By Charles Delaney
The great window of the library’s Victorian-styled reading room overlooked the town center and served as the perfect backdrop for Mistletoe Memories. The Naugatuck Reader’s Theater holiday production was set to commence as a light snow began to glaze the peaceful Town Green across the street. The festively adorned audience of a hundred or so was settling in as director Lawton Sanders, sprucely attired in a vivid red Christmas sweater welcomed those in attendance.
My mind’s eye drifted as I watched him. It would be several more minutes before I would appear on stage, and I remember thinking I should peruse my script one more time. I stole a glance at my wife, whose eyes sparkled at me, several of my children, and a four of our grandchildren. My daughter Emily, in particular, caught my attention. She had the "wonder of Christmas" countenance that I’d seen numerous times over the years. Her two children, Matt and Charles seemed to have acquired it as well.
Instantly it evoked memories of Christmas past. No specific year, just a specific feel. As a family we would always cut our own Christmas tree, and Emily always ensured we got an early start. The boys would have to be dragged along, but she was always fervent to go, bursting with joy and unbridled anticipation. We’d make the annual journey out to Murphy’s Christmas Free Farm. To her, the tree was a means to an end -- the sooner we got the tree home and garlanded, the sooner presents would magically turn up underneath it.
Our excursion to the tree farm always began by layering our clothing and bundling up. Murphy’s, you see, was set on a hill and always frosty and wind-swept. Emily would squish between my wife, Beth, and me in the front seat of our aged, weather-beaten pickup truck. We only used it for dump runs, leaf hauling, and occasions like this -- tree lugging. The horn didn’t work and every now and then the lights flickered. Sometimes the passenger door wouldn’t close tightly making for a chillier ride than should have been. I can still recall--and almost smell--the marvelous pine scent of trees and wreaths upon arriving at the farm, as well as the Christmas carols playing through a tinny speaker system that reached into the tree harvesting area. Hot tea and cookies were complimentary.
We’d secure a handsaw from one of the many helpful Murphy family members posted behind a lengthy covered counter area in the sales tent and make our way out into the hundreds of Fraser firs and Scotch pines. Emily would lead the way in search of the perfect tree. She’d always fancy the tallest, fattest one on the grounds. After all, the bigger the tree, the more presents underneath, or so she thought. Beth would always be the wet blanket of reality and bring Emily and me back to our right minds. She would make us understand-finally-that we needed a tree that would actually fit in our house. Emily and I would eventually wink at each other, foiled again, and sadly agree. After some downsizing, we’d merrily drag the tree back to our truck--the boys would moan--and once home we’d immediately stir up a pot of hot chocolate and start hanging ornaments. All the sooner for the presents to appear! Decorating completed, the wait began, for after all, it was only December 1st!
We haven’t made the journey to the farm behind Murphy’s as a family in recent years, many in fact. Emily’s usually been away with the ballet company performing Christmas specials. She’s still a wonderful dancer. My boys, who live out of state and despite all their previous bluster, now find it gratifying to cut down their own trees with their children. This year will be different. Matt and Charles are old enough now to attach importance to the tradition, and Emily is home for the holidays. Beth, Emily, and our grandchildren, as well as several nephews and nieces are all making the journey to Murphy’s this year. We’ll all squeeze into my pickup, newer now, and renew the custom. To me, nothing embodies the spirit of Christmas more than the cold, the scents, the work, and the delight of the family ritual of cutting down our own Christmas tree.
Music and song were interspersed into the production and the voices of cast members Judy and Richard eased me back to the present with their rendition of White Christmas. Both were in their late sixties and made a great effort to reach certain notes. Surely, though, they were exceptional singers in their day. With hearts poured into the song, and Sandra providing impressive piano accompaniment, I affirmed to myself that this was unquestionably going to be a splendid Christmas. At song’s end I discerned a tear in my wife’s eye, as well as in the eyes of others during a strident applause. They weren’t sad tears but affecting tears of joy and appreciation. The kind you shed at the conclusion of a love story or a movie with a contented ending.
It’s the time of the year when we don’t have to be perfect, when faults can be disregarded, when warmth of spirit abounds. It certainly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Born in 1953, I love to write, have four children and six grandchildren. Retired from law enforcement (23 years), retired from having owned own restaurant (20 years), and currently employed as a transportation mgr. for a large company. Love sports and the arts. If given choice of front row seats for the Super Bowl or a classic ballet I'd probably opt for the ballet. Have some writings published with 3 novels awaiting an agent's or publisher OK. Merry Christmas!
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