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The Tree Topper

By: Amber Costello

The Christmas tree looks stupid!" Five year old Roger blurted out. "Are we going to get a tree topper this year?"

His pensive look prompted me into major damage control.

"Help mommy unload this box and we'll talk about what kind of tree toper we are going to buy. Okay?" I asked brightly as I shook the box and the tinkles and rustling caught his attention.

Roger busily assembled loose bulb hooks into a ferocious tree monster and he was pacified.

Unwrapping the Christmas ornaments that had accumulated over the years my thoughts became reflective, as most peoples do this time of year. I grasped the baby's first Christmas ornament, the peace on earth ornament, assorted yellow-wrinkled god awful ugly cookie ornaments the kids made at school. Teachers do get their revenge. And, last but certainly no less nostalgic were the various glass bulbs that graced the tree as a collective mismatched family.

Reaching deeper into the well-worn cardboard box my hand was consumed by a conglomeration of tree lights, garland, and popcorn strings sans most of the popcorn.

Praying this would not dampen my unusual smattering of Christmas spirit, I placed the behemoth on the living room floor.

"Wow, mommy! Can I play army in there?" Roger exclaimed as he rushed toward the messy mound.

"NO!" I screeched. The command stopped him dead in his tracks. "Mommy needs to fix it."

His curious stare still enfolded on the blob, but being the five year old that he was, he quickly lost interest and began driving a truck up the tree's trunk.

A passing thought occurred to me. I could hang the tangled seasonal mess on the tree and call it Art. I would title it: Modern Christmas. Nope, the kids would never go for that. It was hard enough trying to pacify them about the tree topper issue, and every year it got harder.

This will be our eighth year and still no tree topper. At first it was an ongoing repartee between my husband and I. We would banter about the rich, opulent, gaudy, vulgar, extremely expensive tree topper we would buy when we graduated from college.

Soon after college, the children came and we never gave the absence of a tree topper a second thought. The enjoyment of Christmas was never overshadowed with out one.

The following year grandpa died and the bare treetop reflected our own feelings. With a large part of our legacy now gone the unadorned spire on the tree was comforting. We did not need an ornamental reminder of him to grace our Christmas. His presence blanketed the room and was felt by all for he was now a piece of our eternal Christmas memory.

It is with grave fortitude that I must face the kids. They have not yet experienced hot-dog dinners five nights in a row, scraping gas money from the folds of the sofa, lost loved ones or complete and full Bah-Humbug. They expect as their inherent Christmas right a shiny, glittering tree top ornament.

In an unusually thoughtful moment Roger stretched out on his tummy with his elbows supporting his chin watching me.

"Honey, what kind of tree topper do you want?" I asked, curious to hear his response.

He immediately sat up and made cat claws with both hands "I want one with really long teeth and a lot of hair. So, it will keep the monster away from my presents when Santa brings them." He exclaimed and then bounced off down the hallway to ask his dad what kind of tree topper he wanted.

Robin, his seven year old sister, disdainfully sighed. "He's such a child."

Trying not to patronize my ancient seven-year-old daughter, I ask her what kind of tree topper she wanted.

Eyes glittering brightly, she said "One with long gold and silver ribbons, and tiny shiny colorful stars."

I explained to her anyone could get a tree topper like that, but we were unique. She was not impressed with our uniqueness and thoroughly bored with the situation, she left the room.

My short lived reprieve ended as Roger appeared in the living room perplexed.

"Mommy, what does compounded interest mean? He asked.

I said "Why do you want to know what compounded interest is?"

"'Cause Daddy said he didn't care what kind of tree topper we got as long as it compounded interest."

Redirecting his attention, I offered him a deal. "Help mommy untangle this mess and we'll have cookies and milk."

Not easily won over he exclaimed, "But, you give me cookies anyway. 'Member. You said I get cookies only 'cause I'm special and no other reason."

Pleading with him I responded, "Can't you help mommy just because I'm special?"

A scowl creased his eyebrows. My logic worked. I didn't get to be the mommy for nothing. He stood next to me with the attention of a good little soldier.

Very soon into the task it became obvious that his helping mommy would take us twice as long. Grabbing a chunk of garland laced Christmas lights, I sat on the sofa and began the tedious attempt at unraveling. Sighing heavily, I concluded this was a job for "knot-man." My husband lived for untangling things. Piles of twisted rope, knotted and kinked jewelry, matted string resembling a new breed of canine, these were his Mt. Everest.

Responding to my cry for help he eagerly jumped into the task presented.

"Roger, the first step in the untangling science is to make everything loose." Mike solemnly told his son as he vigorously shook the pile.

Not convinced he wanted to be a part of any science, Roger tentatively watched his dad for a few moments. A couple of loose ends fell from the heap and Mike cheered.

"See, son? Now we have the feelers and we can unstitch this baby in a matter of minutes." Mike said.

A hungry gleam filled Roger's eyes and my worst fear was confirmed. He had inherited his father's untangling gene. I was told it usually skipped a generation.

The two were lost in the mass of garland and electrical lights while I sat on the sofa watching father with son. Secure in the fact that the untangling science would be passed on for yet another generation.

Making her grand appearance into the living room Robin watched her dad and brother. Her aloof expression suddenly brightened as she spotted the box of ornaments. Squeals of mirth fell from her as she carefully removed and placed each one delicately on the table. She hummed softly Silent Night as she held the vibrant decorations up to the light. Her father soon accompanied her song, and his deep resonant voice filled the living room.

Roger stopped momentarily from his instruction and said "I hope Santa brings us an extra special tree topper this year."

Gazing at the partially decorated Christmas tree that sat in the center of the floor, and closely monitoring the work in progress between father and son, I think to myself, he already has.

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