My father, the living Christmas tree |

My father, the living Christmas tree

Marilyn Brandvold

Growing up on a farm in the sandhills of Nebraska, I had never spent Christmas away from home and family in all my 21 years. But it looked like it would happen on Christmas Day 1956.

My mother, dad, sister and I were a close family. That Christmas, I was a student nurse at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Neb., starting my pediatric affiliation. The rest of the family was 300 miles away, near Stapleton, Neb.

Evidently, the rest of my family felt the same way because they sent word they would drive the 300 miles to Omaha in Dad’s new 1956 Chevy pickup. My sister, Gayle, would drive, and if they could find Children’s Hospital, they would pick me up as soon as I was off duty at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. We would go to a motel for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

I saw them pull up in front of the hospital, ran out, and squeezed into the pickup with them. I was so glad to see them I nearly cried.

By asking directions from several people, we found a motel on the city’s edge and moved in for the night. Mother had brought along a few of our traditional Christmas foods – Gouda cheese, roast beef, homemade bread, apples, oranges and nuts – to eat cold on Christmas Eve. There were no microwaves in motels in 1956.

Following a Christmas breakfast of bran flakes and milk, we turned to our presents. It didn’t seem festive enough to just sit on the beds and open our presents. We missed a Christmas tree.

My sister and I came up with the same idea, saying, “Let’s use Dad!” He was still in his long-sleeved underwear, and mother’s purse yielded many safety pins.

We stood Dad in the middle of the room and stretched his arms straight out to his sides like branches. Taking bows from packages, we pinned them on his chest and along his arms. He kept standing with his arms out while we opened our presents around our “living” Christmas tree.

Gift opening finished, Dad dressed, and we set out to find a hot Christmas dinner. This proved to be a challenge.

Gayle drove for an hour, up and down the slippery, snow-covered hills of Omaha in search of an open restaurant. Driving past homes with picture windows gave us good views of the people gathered around bountiful tables in their warm, cozy homes. We were outside looking in, feeling homeless and hungry.

Gayle got more hungry and irritated as she drove. Watching other people eat was getting on her nerves. She blurted, “Look at those rude people, eating in front of us!”

We had nearly given up when I spotted the Greyhound bus depot with an open sign. Starving, we pushed the heavy door open and dashed through thick cigarette smoke to the lunch counter. We climbed onto tall stools and ordered four blue-plate specials. What we ate was not important. Being together for Christmas was.

Marilyn Brandvold is a resident of Carson City.