My family packed into our station wagon, crossed the High Street Bridge, and drove the less than two miles to “Santa’s Coliseum."
I'm sure you’ve seen it. It’s in the field across the freeway from the Oakland Coliseum. Most of the time the space is used for overflow parking. Except at Halloween, when it’s transformed into a pumpkin patch, and at Christmastime, when the trees claim the lot.
At Santa's Coliseum, my sister Eva and I would do a few courteous laps before we were uncontrollably pulled to the mysterious, snowy beauty of the flocked tree section.
One year, we pointed my dad toward a white flocked number, oh, I’d say, at least 12 feet tall.
“Girls, that atrocity is $60 dollars and bigger than our car. You’ve got twenty bucks. Now, go make yourselves useful and find us a decent tree.”
My sister and I somehow took this to mean that maybe he just didn’t want a white flocked tree. We were delusional.
“Hey Dad, did you see THIS one?” We said, skillfully tilting an enormous tree, flocked in ice-blue snow, toward him. His eyes said, “Put it down!” while his mouth said, “With all that tacky gunk, there is no room for ornaments.”
Tacky gunk? Blasphemy!
Though we should have been, we were not discouraged. Why? Because we had a plan.
Our parents recommended a few trees. Eva and I walked cordially walk around them, kicking the implied tires a bit, before making up some reasons they just weren’t the right fit for our family. “It’s nice, but it already looks kinda old.” Or, “It sits crooked," like we were contemplating adopting a new dog from the animal shelter.
Then we made the big ask.
“Mommy! Daddy! We found the perfect tree!” We pulled them until they were standing in front of the most beautiful tree in the whole, wide world!
Santa's Coliseum must have thought so, too, because they had it atop a motorized, rotating base. It was a huge, 18-foot beauty, flocked with fluffy, cotton-candy-pink glitter snow! It looked just like something a unicorn would eat!
"Good God." Was all my dad said.
However, angels spoke directly to Eva and me. And they sent a sign. The sky parted and a ray of light was sent down from the heavens, illuminating every fleck of glitter on that revolving pink tree until it looked like a mirrored disco ball. From Whoville.
Or maybe it was the lights from the parking lot.
In any case, every inch of it was so sparkly I knew we wouldn’t even have to decorate it when we got it home. It was that breathtaking!
But we did not bring that flocked tree home. We never brought home a flocked tree. We'd end up with an orphan-looking tree that was so sad looking my dad could easily haggle the price down under his twenty-dollar limit.
That always put him full of the Christmas spirit.
“Wadaya mean? It’s a great looking tree! You only need one good side anyway. The side that we look at!”
And he was right, you know. No matter what shape they were in, all of his trees somehow looked stunning all dressed up with tinsel and ornaments.
My mom would unwrap the ornaments and hand them to us while my dad would say he was too busy and read his all-important Wall Street Journal. We could put the decorations anywhere we wanted, usually in a clump.
Mysteriously, though, the morning after a night of tree trimming, the ornaments were placed a little more pleasingly, even up on the tippy-top branches only my dad could reach. I believe this to be a Christmas miracle.
Do I still gaze lovingly at flocked, bejeweled, perfectly color-coordinated trees in department stores? Sure. But I’d never, not in a million years, trade it for a tree decorated by my girls. Not even if it came with a pink glittery unicorn.