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The Christmas Tree

A very long time ago, when I was young and newly married, my Grandfather lay in a hospital bed waiting to die. The family was called twice, on consecutive Sundays, to keep vigil and wait.

The third call came on a Friday. And we all knew this was really going to be it.

Problem was that much of our family was spread around. One cousin lived four hours away and my mother lived an hour and a half away. They’d made this trip twice before and it wasn’t an easy one to make.

My husband was working third shifts at the time, and was so dead dog tired. Yet he drove me to the hospital for the third time to be there when my Grandfather finally passed.

A long day it was, with each of us taking our turns sitting on the edge of the bed holding his hand and telling him it was okay to go. He didn’t have to wait for his grand daughter. He didn’t have to wait for his daughter. It was okay.

But he wouldn’t go.

Finally, my husband said he just had to go home and go to bed. He’d been up for over 36 hours at that point. So I told my mother not to let Grandpa know I’d gone. Let him think I was still there.

My husband in bed, I went to the grocery store to get things for supper. I started cooking supper, and decided to put up the Christmas tree. It was a couple weeks before Christmas, and the time I would normally put up the tree anyway.

I was sad for my Grandfather, but he’d have wanted me to put the tree up. Christmas had always been his favorite holiday. All the family that could come would and it was a happy day for him. I remember they always had a small white tree with red ornaments. One day I will have one also, in his memory.

I finished the tree and sat down to eat my supper. I bundled up and went down, intending to return to the hospital. The car wouldn’t start. Not a sound and not a spark. It would not start. Reluctantly, I woke my husband and he came down to see what the problem was.

There wasn’t a problem.

He tried every trick he knew to get this car going. Ether spray in the carburetor, checked all the wires, checked the starter, everything.

There was NOTHING wrong with the car.

I called the hospital (because this was before the age of cellphones) and told my mother the problem. She asked if I wanted someone to come get me. I told her no. What I didn’t tell her was that I didn’t want to be the reason someone else wasn’t there. I couldn’t live with that guilt. I could live with my own choice not to be there, and to this day know I made the right decision.

My husband ate some food, unable to go back to bed. I had baked chicken.  A few minutes after 9pm, my mother called to tell me Grandpa had passed.

“I have to know” my husband said and we went out to the car. He opened the door but didn’t get in. He just past the steering wheel and turned the key. No gas pedal pump, no nothing.

Damn thing fired right up. First turn of the key, he roared to life and ran strong. We just looked at each other a moment in disbelief.

Someone had decided for me that I should not be at that hospital to see my Grandfather die. I’m okay with that.

Now, my new family has a new tradition.  Every year (barring unforseen circumstances), we put our Christmas tree up on the day he was buried. I feel him around us every year, and make a point of talking about him while we decorate the tree.


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