My Army Dad and the Perfect Tree

Posted on December 30, 2015
Filed Under Italian Kisses, Providence Journal - Relationships | Leave a Comment

By Rita Esposito Watson / 

  • Although my father missed my first Christmas, when he was able to come home the next year it was apparent from photos that the celebration was lavish. A tall Christmas tree standing on a window bench was the living room highlight that our mother remembered decorating. “Grandma was so happy for us that she watched over as her daughters placed one strand of tinsel at a time on each branch so the tree would be perfect,” she said.

    At the opposite end of the window bench there was a manger, crafted in Italy, which Grandma kept up until Epiphany on Jan. 6, a feast commemorating the arrival of “Three Wise Men.”

    As the first grandchild, I was born when my mother and her two sisters lived at The Water House. Overlooking Long Island Sound, it had a wraparound porch where they could sit, listen to buoys clanging, and talk about their husbands and brother who were either overseas or stationed in Florida during World War II.

    The Sunshine State had become a military training ground. After enemy U-boats sank at least 24 ships off the Florida coast near Miami and Jacksonville, a special group was formed to prevent further attacks. As a pilot, our father often talked of flight operations dispatched from Florida bases.

    Grandma once said to me, “When your father arrived home, it really felt like Christmas. There were so many toys in our living room that it looked like a department store. You wanted to play with everything at once. The stuffed giraffe was your favorite, even though we all thought you would want to hug the teddy bear, just like your father kept hugging you.”

    She added, “But you were so excited to show him that you knew how to walk that you just wiggled out of his arms and raced along the living room, staying close to the window seat for support.”

    However, I later learned that in my enthusiasm, I lost balance, reached for a branch and the tree with all its decorations tumbled down. Grandma was so concerned that I could have been hurt, to protect me — and future bambinos — she decided there would no longer be tall trees, just a small one on a sturdy table.

    Finally one year Grandpa and his brothers cut down what Grandma called “the tallest tree in the forest,” their first floor-to-ceiling tree. Before she could protest after seeing it, Grandpa surprised her saying, “Look. I bought you a beautiful white tree with bubbling candle lights to put on your parlor table under the chandelier.” Each time Grandma told us that story, she would smile and marvel thinking about ways that Grandpa expressed love.

    Rita Esposito Watson, a Journal columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses.” She has been named by the National Organization of Italian American Women to receive the 2016 “Three Wise Women” award on Jan. 10 in Providence.

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