A Christmas Tree In The Desert
By Kathy Koches
It was cold; freezing rain, snow, black ice. A typical Pacific Northwest winter, and I wanted to escape. Back then we were D.I.N.K.S. (double income-no kids) and were able to take off on a moment’s notice. “Let’s go find some sun,” my husband said when he returned home after a long night’s work. We knew the rest of the family had its own plans for Christmas, and decided it was our chance to get away. We made our reservations, packed our shorts and swimsuits, and soon were boarding the plane for Palm Springs, the desert playground of the Hollywood set. We were staying at The Autry Hotel, owned by the “singing cowboy” Gene Autry, who had first recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” What a Christmas this would be!
Our first clue that this vacation might not go exactly as planned was when we exited the Palm Springs airport. Expecting sunshine and warm temperatures, we were a bit taken aback to see everyone bundled up in winter clothing. “Must be what Californian’s wear when it dips below 75 degrees,” we thought. We still had on our jackets from Portland, so did not pay much attention to the temperature.
We checked into our hotel, changed into our swimsuits, and went in search of the pool. As the doors slid open to the pool area, we were met with a blast of frigid air, and immediately saw the steam rising from the hot tub. “What in the world was going on?” we wondered. The pool had tiny chucks of ice floating on the water, and we quickly immersed ourselves up to our noses in the steamy water of the hot tub. We did not stay long, however, and ran back to our room to warm up and get dry. We turned the TV to a local news channel and found that Palm Springs was experiencing the coldest winter on record—there even were icicles on the orange trees!
This was Christmas Eve—carols were playing throughout the hotel, and we had a lovely dinner in the dining room, even having a chance to meet Mrs. Autry. I thought I was going to be fine with all of this, but after dinner, when we returned to our plain, drab, room, the “Christmas Blues” struck me with a vengeance. I had never been away from my children at Christmas since the day they were born, and even though they were both grown now, I missed them terribly. I began to cry and wailed “We don’t even have a Christmas tree!”
Now I am a “Holiday Person,” through and through, and while he is not quite Mr. Scrooge, my husband’s attitude towards holidays was he could take them or leave them. (He has since come around to my way of thinking after 30 years together–or at least he pretends to like them.) But he wanted me to be happy. So at 10:00 pm on Christmas Eve, he packed me into the car and we drove around Palm Springs, looking for anything that might still be open. We spotted a Safeway and pulled into the lot. I jumped out and ran into the store, heading straight to the garden section hoping to find a tree. Yep, they had them; three to be exact. Tiny, pathetic little trees in flower pots, maybe eight inches tall.
“I’ll take it!” I told the tired-looking clerk, and went in search of a string of tiny lights and some tiny decorations. We packed up our treasures and once back in our room set up our little tree. NOW it looked like Christmas. We each placed our gift to the other under (well actually beside) that tiny tree. I was crying again, but this time with tears of joy that someone loved me enough to make sure I had a Christmas tree and wanted to put a smile on my face that long ago Christmas Eve.