I got to sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and all the rest of my favorite songs before I lost my favorite December radio station to fuzz somewhere near the coast. There was only an hour left so I popped in a well-used Christmas CD and enjoyed my own music the rest of the way to Seaside. I was due in a day before Ryan, my significant other, but some of my family members would already be there and the rest would arrive tomorrow with Ryan.
The good news was I was going to get my own room this time! My older sister June and her husband William were spending Christmas at home and then going to visit his family this year. Grandma and Grandpa Brunt were spending Christmas with my Dad's sister Elsie so that meant there would be an extra room. As the oldest, single person, I got it. Of course I beat out anyone else by twenty years, but who's keeping track.
I was excited to be with my family. Christmas was always a special time for us. We had lots of fun, family traditions and always had so much fun together and this year I had Ryan to share that with. This was my first Christmas bringing someone "home" or to Seaside for Christmas. I was a little nervous about that but more excited than anything else.
I arrived shortly after one o'clock. My dad came out to meet me.
"You're a little late, dearie," he said as he grabbed my bag. "You were supposed to be here by lunch which was an hour ago."
"I know but my bed sucked me in an extra hour. I just barely escaped as it was. I shall try to make it up to you!"
"Yes you will. Your mother is in making you a sandwich and as soon as I drop off your bags you're coming with me. We're already an hour behind schedule," said my dad with a twinkle in his eye.
I was intrigued. "Where are we going?"
"We're going Christmas tree hunting," he replied.
"What? We don't get the tree until Christmas Eve when everyone is here," I replied. I was a stickler on traditions. We do not break traditions. Besides, I wanted Ryan to be there to have that experience.
"Yes, yes, I know dear, but what you don't know is that every single year your mother makes me go out and hunt down the perfect tree the day before we go tree hunting. This way I know exactly where we are going, I know the tree I want and can steer the kiddos to it. Plus, it doesn't take forever," he said.
I think I stood there with my mouth wide open in complete shock. How many years had this been going on? And why was I just finding this out at the ripe old age of 27? And why did mom insist he still go out beforehand since we were all adult children now? All these questions went through my mind but all I got out of my mouth was, "What?"
"Long story. Perhaps I'll tell you later. The important thing is we are going so you should probably get something warmer on, and quick. I'm leaving in the next ten minutes and I'm not going alone this year," said my dad as he disappeared into the house.
I still stood by my car shocked that all these years my father had gone on a pre-hunting hunting trip for our Christmas tree. I walked inside the house and my mother grabbed me and gave me a big hug.
"Hi honey," she said releasing me. "How was your trip?"
"Great, uneventful and full of Christmas songs. Dad just told me we're going hunting for the Christmas tree. The one that we are going to go and find with everyone, tomorrow," I told her.
"Yes dear. It's a long story but needless to say, your father goes out every year to find the tree the day before we all go hunting for the tree. It just makes everything better. Perhaps I'll tell you the story one day but right now you have to get changed into something warmer and then come back and eat this sandwich. Hurry along dear," said my mother as she gave me a quick push from behind towards the stairs. "You're in the blue room."
I headed up the stairs to the blue room. If we were going tree hunting I needed some long underwear, a thicker jacket and my hat, scarf and mittens.
Dad had obviously finished putting my bags in my room and was just coming into the hallway, "Hurry dear. We're burning daylight!" and he rushed back downstairs.
I opened the door to the blue room and a wave of nostalgia swept over me. It's the room Junie, Julie and I used to share when we were kids vacationing here. As kids, we had had a lot of fun and planned a lot of mischief in this room. The bunk beds were gone, replaced by a much more practical queen bed, but the carpet and walls were still blue. The pictures on the walls were the same and all of our trinkets still sat on the bookshelves. I loved this room.
I quickly got dressed and headed back down to the kitchen to eat lunch. Mom and dad were in the living room talking to Grandma and Grandpa Thomas so I sat down to eat. I knew I did not have much time. Dad was anxious to get on the road.
Just as I started in on my sandwich Dad came into the kitchen. "Gotta go kiddo. Grab that sandwich and meet me in the car. I'm going to get some supplies and meet you there," said Dad as he headed outside.
I looked at Mom who had followed him into the kitchen. I had only gotten one bite. She grabbed my sandwich and put it in a baggie and held it out to me. "Don't hold up your Dad. I want you home before it gets really dark," she said. And by really dark, she meant before dinner time, since it gets dark about 4:00 in the northwest at this time of year.
I gathered up my hat, mittens and scarf, grabbed my sandwich from my mother's outstretched hand and headed out the door. Dad was just coming to the car with a couple of blankets and flashlights.
"Dad, we're not camping out there. What's this all for?" I asked.
