Tree Topper

I was hoping it would work. After all, if it didn’t, that would mean it too was dead.

Cherished memories of holiday seasons long past seem to flood my mind more and more as I get older. This year was no different. As the boxes came out and Christmas made its appearance all over our home (for which I am grateful, I love it!), I was setting up the little toys that reside upon our coffee tabletop during this season. There are finger puppets of Rudolf, Santa, and more. There are plastic figurines of Yukon Cornelius and crew—including the infamous bumble. Some family winter/holiday decor. And in the center of it all: The Train.

Back in 1997, there was a hit movie, Anastasia. It was a spectacular hit. My kids loved it. I enjoyed it, as did my wife. Now, back then, kid’s meal toys from places like McDonald’s and Burger Kings had great toys. The toys were worth getting. Totaly. Now, not so much—if at all. I used to love getting my kid’s meal and opening the toys to collect and play with them. I’m talking about when I was in my early thirties still, not just as a child. But, sadly, over the last decade, or more, the toys have just sucked. Both in quality and imagination. This may seem off-topic but it isn’t.

The Anastasia movie had a series of toys available at Burger King! They were pretty cool. Especially the train.

I can still recall driving up to Burger King, on a cold winter night, maneuvering our car into the drive-through, seeing the menu, then almost losing my mind at spying the available toys. One of which was a full train set! It was spectacular looking. It had a simple track, nice colors, snow atop each car… We decided that if it wasn’t too much money, we would buy one (with or without the kid’s meal—if needed). Neither my wife nor I, recall how much it was. I remember it being about $3. My wife suspects around $6 (she’s probably right). Regardless, we bought two. We figured if one ever went kaputs, we would need to have a backup. The saddest part of that whole thing is that whatever the cost was at the time, we could barely afford it—I’m sure many of you have been there, that point where $1 was the difference between life and death (financially). But, ultimately, we felt that a holiday investment of this minor magnitude was worth the sacrifice.

The setup was quick and easy. It’s not even that large (go figure…), but, it is still one of my favorite decorations. Hands down. I love it. Not because of the movie. Not because of anything else but because it reminds me of a simple time in my marriage when fun won over money. When the joy of the holiday time brought out the child-like giddy in my wife. When happiness actually did come in a box. We have loved those trainsets ever since.

Well, it’s been over twenty years and only one of them has stopped running. The motor still kicks in, but the wheels don’t spin. I have contemplated carefully cracking the chassis open and taking a look inside. I am pretty proficient when it comes to bizarre detail work like that. My biggest concern is that I might irreparably damage the aesthetic of it. If the other one breaks down, then I’ll definitely open one up. This way, we have one that is more of a ‘just look and see’ train and a still drivable one. With the two sets of tracks, there was even a time when we could set them up around the base of our Christmas tree and let it drive around and around. Our children loved to see that. Good times. Simple times.

The glorious train. There was an incident…

That tree, we don’t have anymore. It has been gone for a time. Although, part of me really wanted to hold onto it. I’m sick in the head. I know.

Growing up, I don’t ever recall having a fake tree. They were always real. Then, when I was married, that changed. Not because my wife was (or is) a horrible person and didn’t want a live tree. It’s just that circumstance didn’t allow it. Our first Christmas together would require us to purchase the plastic. Fine. If for only that year (we had it forever!—forever…).

I still recall being super excited about finding that first tree. The box proclimated (I know what I wrote)—in big letters for all to see—that it was six feet tall. Six feet tall?!?!! That would make it taller than me. Cool. I could work with this. Six feet…

We get it home, unbox it, start setting it up, and we discover that the design seemed to be tapering to a point a lot faster than it should. We still had a foot to go. Then, disappointment.

If you have ever had a fake Christmas tree, you probably already know that they have wires and such that hold them together. Additionally, some are made with wires so that you can bend the ‘branches’ into place. Fine. Good plan. Okay. Except that the last foot of our tree was one long wire. A twelve-inch wire covered in plastic pine-leaf-tinsel-stuff. It was a nightmare. To say that it looked ridiculous would be the understatement of the century—and an insult to the ridiculous. It was bad. I was upset because I felt like I was ripped off. I paid for six feet. I wanted six feet of tree, not five feet of tree and a twelve-inch wire! My wife was upset because how do you cover/fix/deal with a foot-long green tinsel-wire sticking up out of the top of your tree? You don’t. You can’t. Until you can.

In our efforts to find the perfect tree topper (none of the ones we found would work, nor could we afford them), we entered into a local thrift store. It was in this thrift store that we found the answer to our simple—albeit ridiculous—prayer. We found the perfect tree topper. It was old. Very old. The cellophane window was broken away. The box was in reasonable condition—but for who knew how much longer? Inside was this golden spire. It had a bulb near the base that added dimension to the whole shape. Then, the entire thing slowly tapered to a point. There were itty-bitty pine cones and a ribbon attached to it. It had the distinct era of ‘long ago’ about it. It was so bad, it was good. It was $2. It was coming home with us.

That twelve-inch pipe cleaner for a tree top went right up that golden spire. It fit perfectly. It also balanced out perfectly. It was as if the two were made for each other. That tree required more to get it to fill out (there were seriously large holes in the ‘branches’), but, we had the ornaments to do it. Still, there came a time when the tree moved on with its life, but, the tree topper stayed behind. My wife and I kinda fell in love with it. However, it has never looked good on any tree we have had since. Still, I hold out for the day when we will find a new tree that will match it perfectly once more.

Our thrift store tree topper.

I think that is one of the best things about holiday times: Memories. They stay with us. Traditions can come and go, or change. But, memories… They can stay forever. They are renewed when triggered by a sight, a smell, a sound, a person, place, or thing. I look back on the many fond memories I have from my Christmas childhood with great joy. I look back upon my Christmas memories of my family with even more. I hope that my children will one day do the same.

May you have the merriest of Christmases this year. Happy Christmas and God bless.

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