In the years when I was raising little Meggy as a single parent, we barely had enough money for Christmas presents, let alone a Christmas tree. We lived in a drab little roach infested linoleum floored apartment with windows that sunlight never quite hit, but those were the happiest years of my life. Lounging on a second hand sofa I had scrapped from a dumpster and eating dinners over a rickety folding card table, we had three hard fought things of infinite value: freedom, love, and safety.
Meggy loved Christmas though and I filled our apartment with decorations I had cut from previous year’s Christmas cards and multi-colored Christmas lights. Gifts were usually home-made collages of family pictures. We rarely had a Christmas tree.
This was due one part to budget and another to my tree hugging tendencies. One year I broke down and bought Meggy a drugstore Christmas tree. It was tiny, only two feet tall and barely big enough to hang ornaments.
It sat on a table top and we loaded it with ornaments, a ginormous star, and blinking Christmas lights. The moment the flashing lights filled our dim apartment, it didn’t even matter that there was nothing under the tree as long as we had each other.
Once Christmas was over, I couldn’t bring myself to throw the Christmas tree. It always broke my heart to see the annual Christmas trees that once adorned families’ homes tossed onto street sidewalks. It takes an average of SEVEN years to grow each of the Christmas trees that are flung away every year! Smaller trees can take 4 years and larger ones up to 15 years. Though there are Christmas tree recycling programs nowadays, I’m not sure what resources were present when we bought our miniature tree.
Unable to bear the thought of throwing it out, I decided to take my tree home to my birth mother who once had a small farm in her backyard in Vietnam. A certified green thumb, I entrusted her with the tree on one of our many visits to her home.
My mother planted the Christmas tree in the front of her house along with other ornamental and fruit bearing plants. There, next to papaya trees and roses, the Christmas tree thrived. Eventually, I forgot about the tree as it just became a part of the scenery of my mother’s lush green life. There were always many things to admire in her garden, annual lotus flowers, two bountiful fruit trees – an avocado and persimmon tree, dozens of succulents, hanging squash and sugar cane…
A few years ago when I returned home to visit my mother, I pulled up to a large thirty foot tree that had now become a part of those things that define my mother’s house – things you forget – like the yellow exterior paint, the brown triangular roof, the leaning mailbox, the 30 foot tree.
It had become so large, its trunk grown to almost three feet in diameter that I remarked on it creeping into the small driveway where cars were parked. “That used to be your little Christmas tree. You gave it to me to plant, remember?” my mother said to me in passing.
I was astonished and drew back to look at the tree that had grown so tall that I had to cross the street to see the full length of it. Of course I had to verify it for myself, so I climbed the tree and hung from it upside down, imagining myself as the ornament that now adorned the tree thinking upon all the many things in my life that have been planted, seeded into the ground – hope, passion, dreams, desire, love…all planted and waiting to someday bloom and blossom unnoticed, until finally one day, I am mature enough to truly appreciate them in all their fullness and evolution.
For this winter season, I honor my mother, planter of trees, survivor of the siege and massacre of her hometown when she was only a child herself, green thumb extraordinaire.