Once the last gift had been unwrapped, the entire holiday season was a memory. No more anticipation, no more unbridled glee. With all the weeks of preparation and festivities concluded, Mom wouldn’t make me take down the tree I’d lovingly decorated now, would she? Would she?
I took a stand and left my masterwork up until April.
Sure, the tree was a little brittle-looking, but I was still in the holiday spirit. However, even I had to admit watching the Masters Golf Tournament on TV next to a still-lit Christmas tree didn’t look right. When was Mom going to explode about the matter, outraged how the pathetic three inches of tinder dry needles below the parched tree were going to make the perfect nest for this year’s Easter egg hunt? Or what if she blew up and asked Dad to remove it, getting him riled at me in the process?
Fearing that scenario, sometime between the golfers turning Amen Corner and the final putt, I began the process of stripping the tree of all its sparkling adornment. In doing so, I made three mental notes about my tree responsibilities for next year. #1. Taking thousands of icicle strands off the tree was a lot less fun than putting them on (Mom insisted we save them all). #2. Trying to recall which boxes the 179 ornaments went back into was torture. #3. Not watering the tree was just an overall bad idea.
As I pulled the dry, browning evergreen out from the corner, a showy display of brittle needles rained to the floor. Just a few feet behind them was a frazzled electric cord plugged into a sparking wall outlet. Imagining the scene of our house going up in flames and Dad yelling, “How could you be so irresponsible!?” I dragged the crackling pine outside as quickly as I could. Then Mom proceeded to complain about the Appalachian Trail of needles that wound through the house all the way to the stack of trees piled in the backyard from previous Christmases. I couldn’t win. As I stared down at what was left of the tree, all I could think was Christmas was over, really over now, and that Mom and Dad were disappointed in my tree removal ability.
Regardless, I reminded Mom about wanting a pet for my next responsibility, suggesting a bear cub, maybe a St. Bernard. She said no. A week later, however, she said yes to a Venus flytrap. What? A plant?
My Venus flytrap lived inside a shiny, clear plastic box of dirt. It looked odd, but fashioned long, pretty lashes, inspiring me to name her Maybelline. I loved to watch her sit perfectly still one second, then snatch a fly inside her lightning-quick jaws the next. Assuming care of a Venus flytrap was Mom’s test to determine whether I could handle responsibility with a living organism (our Christmas tree didn’t count – fortunately), I didn’t want to blow it, and made sure Maybelline stayed on a regular eating schedule.
Soon, however, Maybelline stopped eating. Dead flies I dropped in her mouth sat there. Even bits of protein-fortified hamburger fell in with no change. Not until she turned yellow and her overflowing mouth looked like a dried-up, all-beef taco did I conclude she was actually dead.
“I don’t know what happened. She just died,” I cried to Mom.
“May this be a lesson to you to eat nutritious meals or you might shrivel and die, too.”
An image of Mom’s scary goulash came to mind, but I mustered enough strength to answer with words I absolutely had to deliver if I ever wanted another pet.
“Yes, Mom, I do know. I do. Nutritious meals are important. And the ones you serve are really really good.”
Sure enough, a few weeks later, she brought home a beautiful, royal-looking, sleek, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I immediately named Dexter.
This is an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, and the chapter titled, “Responsibility.” You can read more from that chapter and others in the Excerpts section from this website.