I wrote this story as a happy Christmas memory…it especially holds true since my husband passed in 2017. I found a Charlie Brown-like tree: pitiful, sparse, complete with Charlie, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and Schroeder at the piano ornaments on it. This is my new Christmas tradition since it is too difficult both physically and emotionally to put a tree with all the memories of past Christmases. This one is enough to bring me joy.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
“Babe, we’re going to have to cut back a lot this Christmas. Just found out from HR that we will have to pay around $1200 out of pocket for the hospital and doctor bills once the baby is born.”
“Oh, that’s a lot of money!” I worried how long it would take us to save it up.
It was 1978 in Dearborn, Michigan. Jim was a sous chef at Hyatt Hotels and I had to quit my job during my first trimester due to spotting. We did not want to take any chances with this baby. We lost our first baby after sixteen weeks and it took two years until I got pregnant again.
My job was a physically and emotionally demanding one working with emotionally disturbed boys at Methodist Children’s Home. On my last day of work, my partner left me alone with six of the boys aged 8-12 years and a fight broke out.
They could sense that I acted differently because I did not jump in and break up the fight. The fight escalated. I did not want to jeopardize this pregnancy because the month before I had gotten kicked in the stomach during a confrontation. My male partner should not have left me alone with the boys for this reason. I had shared my news about my pregnancy but he decided to take four of them clothes shopping anyway. When he got back, I quit.
Jim understood my decision and said it was best for me to stay home till the baby was born in April. I could spend the time getting us ready for Christmas.
I heard about Frank’s Nursery where they had $4 cut Christmas trees. On Jim’s day off we went to pick one out. They were really picked over. We decided to look for the most scraggly, homely tree we could find since we could not afford a big, lush tree. Snow fluttered down among the trees, and the strings of light bulbs lit the desolate parking lot where the trees were stacked against each other.
Not like my childhood memories where we would drive out to a real Christmas tree farm in rural Pennsylvania and chop our own tree among some beauties. We bundled up in scarves and gloves to stave off the brisk wintry wind that night with Toby our Westie. It was our first Christmas in Dearborn and with our limited budget, we thought we could make it an adventure. We found our tree.
The little tree was under a pile of other trees. It was skinny and looked starved for attention. Our tree reminded me of an abandoned dog at the pound. The tree was small enough to fit in our trunk with a rope securing it inside. I had some ornaments and we strung popcorn and cranberries to make it more festive.
We could not afford to go home to Pennsylvania to visit our families that Christmas. This would be my first one away from my family and every time I heard the song, “I’ll be home for Christmas” my heart ached for my family. The pregnancy hormones were kicking in full force. Everything made me tear up. The hotel was really busy and no one got off that Christmas. A few days before Christmas, I made a roast beef dinner with homemade gravy, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.
I baked three different kinds of Christmas cookies; kiffles, cutouts, and chocolate chip. Jim loved the kiffles. It was a Hungarian recipe from his mother that was very time consuming. I used three different fillings; nut, poppy seed, and raspberry. They were more like a flaky pastry with fillings than a cookie. European pastries and cookies are not as sweet as American cookies. The only sugar was the coating from being rolled while still warm in white powdered sugar.
Since we were having such a feast, Jim invited one of his single coworkers that was not able to go home to visit his family in Ohio. Joe was so excited to have a home cooked meal. I learned early in our marriage, chefs love for others to cook for them.
Toby greeted Joe by barking at the doorbell. Joe came bearing gifts for us. He gave Jim a very expensive Henckel boning knife. He gifted me with scented body lotion and brought a stuffed teddy bear for our unborn baby. At that moment, the baby moved and I put Jim’s hand on my distended abdomen. He was so thrilled, he asked Joe to feel the baby. Joe asked me if it was okay to feel the baby and I nodded.
“Joe, I feel bad. We didn’t get you a gift.”
Joe answered, “Just having me over for dinner and feeling new life is a huge gift. Plus I love your pathetic Charlie Brown Christmas tree!”
Sharing our Christmas with Joe, that pitiful Christmas tree, and the anticipation of the birth of our baby shaped that Christmas into one of my favorites.