O' Christmas Tree

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, December 2009

He was sitting on the piano bench staring at the Christmas tree. Tears were running down his cheeks and his shoulders shook silently with the emotion. The lights in the room were dim and the colored bulbs on the tree radiated a rainbow of colors onto his white hair. I was in awe at the beauty of the lights and confused by the sight of my grandfather crying. I was ten-years-old. I loved Christmas. I adored by grandfather.

"Grandpa, why are you crying," I asked in a small voice. I scooched up next to him on the piano bench and laid my head on his shoulder. My long blonde hair tumbled down his back. He wrapped a strong arm around my shoulders and remained silent for a long time. My feet were swinging slowly beneath the bench.

"I can't see the tree anymore," he finally whispered. "All the colored lights look blurry and I can't make out the tree."

I stared at the tree admiring the perfection. Our family had picked it out together when we went to Santa's Village. We drove home singing Christmas carols in the car and drank hot chocolate as we decorated it with all the special ornaments. I smiled as I remembered my grandmother patiently hanging tinsel one strand at a time over the branches. You could see where my sister, brother and I had put tinsel. It hung in messy clumps as it threatened to drop to the floor below.

I don't know why, but I started describing each ornament on the tree. My grandfather listened intently as I told him how the little yellow whirly one was twirling madly as the heat rose from the red bulb placed below it. His deep, rich laugh echoed in the room when I told him it looked like a mini-helicopter that could fly the tree right out of the room.

We watched the tree quietly. Me seeing the details that my young eyes allowed and my grandfather seeing only blurs of color. Softly singing, my grandfather's pure tenor voice intoned the German words to O'Tannebaum. As the tears pooled in my eyes, the lights on the tree blurred into beautiful rays of color. "It's beautiful, grandpa."