Southside Christmas Memories: Oh Christmas Tree

Southside Christmas Memories: Oh Christmas Tree

So its 1986 and now I’m used to Christmas being a little wacky and very comical, five years prior Santa came to the mall (Evergreen Plaza), in a box and the year before I ate so much chocolate and I ended up in the emergency room.

This year we had a new addition to the family, “Ruffy”, she was a stray cat my dad brought in the house in September (it was an unusually cold fall that year), and I loved Ruffy, I had been wanting a cat (since I was big fan of both Heathcliff and Garfield), and Ruffy was great. She was temperamental but entertaining and was affectionate when she wanted to be. She was also a climber, she would jump from our old TV on to the top of a bookcase that we had that was a good seven feet high. Then she would sit up there and look down on all of us. She did that with the refrigerator too.

So for the last few years we had your run of the mill fake tree with the multicolored tips and a bad base that my mother would cover with a old tablecloth. It was fine (outside of being a larger plastic version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree), it matched the Nativity set we had that was missing a wise man, an animal and some other biblical figures. I think I had tried putting GI Joe and some green army men in there but my parents weren’t having it.

Anyway we put up our little tree and Ruffy’s eyes get big because she’s a cat and this is a tree. So she tried climbing and the tree fell. And this happened multiple times over several days, I think the last straw was we come home one day and the tree was down right by the front door, garland stretched across the living room and just a mess. Earlier Ruffy was swinging on the garland like a jungle gym. And see my dad was big on decorating for Christmas “You HAD to have a tree”. But we loved Ruffy and she and the tree just weren’t working out. So my mother and I were sad but figured well maybe wouldn’t have a tree this year.

Now my father worked for CTA as a bus mechanic (he’s been retired since 1994), he drove a CTA issued van (# 610), and fixed buses on the street all over the southside (I used to ride with him sometimes in the summer when school was out though we mostly ate various take out food and visited his friends or went to the lakefront), anyway dad used that van as his personal U-Haul vehicle. When Toy R Us on 87th & The Dan Ryan would be open all night the week before Christmas, dad would take that van and once he clocked in, he’d go to there and buy my toys and then later buy clothes for my mother and household goods and load the truck up and drop it off at the house.

So one evening dad is working late (he worked swing shift) and my mother and I are having dinner at home, normal night. Out of the blue my father shows up in the work truck (he’d turn it in every night at the bus garage at 77th & Vincennes on the south side), and we look surprised. he comes in the house, all wide eyed and talking fast (it meant he had something good), and he goes back out and drags in a real, live six or seven foot tall Christmas tree. Now despite being 10 years old, we’d never had a live tree, so this was all new and exciting. Dad also had a new metal Christmas tree stand, I remember it was silver and red. He goes into the living room pushes the old tree out of the way and puts the new stand down and puts the tree in it, tells my mother to get water for the tree and then to our shock he says “I got something for that cat’s ass” and gets three large carpentry nails out of his pocket and pounds them nails into that Christmas tree stand into the floor (well shag carpet over a wood floor), using a a sizable claw hammer.

Ruffy sat in the corner stunned and like mom & I were. Dad then proclaims he has to go back to work and rushes out leaving us with one tree nailed to the floor and the old tree, laying off to the side like it had been shot.

I remember that evening with my mother taking the trimmings off the old tree on the floor and putting them on the new tree (that smelled so good), and yes Ruffy not only climbed the new tree but sat in it. But since dad anchored it to the floor it never moved.

I don’t remember what I got for Christmas that year but that tree was a gift in itself and to this day 1986 was one of my favorite holiday seasons, tree nailed to the floor and all.

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