In 1999 my family was gathered for Christmas at the home of one of our grandsons. After dinner everyone was talking about their Christmas memories. I said I would tell them of my memories of the first Christmas after Pearl Harbor. The children were instructed by their parents to sit down and listen. "Grandma's going to tell us a story" I related the events of that day, and the children sat wide eyed and motionless. They were so enthralled I decided to write down my memories of that day, print them and have them bound. Each family got a copy. That was the beginning of my writing down these stories for later generations. Now here is the story.
THE LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE
When I was eleven years old the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor where I lived with my mother, stepfather and sister. My sister and I thought being in the middle of a bombing was pretty exciting stuff. We saw planes diving, huge plumes of black smoke, adults crying, people running, and there was noise, lots and lots of noise. Soon, however, we found war meant we couldn’t go to school because our school had been bombed, it meant we had black paper on the windows so the light wouldn’t shine through and show the enemy where we were, it meant we had to take our gas masks every time we went out, it meant we had to sleep downstairs on cots and it meant there were no Christmas trees.
Christmas trees were shipped to Hawaii in big cargo ships. Now they were saving the ships for important things people needed like food and medicine. As Christmas approached Daddy looked and looked for a Christmas tree but couldn’t find one anywhere. Then one day he came home with a big grin on his face. He held up a little artificial tree he had found in a department store. My sister and I weren’t too sure. Back in that time they didn’t know how to make trees that look real as they do now, and the little tree didn’t look real at all! It was only about sixteen inches tall. There were big spaces between the “branches” which were made of sticks covered with what looked like green crepe paper. Mama just smiled and said, “Wait and see.”
Daddy brought the big box of ornaments downstairs. Mama put the little tree at one end of the dining room table. Instead of the sheet we usually used, she put a pillowcase around the bottom to look like snow. Daddy’s job was to put on the lights. He wound a string of lights around the tree. The string was too long so he had to hide some of it under the pillowcase. The lights were turned on, and Mama stood back as she did every year to see if there were too many lights of the same color in one place. She took a red bulb from the side and put it in the back. She took a blue bulb and exchanged it for a green one. Finally she was satisfied. Now it was my sister’s and my turn. Our job was to put on the ornaments until the little tree was covered with bright, shiny balls. Mama always put on the icicles. She was very fussy and wanted them to hang straight and cover every branch. Mama claimed the rest of us just threw them on the tree in bunches.
When we had finished we stood back, and Daddy turned on the lights. The little tree stood straight and proud. My sister and I thought it even looked a little taller. It’s red and green and blue lights were reflected in the silver and gold ornaments. Never mind that the ornaments were too big for the tree or that the icicles on the bottom branches lay on the table like pools of silver. We thought it was the most beautiful tree we had ever seen.
It wasn’t long before presents began to arrive. Some were brought by the mailman. Some just appeared as though out of nowhere. Mama couldn’t put the presents under the tree. There was no “under” to it. She stacked them around the back and sides, and soon the little tree was almost surrounded by bright Christmas paper and shiny bows.
On Christmas morning my parents were expecting company for Christmas dinner. When it was time to set the table Mama wondered what to do with the little Christmas tree. It’s pretty boxes had been torn apart that morning by my sister and me in our search for presents. Still, it didn’t seem right to move it after it had done so much to make our Christmas a happy one, so every one agreed to scrunch down and sit close together. All through dinner the little tree stood in it’s place at the end of the table like an honored guest, and it was the last thing I saw as I drifted off to sleep that night.