It stands about 35 feet tall. Full, verdant and positively regal. Turning the corner of the sidewalk into my parents’ backyard, you would think that pine tree had been there for generations.
It started off looking much different.
I must have been 8 or 9 that Christmas when my sister and I insisted on helping pick out the “real” tree for our house. There were two trees each year—the perfect fake one that adorned the front living room—decked out in golds and metallics, wrapped in ribbons and crocheted angels. That one didn’t count to us. It was the “real” tree that mattered. We wanted the smell of pine, piles of needles, the dripping sap, and to watch, chuckling, as my dad wrestled that sucker into the corner of the family room. Only then was it really Christmas.
Now, it could just be my imagination at this point, but I remember shopping for this tree. In my recollection, it was stuck, tilted and sad-looking, in the middle of a room of otherwise full, royal pines, as if it were apologizing for taking up space. It wasn’t that much taller than my sister and me, beating us by maybe a few inches. And the branches were sparse, though plenty enough to hold our popsicle-stick reindeer and gold tinsel garland. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain my mom okayed the pick mainly because the fewer the branches, the smaller the pile of pine needles she’d have to clean up every day.
But we got it home, and my sister and I were happy little campers. We decorated the snot out of that little wimpy tree, and when Christmas morning came, our pile of presents looked that much bigger under its wiry frame. We leaped out of bed at 5am, flew downstairs to our stacks of perfectly-arranged gift piles, tore through the boxes of treats and fell asleep in piles of wrapping paper, fire roaring in the fireplace next to us.
Magic. Pure magic.
Like all kids, we were sad to see Christmas be over, but that year, we were excited, even though all the gifts were opened and the cookies gobbled down. Our Tree had a bulb on it, which meant we could plant it in our backyard. Which meant we begged my dad to do so. Like right away. The day after Christmas. In the nearly-frozen ground, in 30-something degree weather. God bless parents.
We grew as it did, and as the years passed we would check on it from our family room window, always laughing at the memory of That One Christmas where we girls were in charge, if even for the briefest of moments.
And wouldn’t you know? That little runt of a tree grew into something to behold. Every year, slowly but steadily, its branches filled out, thickened. The base widened to a point where I couldn’t wrap my arms around it like I did that Christmas. I would chase tiny bunnies who I had discovered, to my delight, made their home under its heavy blanket of low branches. And as it got taller, I swear to you, it also got more beautiful. It was as if it was telling us, with every passing year, “See? I told you I’d amount to something.”
It’s kind of ridiculous the connection I feel to that silly, formerly wimpy old tree. But I do. I believed in its beauty and strength before it was there, and even as a kid, I knew, there’s something to that.
It stands out in our family history as having been the one tree—more specifically, the one true relic of Christmas and its magic—that would stay with us forever. And every time I look at that tree—whether it’s around the holidays or not—my heart blooms at the memories that are intertwined with it—laced through its branches like a light dusting of early winter snow. And I also think of the lesson it indirectly taught me as I grew right next to it.
Look hard at not only what people (and trees!) are, but also at who they will be.
The best trees, much like the best people, don’t often start off that way. The runts… the reachers… the outsiders… the kinda wimpy ones that like to hang out in the corner, often end up making our hearts—and in this case, sometimes our back yards—feel the fullest.
Yep—I’ll bet on the Wimpy Tree any day.