Atop the Christmas Tree
the holiday season approaches I can't help but fondly remember a
family Christmas story from my girlish youth.
the age of sixteen in 1975, I was the proud owner of a 1967 VW Beetle,
tan with red fenders and rust spots galore, it would run forever
on a hope and a prayer and 79 cent a gallon gas. One of the responsibilities
of having the car was to be at my mother's beck and call whenever
she needed someone to run an errand.
weekend right before the holidays that year, she asked me to go
get a Christmas tree.
never did things like normal families, no loading into the family
car and walking the lot picking and choosing our favorites. No,
we needed a tree to have in the window of our house so the small
town neighbors in Jonesville, Michigan would think we were a functional
family unit headed by a hard-working single mom.
assigned my slightly older brother, Mark, to go with me to the local
tree lot half a mile away. She handed him the $10 bill bestowing
upon him all the rights and responsibilities therein. With the money
in his hand, symbolically she was saying he was in control, whereas
I was just the method of transportation.
first order of business, once we fought over the fact that no-way-in-hell
did he get to drive my car, was to stop and pick up my friend Terri.
With long dark hair, exotic looks, and rather large ta-ta's for
her age, Terri was the subject of my brother's eternal crush and
he used any excuse to go see her. Terri, on the other hand, used
any excuse to get out of the house.
my brother's duplicity, and Terri's hunger for adventure and getting
high, I was on the road to hell. It had not occurred to me to do
anything other than my mother's bidding, but Terri and my brother
came up with a different plan.
through Jonesville, they decided that we wouldn't have to spend
the money on a tree. We could spend it on other things, and steal
dollars didn't land in a teenager's hand every day back then. The
two of them figured out we could buy a couple of dollars worth of
gas, two packs of Kool cigarettes, two bottles of Annie Green Springs
wine, and a nickel bag of pot.
once we had scored, we would drive out to the country to the tree
farm. We had worked there the previous summer, lured by the idea
of making a whole $2 an hour trimming the trees on hot August days.
For three weeks, the tree trimming season, we were covered in sap,
sunburnt beyond recognition, and the owners of a new-found insight
into the life of the migrant workers and their bosses.
also knew the layout of the farm.
my brother figured, we had to go back to our house, park down the
block while he snuck into the garage and grabbed some rope and a
saw for our crime. We would then stop at his best friends house,
score the pot before getting the wine, and then on the way out of
town, stop for gas.
I looked forward to becoming a one-third owner of a nickel bag of
pot, and drinking the sweet elixir of cheap wine on that beautiful
day, I thought about the owner of the Christmas tree farm. Crotchety
and mean, he treated the poor black migrant workers like dogs yelling
at them that they weren't working hard enough, and constantly pointing
me out as the only female in the crew and saying, "The white
girl don't complain, I don't wanna hear you!"
also heard stories from him during our lunch breaks about how during
Christmas season he kept a shotgun handy to shoot people who would
come out and try to steal trees.
there I was driving, my big brother rolling a joint, and Terri swigging
out of the first bottle of wine during the ten miles of country
road to the farm. We passed the bottles and the joint while we masterminded
our plans, and concocted an alibi in case we ran into the law.
the Christmas tree farm was only a mile from my grandparents' farm,
we would drop my brother off at the tree farm, where he would penetrate
the depths of the two-hundred acres to stay out of sight while he
played Paul Bunyan.
the meantime, Terri and I would drive to my grandparents' house,
stop in to say hi and then leave ten minutes later, thus establishing
our alibi for being in the area if the local sheriff happened upon
us driving away with the tree strapped to the top of my car. "Why,
we got if from our grandparents' farm, Officer."
the car, and my brother scampered off into the trees, saw in hand.
the time Terri and I got to my grandparents' farm, we had reached
a nice level of glow-on, and had inhaled enough of the marijuana
to have altered the time-space continuum. By this I mean, once Terri
and I wandered into the kitchen, which was filled with the warm
scents of holiday cooking, we forgot about my brother.
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