hug. “It’s beautiful.”


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