The ITCH That Almost Stole Christmas
Betty Mason Arthurs
In the 1970s my husband and I along with our two young children lived in western New York farm country. A week before Christmas, John and our neighbor Junior searched the woods for the perfect tree behind our houses along Ridge Road in Ransomville. They rode snowmobiles through the Concord grape and Catawba vineyards and snow-covered fields, on a holiday mission that has never changed for families over many years.
While they were gone, Sue, Junior’s wife, and I and our four children drank hot chocolate in her warm kitchen, laughing and talking about our modern pioneer men.“I sent them off with ropes, a saw and an axe,” Sue said. “Sure hope they find some pretty trees.”
In an hour we heard the roar of the snowmobiles and rushed out to meet our heroes. The children jumped up and down, screaming, “The trees are here, the trees are here!”
“Junior and I climbed the pines and chopped off the top of them. We couldn’t find any nice smaller trees,” John told me, propping our beautiful six foot tall tree against the front porch railing of the old farm house we rented. “Let’s leave it out here so we can shake off the snow tomorrow. Otherwise it’s going to get the floor wet.”
Four-year-old Julie clapped her hands as she ran to the window again and again to see the tree. She told me, “Santa Closet (her funny name for the big guy in red suit) is coming soon `cause he loves baby Jesus.” She had already been searching through our Christmas ornament box. When her brother Robbie toddled over to the box, she handed him unbreakable ornaments to play with saying, “He’s a baby an’ we don’t want him to get cut.”
Tomorrow Rob would turn two years old. We had decided that our family tradition would be to decorate the tree on his birthday. There wasn’t much money this year for presents but we had the perfect gift from the forest.
Later in the frosty day, I slipped on my wool poncho, stepped onto the porch and touched the tree. “Fresh and fragrant beauty, that’s what you are,” I murmured. Tiny pine cones and melting snow glistened on the dark needles of the Douglas fir. “I’m sure the chickadees and squirrels are missing you and being able to pounce on your branches.”
I noticed a dead vine woven through the tree from top to bottom. How quaint, but I don’t want dried leaves all over my floor. With my bare hands I pulled at the vine with white-colored berries which turned and twisted like brown yarn in a dark green quilt. The stubborn vine resisted my pulling and tugging so I yanked harder until it was freed.
The next morning John shook the tree free of melted snow, jammed it into its stand and carried it into our house to the sounds of squealing delight from Julie and Robbie. Its pine fragrance enveloped the house in our favorite holiday aroma.
However, in the night I had developed a severe rash on my hands and arms. Mystified, I smeared a soothing cream over the welts. The itching intensified and in agony I tried not to scratch the burning, red rash.
“What did you do?” John asked. “What did you touch?”
Then I knew. The innocent looking dead vine still packed a punch. Poison ivy! As a child growing up in Kansas I’d had plenty of nasty encounters with poison ivy in spite of my parents showing me the three-leafed plant, “Be careful where you run when you’re in the woods…don’t touch.”
Perhaps, thanks to the hideous vine, that’s one reason why I’ve never forgotten my itch that almost stole Christmas. God knew it held a hidden danger and he helped me protect my family. That Christmas the “what-ifs” flooded my mind: What if John or Robbie or Julie had touched the poison ivy? What if we all had a miserable red-rash-family-Christmas? What if Robbie had eaten a leaf?
The not-so-perfect tree created a funny memory once I recovered from the nasty rash, which just goes to show that memories we cherish don’t always come from perfect situations. God uses them all, good and bad to remind us of His awesome gift on Christmas morning, even poison ivy.
Please share your Christmas mishaps in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them and so would our readers.