"Don't Shoot Your Eye Out!" vs "Don't Knock Over The Christmas Tree."
“Don’t shoot your eye out!” Ralphie’s mother said in the movie, A Christmas Story, warning him about the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.
I smile every time I hear those words because in our house my mom said: “Don’t knock over the Christmas tree!”
My older brother, Gregg, and I did knock it over. Numerous times!
The year I remember the most was 1960. Like every other December, Mom bundled my brother and I into winter gear and drove us to the heart of downtown Detroit from our home in Redford. It was our annual outing to pick out our very own Christmas ornament from Hudson department store – the flagship store on Woodward Avenue.
Squirming out of the car, Gregg and I were instantly morphed by the 418-foot tall, red brick building – the tallest department store in the world!
Wide-eyed we huddled together, fighting the icy wind that blew a sprinkling of frosty-white snowflakes. With teeth chattering we gawked at the 49 display windows glowing with Christmas: animated elves, reindeer, and Santa, too, would twist and turn and dance among oodles of toys, clothes, and what nots all lit up with thousands of twinkling lights. My heart began to thump, thump, thump as I knew this was just a teaser of more to come!
Entering from Gratiot Avenue we sucked in the smell of fresh baked sugar cookies – the same cookie Mom would bake – making this outing more memorable.
With the crowd, we shuffled along heading to one of the 51 elevators that shot us up to the North Pole. When we heard the ding of the next arriving elevator, my heart rang on cue. The elevator doors opened and a man dressed in a fancy grey uniform would ask, “Which floor?” As if bouncing in our boots didn’t shout twelve! His gloved hand pressed the mystical button and we flew upstairs.
That’s where the magic happened. We stepped into a vast forest of trees covered in a thick frosting of fluffy white snow. Among the hundreds of sparkling lights were merry motorized elves all busy hammering and sawing away creating toys for Christmas delivery. We wove along, heading straight to the big man himself, Santa. It was time to give our list. “Ho, ho, ho,” his deep voice would boom adding to the excitement of this enchanted world.
Hoping off his red velvet lap, we’d then race to the toy department a few feet away. Instantly we were swallowed up by stacks and stacks of toys. Lincoln Log houses towered over us, while Lego castles touched the ceiling. In between it all, a train would chug, weaving in and out of the pure heaven!
After letting us wander in lust, Mom would finally say, “Pick out one ornament for the tree.”
Besides telling our deep secrets to Santa, this was the other reason to come to downtown Detroit. Each year Mom let us select a special ornament – price or size was never a concern this one and only time.
I would always snag a cuddly plush animal, adding to the zoo of others I had gotten years before.
“The chipmunk,” I screeched, cradling the furry critter in the palm of my six-year-old-hand.
“That one,”my brother, at nine, said, pointing to a glass sphere.
“The black one?” Mom asked, her voice rising a note higher. The ornament was darker than coal and not a dash of glitter.
My brother nodded and folded his arms across his face and stood firmly.
“It’s big,” Mom said, eyes frozen on the dark, inky globe. The ornament was larger than my brother’s face.
Gregg nodded, his face splitting into a smile.
We arrived home with one chipmunk and one black beast. Gregg immediately marched up to the tree. On tiptoes, he reached as high as he could, determined to hang the ghastly globe front and center.
“Don’t knock over the Christmas tree,” Mom cautioned.
He hooked the ornament, stepped back and grinned.
The next morning we were up before Mom. Straight away Gregg beelined for the tree.
“I think Black Beauty needs to be in a better spot,” Gregg said.
I noticed he named his treasured round sphere.
“Maybe a spot where Zorro can admire it,” he added, referring to our frisky mutt.
Gregg nursed the onyx orb off the tree, had it nestled in his hands, and was about to hook it to a lower branch when Mom walked in.
“Don’t knock over the Christmas tree!” she cried.
Zorro yapped, sprang through Gregg’s legs and knocked him off balance. Gregg’s arms spun in circles. He tried to steady himself, but Black Beauty, the tree, and Gregg crashed to the floor. The giant ornament shattered into pieces, along with others. Water from the tree stand seeped towards my barefeet making the carpet squishy.
Mom’s mouth went into a straight line, frozen in place.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” I shouted. “Gregg and I will clean up the mess.”
All she could do was nod and leave the room.
I hustled about as my brother moved slower, whimpering over the loss of Black Beauty. "It's okay, Gregg," I said. "You can buy a bigger and better ornament next year."
Unlike this posed picture, our tree seemed to topple over every year.
Now, thinking back, I'm certain the tippy tree was from Dad's too small stand for the oversize tree my brother and I would beg to get. I remember Dad cranking the tree stand screws into the soft pine wood, but it never seemed to be a sturdy combination. I'm certain I inherited my non-mechanical gene from Dad.
I hope this Christmas brings wonderful memories for you. Is your tree standing upright?