"Just a precaution. You never know what you might encounter. Get in. Let's go," he said as dumped the things in the back seat and then got into the front seat.
I climbed into the car for the trek to Uncle Sam's land. He was not really our uncle but a friend of the family and every year we went to his land and chopped down our tree. We always stopped by his house and he made us hot chocolate and we got to put in as many marshmallows as we wanted too. It had always been a big treat when I was a kid and I still looked forward to it.
The drive was pleasant. Dad and I got caught up on life. He asked a lot about Ryan. He knew we had been dating, well as much as two people can who live in different states. Dad had met him the last time we were all together in Seaside, but our relationship was just starting then. Now, well, now it had progressed but I still was not sure where it was going since we lived so far away from each other. However, I was living in the moment and enjoying him and his company. I was definitely not thinking about the future and what may or may not happen. That is what I told Dad.
Dad patted me on the knee and reassured me that it would all work out for the best. I hoped so. I spent the last few minutes of the ride staring out at the trees that surrounded us on each side wondering about Ryan. It caught me a little by surprise when we pulled into Uncle Sam's driveway. Uncle Sam was an old confirmed, bachelor. I sometimes liked to call him a hermit but he loved having us come visit him each year at Christmas. We also made sure to always visit him during the summer too. He was eccentric and wild woodsman and obstinate old man all rolled into one crazy but very likeable person. Sam was well into his eighties and living all alone on a 100 acre spread of trees and farmland. He chopped his own wood, which fueled his heat source. He grew most of what he ate and took care of his land by himself. He had only gotten indoor plumbing in my lifetime. I still remember using his outhouse when I was five. It was quite a traumatic experience in my life to use a hole in the ground. Most of Uncle Sam's land was just trees, which is why we came here every year to cut down our Christmas tree. Dad did not want a tree farm tree. I did not understand the difference between going to a tree farm and Uncle Sam's land except that it made my Dad happy and Uncle Sam too.
I climbed out of the car and saw Uncle Sam coming down the stairs. I greeted him with a big hug and Dad shook his hand.
"Out for the big tree finding expedition, are you? I thought you might be here a little earlier today," said Uncle Sam.
"I was planning on it but then sleepy head here arrived a little late. I wanted company this year so I waited for her," said Dad.
I smiled at Uncle Sam. He put his big arm around me and whispered in my ear, "Sometimes the bed wins but you mustn't make it a habit."
Dad laughed. Uncle Sam's whispers were quite loud.
"I know, I know Uncle Sam. I'll do better but right now let's go find a tree. Do you go with us Uncle Sam?"
"Of course I do. I gotta make sure your Dad don't get lost. He's got a record you know."
I looked back and forth between Uncle Sam's and Dad's faces, "No, no I don't know about that. What are you talking about?"
Uncle Sam looked at Dad and they smiled. Dad said, "I told you, it's a long story and it's for another day. Let's find that tree and get home before your mother worries too much and calls out the cavalry."
"Well, I think I found you a good tree this year," said Uncle Sam as we all headed to the car. He directed us around his acres of trees until we came to a nice 6 foot tree that looked just like most of the other trees we had seen. After getting out and walking around the tree a couple of times, my Dad and Uncle Sam declared it the one. We all got back into the car and headed back to Uncle Sam's house. This entire expedition was confusing to me. Why my Dad scoped out the tree ahead of time and why he wanted me to come along today I had no idea, but I was ready to be back home. That sandwich had not been enough and I was getting hungry. Besides, I still had presents to wrap before everyone got here tomorrow. We dropped Uncle Sam off back at his house and headed out. It was just after 4:00 and with the way Dad drove, when Mom was not in the car, we could make it back well before 5:00.
Dad was quiet on the ride home. It was a nice quiet. Just before we got back to Seaside Dad said, "Jessie, I need your help."
That caught me a little by surprise.
"It's partly why I asked you to come along. I need help getting a present for your mother. I'd like to get her a piece of jewelry but I have no idea what to get. I want it to be a surprise, otherwise I would just let her pick it out." He started talking a little faster. "She'd probably be happier picking it out herself but I want to surprise her for once on Christmas. She almost always knows what she is getting because she either buys it for herself or tells me to go buy it for her. It's been over 35 years and I'd like to get her something she isn't expecting," he finished.
This was big for my Dad and Mom. Mom did not like surprises. She liked what she liked and she knew what she liked. She knew Dad could not possibly figure it out so she always told him exactly what she wanted. It made things easier for everyone. Mom was not disappointed on Christmas morning or for her birthday or wedding anniversary and that was what mattered but here was Dad wanting to get something nice for Mom without her knowing. I loved it, but I also dreaded it. Picking a gift out for Mom was very hard.
"Okay Dad. What have you got in mind?" I asked.
