The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, December 18, 2006

A sort of Christmas story

By Tamara Lee

Nearly a dozen Christmases ago, out for lunch with my dad at his favourite family restaurant, he told me where I could buy a fake tree.

Christmas had seldom been my favourite time of year, and a plastic and metal likeness of a tree was not going to suddenly change my mind.

‘I did sort of look into getting a real tree this year. But they’re 40 bucks.’

The price gob-smacked my dad, a Depression-raised man who had never stopped worrying about money, even when he had enough of it.

‘You can’t spend that kind of money on a Christmas tree.’

He used that same voice whenever he disapproved of an idea I had. But since we actually agreed, something rare in our conversations, I decided to ride this one out.

‘I know. I can’t believe how they exploit Christmas...’

And so on the conversation went, the two of us nodding and variously indignant about the expense and commercialization of holidays, until we were silent and pleased that the lunch was ending amicably.

Bending and not-bending to my father’s likes and more plentiful dislikes until dinner or lunch was over had become one of our sort-of rituals. It was always a tense love between us, neither of us knowing how to stop being angry with the other. Christmastime was especially a test of endurance for me. That I was considering getting a tree was new, and surprised even me.

After lunch, Dad dropped me off at the Seabus, the ferry that links the relatively wealthy suburb of North Vancouver to the city. I lived in a downtown neighbourhood my father despised. Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, was originally an annex of both the dockyards and Chinatown, and had always been home to those who struggled with poverty. But it had grown into an artistic community full of colourful 100-year-old old houses and rowhouses, and community spirit I never felt growing up in North Van. My father resented the poor neighbourhood in the Depression years; he hated it still, and my living there. It was one of the few things he hated that he couldn't talk about.

That year, I was commissioned to write a profile on a local artist, my first freelance job. The artist's work at the time were intricate black and white lithographs, depicting old buildings and storefronts, devoid of people, but sometimes containing brief allusions to life beyond those vacant windows and falling-down walls. She was fascinated by facade, something I could appreciate.

The morning after lunch with my father, I was madly preparing my piece for the afternoon deadline. I was especially tense for that time of year, and considered not answering the knock on the door. But the second, much louder, knock suggested not answering was a bad idea.

All I could see was tree. My father was a rather short man, but I knew it was he when he said, from behind the tree:

‘Couldn’t stand thinking of you not having a tree this year.’

I tried to grasp the scene. My father in my neighbourhood was shocking enough. My father in my doorway holding up a gorgeous, lush tree the same size as him was taking a bit longer to comprehend.

‘Where did you get it?’ I finally said, knowing he would not have bought it.

‘Climbed to the top of that big tree on my lot, and tore off the top.’

And there, at the bottom of the tree trunk, was the evidence. He had not even used a saw.

I tried not to laugh.

‘You want it?’ Dad did not like to be laughed at.

‘Of course I want it, Dad. Thank you. This is great!’

‘I gotta go now. I don’t want my car to get broken into.’

‘Okay. Thanks again…’ And he walked away.

I watched him at the crosswalk, noticing how he pulled his coat sleeve over his hand so he wouldn’t have to touch the button that presumably only lepers used.

He'd never change. But the image of my short, ornery father climbing up a massive tree and ripping off the top for me was the sort of brief allusion to life our relationship needed.

Every year, now, I put up a Christmas tree. Like him, it’s a little thing, but well meaning.


Happy Holidays, folks. See you in the New Year.

(Image: Frank's Lodge, lithograph, by Ameen Gill. Copyright artist. Do not reproduce, please.)


Blogger Anne C. said...

"I don't want my car to get broken into..."


Mon Dec 18, 02:24:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, he was a (usually inadvertently) funny man, my da' ;)

Mon Dec 18, 02:38:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

A perfect Christmas story, thanks for sharing.

Mon Dec 18, 05:11:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

this is so beautiful Tamara, really, so touching and exactly the way a good Christmas memory feels. Thank you, all the best to you and your family. Pxo

Tue Dec 19, 02:59:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I love this Tamara. Reminds me so much of my dad. And the art at the top of your piece is superb. Is the artist you were profiling?

Tue Dec 19, 08:49:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, gang.

Yes, Andrew, this is the work of the artist I was profiling, Ameen Dhillon (nee Gill). She's moved on to mixed media and painting of late, but it's all just as beautiful.

Tue Dec 19, 11:53:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

What a great story! Your father's antipathy to your neighbourhood is both funny and sad. It's so hard for some parents to understand how their children can embrace something they've rejected so thoroughly. I'll bet that was a beautiful tree.

Tue Dec 19, 12:39:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Oh Tamara! This is a wonderful story, beautifully expressed with such restraint. Merry Christmas.

Tue Dec 19, 10:05:00 pm GMT-5  

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