The perfect Christmas tree was on display in the perfect room in the perfect house. Just over six-feet tall, the tree was the perfect height. Reaching towards the heavens, a perfect gold and white star adorned the top. Branches stretching out from the trunk straight and true formed a perfect cone shape.
Handed down through generations, precious ornaments collected by family members were perfectly spaced on the branches. Tucked and intertwined in and around the canopy was the perfect number of white shimmering lights illuminating each handcrafted blown glass ornament.
Encircling the entire base of the tree were boxes of all shapes and sizes — the perfect amount for the large family. Foil paper and ribbons reflected the shimmering lights from above. A large white couch, loveseat, and two chairs, all trimmed in gold and wrapped in clear plastic covers, were situated perfectly amongst end tables with gold lamps and a singular coffee table. Gold drapes with white curtains behind them perfectly flanked the two large picture windows. The front room was perfect in every way.
This isn’t some random room imagined by Yours Truly. This was our front room from a long, long time ago on an old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo. And the room from our past was indeed perfect … except for one thing.
For my three brothers, The Sister and me, that room was a nightmare. Just as empty boxes under the perfect tree were for show, the front room was also. It was cold — void of any life whatsoever. For those seven years we spent growing up on Flamingo, it was everything about Christmas none of us kids liked: Glass ornaments you couldn’t touch, sofa and chairs you couldn’t sit on, carpet you couldn’t walk on, and presents you couldn’t shake or open.
Touch, sit, shake, or walk and you’d be punished. And if somehow an irreplaceable ornament got broken or the white carpet in the room got stained, the person doing the breaking or staining got a spanking. In stark contrast was the room down eight steps and around the corner — our family room.
At one end of our family room stood a brick fireplace. I remember fires always burning during the winter — warming the space and chasing any chill away, sending it around the corner, and back up the steps to that perfect room.
In the center of the family room stood our Christmas tree. It was far from perfect, but it was the one we all picked out at Bob’s Tree Farm across town. Choosing and cutting the tree was a family tradition for those seven magical years we lived on Flamingo, a tradition we all carry on with our individual families and our grandchildren to this very day.
When times were good, there were lots of presents under the tree. When times were rough, there were fewer. And I remember, on that last Christmas we spent on Flamingo, there were fewer still. That was the year the perfect Christmas tree, with all of its irreplaceable ornaments, stayed in the attic in a box. You see, just a few months earlier, we all lost something truly irreplaceable. We lost Older Brother Richard forever.
Looking back, our parents were correct saying there were priceless objects in our house. Things that should be cherished above all else. Things they would do anything to keep from becoming broken or even worse. There were five things that were truly irreplaceable, but never allowed to be in that perfect room. That would be my three brothers, The Sister, and me.
With all the hustle and bustle and commercialization of the holiday season, it’s true meaning can easily get lost. The Wife just celebrated her birthday last week. Afterwards, our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, asked us whose birthday was next to celebrate. Smiling, we told them the next birthday we celebrate in our house is Jesus’s.
From our family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas and hope you and yours have a healthy and happy New Year.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]