"There's a jewelry shop in Astoria that has a lot of stuff. I've already looked at everything they have and talked to them. They are staying open late tonight so we can find something for your mother. I'm pretty sure with both of us looking we can find something your mother will love."
"Sounds like a plan. How long have you been thinking and planning this?"
"Long enough that I've looked in almost every jewelry store by our house but I knew I needed help. I was glad when you were coming down a day earlier than everyone else. I told your mother I needed your help to find the tree this year and then I found the jewelry store in Astoria that had their inventory online. I checked it out and then called them and asked them if they could stay open late today. Since it's so close to Christmas I wasn't sure they'd be willing but they agreed. I took a trip to the store yesterday when I was supposed to be getting the oil changed and checked it out. I picked out some options I thought your mom might like. We can look at those first, but there's a lot more there. I'm just so glad to get some help," Dad sighed.
I could tell this was big for Dad. I don't think he had ever spent that much time on a present for anyone. We had to get this right.
When we got to the store it was about 5:00. Dad called Mom and told her we had decided to stop and get some dinner in Astoria. He told me she was not suspicious at all. It didn't surprise me since it would be completely normal for us to stop in Astoria for dinner but it was cute that Dad was going all super spy on me.
As we entered the store, I noticed the sign said they would be open until 8:00 tonight. I chuckled. I knew they would not have to keep the store open late tonight for us. Dad would be done long before that, and if he was not, than I would. Dad led me over to one of the counters where a woman named Ruby, who was older than my father and had a purple tint to her hair, waited for us. I thought it funny that a lady named Ruby worked in a jewelry store.
"Hello, Mr. Brunt. I'm so glad you made it back to us. I've got the selections you made in the back. I'll be right back with them," she said as she shuffled off to the back of the store.
"I'm going to wander around and look," I said as I moved away.
Dad moved right next to me. "Okay. Tell me what you like."
"Okayyyy." Dad was serious about this endeavor. "Do you know her ring size, Dad?"
"Nope. Well not really. I took her wedding ring one night and traced it but Ruby said she could only guess at Mom's ring size with my outline. It was the best I could do. I knew if I took your mother's ring, she would go ballistic trying to find it and I didn't want that. I've picked out a couple of rings and some necklaces and bracelets but I'm not sure what to get. I don't want to come back and get the ring sized but is a necklace or bracelet as meaningful as a ring. I don't know. I need your help," he said.
"I think so Dad. Let's look at everything and then we can decide."
"I just don't know," he said and I knew he did not. This was foreign territory for him and was going to be especially hard since we were buying for one of the hardest people to shop for in the world, at least our world.
Ruby came out at that moment and we met her at the counter again. She laid out the five choices my father had made and I tried to keep from laughing. There was a necklace that was a big diamond studded seashell. I liked the sentiment behind it since I knew my mother loved to collect seashells but I also knew she would never wear one around her neck, especially if it was diamond studded and that large. I peeked at the price tag and just about fell over. I could buy a small country or at least a small car with that amount. I guess money was not a problem at this point in my parent's life and my dad wanted this to be special. I felt a little more pressure, especially as I looked at my dad and told him none of these would work.
"Let's start again, Dad. It needs to be elegant and understated," I said this loud enough so Ruby could hear. I was not sure who actually picked out the five monstrosities in front of me but whoever it was needed to go back to the drawing board.
"I've always thought your mother's tastes and your tastes were very similar. It's one of the reasons I was so glad you were coming a day earlier than everyone else. I knew you could help me pick out the perfect thing," and with that he followed me around the store as I pointed out things I liked. He nodded at Ruby if it was an option and she collected those and put them on our counter. We ended up with eight options we both liked. There were three rings, three necklaces and two bracelets. Dad ended up picking a round brilliant 1.5 carat, almost flawless, diamond platinum ring. It was beautiful and could be worn with Mom's wedding set or by itself. Someone came and took the ring back to wrap it up for Dad, and while Ruby and Dad talked, I wandered the store. There was a lot of beautiful jewelry there.
I looked over and saw Dad was signing papers with someone and Ruby was heading toward me.
"Your father will be a few more minutes. Is there something I can show you?" asked Ruby.
"No, I'm just looking."
"But you might as well try something on while you are waiting. How about this necklace?" she asked as she pulled it out of the case and held it out to me. It was beautiful, understated and elegant. There were three round diamond stones all in a row on a very nice white gold chain.
"Sure. I'll try it on," I said. I mean why not? I had some time to kill. I turned and she fastened it around my neck. I looked in the mirror and fell in love.
"It's beautiful," I said in awe. I usually was not one for a lot of bling but this just spoke to me. "How did you happen to pick this one?"
