Kate Farrell Looks Back on Christmas in Sacramento

Story Power author Kate Farrell has written a new blog post on an adventure with a Christmas tree, a boy, and a levee along the Sacramento River, read Kate’s post here!

Once upon a time in the last century, when my son was eight years old, we lived in Sacramento right along the river. That summer we’d moved to the Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood and rented a two-story townhouse, a short walk from the mighty Sacramento River banked by high levees—a wonderful location for mom, son, and frisky Queensland Heeler.

We took long walks along the levee pathways throughout the summer and fall, our wild ranch dog herding us. The holidays were soon approaching with no Santa helpers in sight. We’d left the friendliest neighbors back in Martinez, where I could always rely on expert decorating advice, from painting the living room windows with candy canes and snowflakes to tussling with strings of tree lights.

One night while shopping at a local grocery store, I saw a nine foot tree in the parking lot with a big red tag—on sale for $25! I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I immediately purchased the tree and its wooden stand before anyone else could snatch up this incredible bargain. It was a beautiful, fresh, Noble fir with full branches and a strong fragrance that I noticed when I heaved it into my trunk and secured it with bungie cords.

It wasn’t until I dragged the tree through the front door to stand it in a corner of the living room that I saw its fatal flaw. The tree was leaning into the room. Not just leaning, it was bent at the trunk, having grown up, then sideways. Ah! That was why it was so cheap. Had everyone else noticed this? Well, it was dark when I bought it. What to do? I moved the tree so it leaned into the corner. Problem solved.

But when my son came home from visiting his dad and helped me transfer the tree into a sturdy tree stand with heavy screws, it wobbled off balance. We managed to settle the crooked tree somehow, placing it against the wall. That night we began to string the lights.

We had to move it away from the wall and carefully began circling the tree with white lights, starting at the top by standing on a chair, and all the way down. We turned on the lights to look for gaps as we stood next to it. The tree swayed and began to fall on us, fully lighted.

My son covered his face, almost shrieking, “Oh no! Oh no! The Christmas tree is falling!”

I caught the tree from crushing us, though I didn’t really think it would, holding it up, then pushing it back. “Help me!” I called out to my son and together we moved it back into its corner and steadied it against the wall, its white lights blinking.

“The Christmas tree almost fell!” My son wailed. He seemed to think it was a catastrophe, even though I reassured him that we would not have been crushed, scratched, or burned. I knew it was the idea that the iconic Christmas tree could fall, a breach of holiday magic.

“We need a break,” I said. “What about a burger and fries?”

Trundled into the car, we drove to a small diner at the Promenade Shopping Center nearby. Sitting at a cafe table eating our fries, we began to plot our next move.

“How can we weight the back of the tree so it doesn’t pitch forward into the room?” I wondered.

“I have it!” My son’s eyes glowed with mischief. “The cement on the levee. You know, the broken pieces of concrete.”

“That would work,” I said. “We’d better not get caught.”

I knew that this civic theft was most likely illegal, but it wouldn’t cause the levee to collapse and flood the neighborhood. We returned home for tools and a box.

I wondered what was taking Brendan so long as I waited in the hallway. Stunned beyond words, I watched him come down the stairs dressed all in black: black jeans, shirt, jacket, black sneakers, a black ski hat pulled down. He gave me a furtive glance.

“Looks like you’re ready for a heist,” I said, biting my lip. I was truly impressed by his resilience, from horror-stricken to criminal.

We made the short drive to Garcia Bend Park and parked in the shadows, just downhill from the sloping levee wall. I popped the trunk where the box lay open. Brendan crept to the river side of the levee where broken cement held up the bank. Silently he made two trips with the heavy pieces and filled the box with a small collection. I was his getaway driver, scanning the dark, empty park.

At home, we brought in the contraband from a closed garage, used the concrete to weight the tree stand, and covered it all with a fake snow tree skirt. It held. We never moved that tree again: Strung the colored lights, hung ornaments from top to bottom, and finished with tinsel. It was a lovely, Noble fir tree, fragrant, every inch decorated.

No one ever suspected the secret of our crooked Christmas tree—its hidden, stolen, dirty concrete rocks. Until now!

Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

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