By: John Cragg

It was December 1967. I was in fourth grade. My father was the pastor of an inner-city church in Newark NJ. That year I had watched tanks roll by my house from my living room window. The city was still tense from the racial strife. My father gathered the family around the dining room table for a family meeting.  He suggested we forego a Christmas tree and presents so that we could sponsor a single-parent family that had ten children. This was easy to agree to on December 1st, but on December 24th, the ramifications of our decision sank in.

The five of us had just come back from the Christmas Eve early service. Dad was still at the church, preparing for the candlelight service. That is when I saw that look in my mother’s eye. It was a rare look, but one that was respected when it did show up

‘I am not going to have Christmas without a tree!’

We all got excited as she grabbed her keys and my older brother, David, and left in the family station wagon. They were gone for well over an hour. I expected to see a green cone-shaped object netted and tied to the top of the car. But what I saw looked more like a helicopter with wood sides and evergreen propellers. The trunk was no more than 18 inches tall, but what this ‘tree’ lacked in height, she made up in girth. It filled the driveway.

We all laughed, especially when we saw Mom’s joyful excitement. “All the tree lots were closed, but they left this tree behind.” We brought Mom’s treasure through the side basement door because it had the best potential of allowing us to get our Christmas joy into the living room without leaving one of its five giant branches behind. We worked together, slowly bending the bows upstairs and around corners. Kenny ran to get the stand. Success!

There she stood in the middle of the maroon carpet of the expansive living room. Branches shaded couch cushions and poked the fireplace screen. My sister, Marlaine, brought down the boxes of ornaments as mom heated the milk for traditional tree decorating hot chocolate. We then straddled and stepped over branches as bows were adorned with red balls, tinsel, and giggles.

Yes, this was the castaway bottom of a majestic tree. But even 50 years later, the memory warms my heart with the joy that a mom can bring even during a challenging time.