The Gift of the Bonsai
Holidays are tough. For me, Christmas is the worst. It’s not because of the presents. I don’t have any particularly memorable Christmas dinner memories. My family is small, so we didn’t have a huge party.
What I miss the most can be summed up in this picture:
My dad and this amazing outfit on Christmas morning. Everyone, take note. THAT is the look on Christmas. Bathrobe, white tee, no pants, pipe. If there was a shit to give, my father did not have one. He would make his instant coffee (Sanka, of course), get his pipe, and park it on the couch where he would unceremoniously unwrap ties and homemade ashtrays.
Then, my dad died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 21 years old.
As you can probably gather, George marched to the beat of his own drum. He wasn’t a materialistic guy; he was just happy to have stuff and his family. There was, however, one Christmas he did have a request for a gift: he wanted a Bonsai tree.
I think I had something to do with this. Why? Well, it was the 80’s and like every kid in the world, I was obsessed with The Karate Kid. And………Ralph Macchio. I subjected my family to countless hours of watching that movie*, in which the Bonsai had a cameo. Of all the things that were likeable in the film, my dad chose that tree. He liked it so much that he would randomly yell, “BONSAI!” at any given point in time.
Being the amazing children that we were, my brothers decided to get my father a Bonsai tree as a Christmas present. We had zero collective knowledge of these trees. In fact, we didn’t even know that Bonsai isn’t a species; it’s the art of growing ornamental dwarfed trees or shrubs. All we knew was that they looked cool and he wanted one.
I remember going with my oldest brother for the big purchase. Did we go to a fancy nursery? No. We bought it from a dude at a kiosk in the Rhode Island mall. I remember the man telling us that there were classes offered on how to take care of the tree as it would be an incredibly tedious undertaking. Turns out, one wrong move of the shears and the tree will die. Right then, my brother should have thanked him for his time and walked away. There was NO WAY my father would entertain the thought of going to school for a TREE. The only other “gardening” experience my father had was in growing a Chia Pet. Of course, that’s not what happened. Instead, my brother paid the man a seemingly exorbitant amount of money for this thing and we left. We probably even did a jumping high-five after! Just kidding. We didn’t, but I feel like that’s what people did back then.
Christmas morning was exciting. My brother, mom and I were all in on the gift. We were all anticipating his reaction when he opened it up this little beauty. Of course, we were not disappointed. My father’s face lit up, so happy to see this precious little guy. It was sort of like that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s dad wins the leg lamp. It was going to be his project and we couldn’t wait to see what he would do with it. I imagined him spending hours a day caring for this living creature, carefully pruning, creating a work of art to proudly display.
One week later………..he had a dead tree. How did it die? Well, my father decided he was going to prune the tree and pretty much cut off all its limbs. So, he ended up with a very expensive stick. For one week, he treated that tree like the precious, expensive gift it was. Then, he killed it.
Thirteen years later, his death has gotten easier in many ways, harder in others. Funny, sharp, short-tempered, honest and fair, my father was your greatest supporter. Or, your worst critic. Sometimes I’ll have a fleeting moment and think, “Man, dad would have loved this!” and it makes me smile. Other times, if I see a bottle of his favorite soda, Moxie, I’ll tear up. He never got to see my graduate from college (he died at the end of my junior year), walk me down the aisle (ok, that didn’t last very long, but still), or see me perform stand-up for the first time. You can bet that at each one of these moments, I missed the shit out of him.
So, let’s all take a moment to appreciate those special people in our lives. Make those memories! Share those moments! Just don’t buy them any fancy trees because they will just ruin it.
*My Karate Kid movie was mysteriously taped over one day. If you or anyone else has any information on this crime, please contact me directly.