The Year My Neighbor Stole My Christmas Tree

I had been a single parent for 10 years when I met my second husband. When I had moved into my own apartment ten years earlier, I had signed the lease when I was “great with child” with my third child. I waddled into the rental office and to this day I am convinced they had me sign the lease quickly, so they could get me out of the office before I went into labor. When I moved into the apartment, the baby was three weeks old, her big sister had just turned three years old and her brother was just a bit over one and a half. This was the only apartment complex that would rent me a two bedroom apartment with three children. All the other places I checked insisted that I had to have one bedroom for each child and there was no way I could afford that. I had a high school diploma, but no work experience and no technical training or education of any kind, and at that stage of things, very little confidence. I did have a determination to survive and to take care of my children.

Over the next six years, I did get some training in office skills and some secretarial work. That was how I figured out that secretarial work was not my strong suit. I was able to continue working part time while I got an Associate Degree in nutrition. After graduating from the local Community College, we moved to Baltimore, Maryland to be closer to my mom. I got a job in a nursing home as a part-time dietary supervisor and we got a town house apartment in a relatively poor part of the county. Much to my surprise, despite the poverty and depressing nature of the housing near us, we were the only single parent family in our section of the town houses.

I did have some good supportive friendships and my mom’s support and encouragement were unfailing. She would show up at my doorstep with a bag of groceries and insist it was all on sale and would say, “I couldn’t go wrong.” I worked at keeping good relationships with my former in-laws for the children’s sake. I never wanted them to be able to accuse me of keeping them from their grandchildren, especially since I had moved us an hour away and to a different state, so that I could be closer to my mom.

My next door neighbor became my baby sitter and my mom kept the kids one day a week, on Wednesdays, to help keep childcare costs down. At this point my children were 9, 7 1/2 and 6. When it came time for our first Christmas tree, we had a short, artificial tree, that was a little worse for the wear. I set it on a trunk in the living room and was ready to decorate it myself when they kids went to bed, but my son laid an amazing guilt trip on me. He said he had seen a cartoon on G. I. Joe about Christmas and one of the soldiers talked about how disappointing it was not to be allowed to help decorate the Christmas tree when he was a child. Guilt. Trip. I caved.

After the lights were on and the tree was decorated, they wanted to show the tree off to their baby sitter, so we invited her to come over to see it. She was politely enthusiastic, especially when the children told her they had helped to decorate it. There were no gifts under the tree, but that didn’t worry me. I knew my in-laws to be very generous and my children would not feel the sting of poverty. In fact my former mother-in-law was prone to over-kill in that department so I knew the fact that there were no gifts under our tree didn’t mean there would be no gifts. My job was to provide food and pay rent.

The following Wednesday I picked up the children from my mother’s, after a particularly tiring and frustrating day at the nursing home. I opened the door to our house and stared into the black hole that was our living room. Even in the darkness I could see that our tree was missing. Who in the world would steal a Christmas tree, especially one so scrawny, with no presents to steal? I could hear the children’s voices behind me, “Hey! Where’s our tree?” They saw it too, or rather they didn’t see it too. But something in the corner caught my eye, a red glow that we all seemed to see at once.

In the corner of our living room was a beautiful tree. It touched the ceiling and filled the corner. It was the tallest, fullest most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever seen. And it was real, and decorated, with lots of shimmering lights. They had used our decorations and added some. There was hand lettered note on an 8×11 piece of paper precariously placed on the branches that said “Merry Christmas” and the floor was littered, loaded with wrapped presents for the children. I could not figure out how one person had done all that. The knock came quickly. Bobbi had been waiting for us to come home so she could share in our enthusiasm and the oohs and ahs of the children. She had reached out to her large family and shared the story of what she deemed our paltry Christmas and got every one involved.

She did not have to do this, but she certainly had the heart to do it. What she gave our family that year was something much more than the tree and presents. She acted with great kindness, generosity and compassion. She was in a sense, a Christmas Evangelist. She told her whole family the news and got them involved in giving great tidings of joy. She offered us hope in a time of genuine sorrow. Although we lost touch, I have never forgotten her kindness. She was our Christmas Angel.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

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