Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Not many people associate Christmas with rocks, but I do.

Growing up, every year was a Christmas tree fiasco between my dad, the Christmas tree, and the stand. We had an old cast iron stand, red and intricately carved at the base, with three large, tough screws on the bottom to secure the tree to the stand. Every year, we would go out, pick the perfect tree (I don't remember the name of the tree my mom liked, but I never did...I now realize she liked it because the branches didn't droop when you put ornaments on it).

We'd bring the tree home and my dad would pull out the stand and then cut a little off the bottom of the tree. At this point, normally the first fight would break out. I always wanted a tree that looked like the ones in the know, the presents all looked the same, the ornaments looked the same etc. But, my sisters always wanted to put every ornament we had on the tree, regardless. Imagine, if you will, decades worth of ornaments...ratty old mice in thimbles, plaster ornaments that my Aunt Connie had given us for our births that were forgotten about until unpacked every year when we'd argue about whose was whose, plastic apples with handwritten notes, construction paper ornaments made in kintergarten all intermixed with shiney bulbs and colored (always colored, against my own asthetic preference for white) lights. The boxes of ornaments were endless and after the first few were on the tree, the fun was over and it normally ended up being my mom who finished putting them on....but I've gotten ahead of

My dad would, after cutting the bottom off the tree, bring it in to place in the stand. He would put some rocks under the trunk, and then screw in the stabilizing screws. The tree would never stand quite straight and he would ask me to go More rocks would be placed between the tree and the screws in order to "straighten" the tree out and the cycle would continue. One of us would hold the perilously perched tree while the other would run outside to get more rocks. It was no easy task...the rocks had to be large enough to hold up a tree, but small enough to fit between the base and the screws.

There is a photograph floating around somewhere of me and my sisters after our tree had been placed upright in the living room. The of placing it upright had somehow failed to take into account that trees can slant in any direction for 360 degrees. Viewed from the front, the tree was upright, but from the side, it was nearly 30 degrees off. My sisters and I, to my dad's dismay, were standing next to it, arms around one another, tilted enough that the tree appeared straight while the walls and windows were askew.

One year, I believe it was the Christmas I came home from basic training, my dad went out to get rocks. I took the tree, placed it in its base, and screwed it in. It stood up--straight. My dad came in, ready for his annual battle with the tree, and was dumbfounded at how I could have gotten the tree to stand up without rocks. Ha ha...I guess it was one of those growing up moments between the two of us, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for rocks around Christmas.

Christmas in Iraq has a lot of the strange nostalgic-only-to-a-Harmon-child aspects actually. The ground is strewn with rocks where there is not dirt, much like the yard I grew up in (and, needless to say, the rocks remind me of home). The walls and floors of my 'chu' (trailer) are plywood, like the home we built in Fallbrook. The weather is not at all a "white Christmas" heard about so often in songs, but reminds me of a mild Southern California night.

Obviously I miss my family, and my dad as always, but I'll see you all soon. I wish I could be there with you all, but until then, remember our slanted tree and our rocks, and be thankful, because this year, we have a new one to share it all with in Juliete!


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