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McCallum: The Perfect Tree

12/01/09 7:55AM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) Commentator Mary McCallum was inspired by the recent National Day of Listening, to retell one of her own family's favorite holiday stories.  

(MCCALLUM) My father was a good storyteller.  At holiday time, he delighted in telling this one about his ingenious solution for providing a Christmas tree the first  year he and my mother were married.

Christmas of 1938 fell at the height of the Great Depression. My parents were newly married and lived in a cramped two-room apartment. Mom was pregnant and Dad worked nights at the neighborhood bakery for thirteen dollars a week. Like most everyone else, they bought only what they absolutely needed, and did without the rest. But my mother had married a resourceful man. Dad was both artistic and practical when it came to quick and easy fixes that cost almost nothing.

That holiday there was no money for gifts but they wanted a Christmas tree. So Dad found the cheapest tree on the lot and brought it home to their tiny quarters. The tree was the smallest and most spindly one the man had for sale, but my father was undeterred. He had a plan.

On Christmas Eve while my mother was busy in the kitchen he got out his hand saw and carefully split the tree right down the length of its skinny trunk. He nailed one half of the tree to a corner wall in the living room where it wouldn't get in the way of foot traffic. Then he took his wood drill and made a series of holes up and down the trunk. After he'd drilled a satisfactory number of them he turned to the unused half of the tree lying on the rug and sawed off most of its branches.

With the dedication of an artist, he plugged each of the holes with a new pine branch, and voila, there it stood: one short but voluptuously full Christmas tree that took up scarcely any floor space because it was only half a tree nailed flush to the living room wall.

I'm not sure what my mother thought of his handiwork, but in my father's eyes that Christmas tree was the perfect tree - rock bottom priced, full-branched, and practical to the core. Over the decades my parents raised five children and we put up many beautiful Christmas trees - tall, laden with tinsel and quietly glowing with strings of lights. But in my Dad's retelling of the story of the half tree of 1938, we could see that for him, it outshone them all.

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