Christmas 1979 was looking very bleak and lonely. Being the youngest child, I was the only one left at to share Christmas with my mother. Mom and I were living in Anchorage in a basement apartment. She announced she had invited a man named Bernie over for Christmas Eve to decorate our tree.
Christmas Eve came, along with Bernie, a lonely gentleman, Mom had met at a local Inn, where she was employed as a hostess. This was Bernie’s first Christmas away from his daughter and grandchildren, whom he missed terribly. They lived in Maine and he was stationed in Alaska by an oil company. Bernie’s story didn’t surprise me, as my mother always had a soft spot for a lonely soul (orphan) without a family, to share the holidays.
Well, along with Christmas Eve, Bernie and our artificial tree, came eggnog. But not just ordinary eggnog, but eggnog and rum, which Bernie so cheerfully supplied. Apparently it was one of his old family traditions.
We proceeded to transform a cardboard box stuffed with plastic branches into a decent looking tree. We began to notice how meticulous Bernie was, when it took him at least ten minutes to form each branch, perfectly. He kept telling us it had to be “asymmetrical.”
Hours later the tree branches, finally together and the lights shining brightly on our perfectly asymmetrical tree, it was time for our homemade ornaments and treasured crystal bulbs. This turned into another ordeal. Bernie, at this point was perched on the sofa arm rest, eggnog in hand, visions of Christmas past with his family, flashing through his mind.
Mom and I exchanged worried glances, but proceeded to hang our treasured ornaments. Bernie, at times, would let out a squeal of disappointment, and announced “that is the wrong spot, move it up and to the left, NO! NO! I mean to right, now turn it around!” We finally had all the ornaments hung with the precise direction of Bernie. I had to admit it was a perfect tree, but acknowledged it had not been worth it. It was well past midnight and we had a very tipsy Bernie on our hands. He mumbled about our beautiful tree and how empty his room was back at the Inn.
With a blink of an eye, Bernie jumped up, grabbed the middle of our tree, yanking the lights out of the socket, and proceeded to drag the tree to the door of our basement apartment. Opening the door, clouds of warm air, hit the cold, cold night air and fog and steam surrounding him, he disappeared up the stairs.
There was yelling and screaming about our ornaments as the tree went bump, bump up the steps. Garland and ornaments and bulbs scattered everywhere, my Mom yelling loud enough for the sleeping neighbors to hear her scream, “I don’t care about the tree but let us have the ornaments back!” Bernie disappeared into the cold night, in a cloud of fog, dragging our tree to this little 280-Z car. We all know how little those cars are! He crammed and pushed the decorated tree into his little car.
He jumped into the car, slammed the door, and with a roar of the engine, tried to take off. Not getting enough traction, as it was snowing, he was stuck. He jumped out of his little car, stomping off down the driveway in the direction of the Inn. Mom yelled at him, reclaimed our tree, pulling it back out of the little car.
Lights went on all over the neighborhood, as astonished sleepy people, peeked out from behind the drapes, just in time to see my Mom pulling the tree out of the car, walk across the parking lot. She was quite a sight, with her pink fuzzy slippers. She raised the tree like a trophy. I was in a state of shock.
Back in the apartment, after retrieving bulbs and garland from the parking lot and the stair well, we both burst out laughing and tried to salvage what we could of our tree.
Christmas morning arrived, the night before seemed like a dream. Mom said Bernie was crazed from all the eggnog but he was still a very lonely man and this was Christmas Day. So we decided to remove just our treasured ornaments, left the rest of the decorations in tact, and delivered the tree to the Inn for Bernie to enjoy. I am sure he spent hours and hours making it “asymmetrical” again. We never saw him or heard from him. We told each other, never ever again will we ever have a Christmas like this one!