I was living in my first apartment with a buddy of mine. It was a two bedroom in the Crossroads area, with a shared laundry in another part of the building, and had this strange rollaway dishwasher that you connected to the sink with a hose. I remember the messy lesson that you when you are out of dishwashing soap, you shouldn't substitute dish soap. I can still picture the soap suds pouring out of the dishwasher and filling the kitchen.
We both worked at the McDonald's down the hill. We could walk, or in my roommate's case skateboard, to work. We worked early morning shifts to open up the place, unloaded the delivery trucks each week, and had closing shifts where we were there past midnight. I remember I started at $3.35 an hour and we couldn't have been making much more than four or five dollars an hour when we moved in together. Things were obviously cheaper back then, but we were still just scraping by. We took advantage of the free meal each day we were at work, and our cupboards were filled with Top Ramen and Campbells soup. There was certainly no money for much of a Christmas.
We were both working the night shift a day or two before Christmas. When we arrived home, there was a Christmas tree set up and decorated in our living room. Our girlfriends had sweet-talked a guy at a Christmas tree lot into giving them a Christmas tree for free or nearly so. Since it was almost Christmas, maybe he wasn't going to sell any more trees anyway. Maybe the trees were all headed to the woodchipper by that point. Maybe our girlfriends were particularly charming or told a great story. Somehow they made it happen even though they were about as broke as we were.
They decorated the tree with ornaments and tinsel they had swiped from their parent's trees. It was probably a bit of mess of mismatched and sparse decoration, but even then all I could see was the beautiful tree through Charlie Brown eyes, and fill my lungs with that wonderful fresh pine tree smell. It was such a wonderful gesture, and one of those little Christmas miracles.
I have had grander Christmases, and many special moments shared with wonderful friends and family who I love. There have been other gifts that were perfectly chosen, sometimes revealing how well someone knows me. Still, I cannot recall a Christmas gift or moment that meant quite as much as that one thirty five years ago.