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Christmas reinforces family, love

People have every right to be thankful on Thanksgiving.
But for me, Christmas is the pinnacle of holiday blessings.
Maybe it’s because I am fortunate to be married into a large, wonderful family. If Norman Rockwell were still alive, he’d bring his easel to the Heffernan home in Bristol to record four generations of a salt-of-the-Earth family breaking bread, opening presents and catching up on the latest news.
As the lone professional scribe in the family, I can’t help but feel like John Boy Walton at these gatherings, making mental notes of infants giggling at the sight of older siblings playing with new toys as the intoxicating aromas of a fresh-cooked roast, cookies and the essence of Christmas tree pine waft through a conversation-filled room.
I realize how lucky I am to share in this spectacle. My brother lives in the Midwest and my parents both died at age 55. And now that I’m 54 with a birthday coming up in less than a month, I’m being extra vigilant about carelessly discarded banana peels. I look both ways three times before I cross the street. And contrary to the Sammy Hagar rock ‘n’ roll classic, I can drive 55 on a highway with a speed limit of 65.
The blessing of a large family is what shortens your list of material wants. My wife, Dottie, knows it’s like pulling teeth to get me to make up a Christmas list bearing more than socks, maple cream, a new pair of sneakers and another Stevie Ray Vaughan T-shirt to add to my collection.
“Don’t you want anything else?” she asks each year.
Not really. Health. Family. Friends. A roof. A plate of food a couple times a day. My 52-year-old buggy for cruising around on sunny days. My little, beat-up boat for fishing. Got it covered.
It’s all about Christmas, and the prelude to it, which includes the yearly trek for the tree. We could easily get one pre-cut around a mile away from our door, but that would ruin a tradition. Nope, our family is among the legions of other hearty souls committed to the “pick-your-own” variety. It means driving a little further and sometimes paying a little extra to pick out, and harvest, your own Christmas tree, then jerry-rig it to the top of your car and pray it doesn’t fly off during the drive home.
In years past, I was the designated “Paul Bunyan” of the family. They entrusted me with a sharp handsaw to make “quick” work of a 12-inch diameter pine tree. Fifty-seven thrusts later, my mouth and clothes full of snow, the tree would finally topple with the softest of thuds. Sarcastic applause would follow from Dottie and our children, Mark and Diane. Now 23 and strong enough to pull a tree out by the roots, Mark is in charge of the tree felling. That’s after Diane picks it out, making sure it is filled out as much as possible and situated a country mile from the car. After all, you tend to appreciate your tree more if you have to drag it through several snow drifts while your teeth are chattering.
Dottie snaps a ton of photos from every angle to make sure the tree harvest is captured for future generations, who unfortunately might order theirs through Amazon.com.
Once home, we prune the lower branches from the tree and plop it into a stand for a meticulous straightening process that would make a civil engineer proud. While Mark and I balance the tree in place, Dottie assesses it from 17 different angles.
“Move it around two inches that way. No, move it back three inches. To the right, a little bit more. Now left. Darn — you know, why don’t you move the whole thing closer to the window so we can see it from outdoors?”
Next come the decorations, which get affixed to the accompaniment of some holiday-appropriate tunes. One rendition per year of “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” is just about right.
There was a time when Diane would sit on my shoulders to give the tree its crowning flourish of a star or angel. I’d still give it a shot, but Diane does not trust my aging back. Probably the right call, as it would be tough to get into the holiday spirit confined to a body cast after taking a tumble.
As the days go by, the tree provides cover to an increasing number of presents. And that’s just a bonus. The real treasures, to me, are the people placing those gifts under the tree. And you don’t even need to wrap them.

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