"I've been in the jewelry business a long time. I get a sense for my customers, what they want and what would look good on them. We've just spent an hour looking at jewelry together. I could probably pick you out a ring and bracelet too, sweetie," she replied. "I do own this place. It's been here a long time because I'm good at what I do."
I could not argue with her. I loved the necklace so much so that I took it off with some regret. It was beautiful but jewelry of any kind was not in my budget right now. I was saving for a house and most of my money was going into savings.
"Thanks for letting me try on the necklace, Ruby. It was beautiful and the perfect choice for me."
"No problem, sweetie. You come back and see me when you're ready to buy something. We'll find you the perfect thing," Ruby said.
I had no doubt that she could.
Dad came up then. "Let's go. We've got to go eat and get home to your mother before she gets too suspicious but grandma and grandpa know what's going on so they are helping to distract her."
As we left the store, I said to Dad, "You've got all your bases covered. I'm impressed."
I felt like Dad needed security around him while he carried his package from the store to the car. It was my turn to go all super spy and I canvassed the parking lot looking for someone who migth be lurking around the parking lot. It was clear. I hurried and got in the car. Dad suggested we stop for dinner but I did not want that necklace floating around in public. I suggested drive thru. We could tell Mom we got the food and then went and watched the waves while we ate which is what took so long. We stopped at McDonalds because that is where my father always takes us even though we are no longer kids. We ate as we drove home.
I was glad to get back home and see that my mother did not seem suspicious at all. My father had given me the package to put up in my room. I headed there right away with the excuse of getting unpacked and finishing some wrapping while my parents and grandparents happily worked on a puzzle. I hid the package under the loose floorboard in the far corner of the room where all our girlhood treasures still resided. It brought back good memories of childhoods spent at the beach. I unpacked, wrapped presents and then got ready for bed. I ran downstairs and said goodnight to my parents and grandparents, who were still hard at work on the puzzle. They had to finish it before the day after Christmas, when John and Lisa would arrive with the grandchildren. Then, no puzzle would be safe.
I made a quick call to Ryan. I told him about the finding the Christmas tree the day before the entire family went to get it and about buying the ring for my Mom and made sure everything was set for him to come tomorrow.
I woke the next morning to the sound of waves coming through the window I had cracked open the night before. I loved the sound of waves but because of this, my room was very cold. I pulled the covers close around me and snuggled in to rest and relax before I got out of bed until I glanced at my clock and saw it was almost 10:00. Ryan was due here between 11:00 and 12:00. I jumped out of bed and got a shower and got ready as fast as I could. It was 10:45 and I was just sitting down to a late breakfast when I heard a knock on the door and in came Ryan.
"You're early," I said, as I got up to give him a big hug and kiss.
"Am I? I guess I was just anxious to see my girl," said Ryan as he got in another quick kiss before my mother came through the kitchen door. I sat down to finish my cereal before it got soggy.
"Ryan, it's so good to see you," she said. "I wasn't expecting you for a little bit yet."
"I know but I was so excited to see Jessie and be with your family that I just couldn't stay home any longer."
"Are you hungry Ryan?" my mother asked. "It looks like Jessie is eating but she forgot to get anything for you."
I looked up at Ryan guiltily. "Sorry," I mouthed.
"Actually, I had breakfast and I'm not really ready for lunch. I think I'll just sit here and watch Jessie eat," said Ryan as he sat down next to me.
I rolled my eyes.
"Well, at least let me get you a snack. We have some muffins from Costco," she said.
"A half of a muffin would be wonderful, Sarah. Thank you," said Ryan.
Mom moved around the kitchen and got Ryan his half of a muffin and then gave me the other half and then surprisingly, left the room. I raised my eyebrows as she beat a hasty retreat out of the room. "I think she really likes you," I said as I stuffed the muffin in my mouth. Costco muffins were the best and I only got to eat them when I was with the family.
"Well, I really like her and I really like her daughter," he said, and he reached over and kissed me on the cheek.
I mumbled something around my muffin in reply.
"I still have to get checked into the condo I rented for the next week. When you are done eating, can you come with me or do you have family duties?" Ryan asked.
"Nope, I'm free but we have to be quick since we are leaving to chop down the tree at 1:30."
"This is the tree you went and found with your Dad yesterday but we all have to go back today and chop it down, right?"
"Right. I still don't get it but that's what we are doing. We have to have enough time to get it home and decorate it and still have our big Christmas Eve festivities," I said.
"And what are those?" Ryan asked.
"I told you at Thanksgiving. We have a nice dinner, read and act out the story of Christ's birth, although I'm hoping we might be able to skip that part this year since none of the grandchildren are here but I doubt it. Then we all get to open one present that Mom picks out for us. It's always pajamas so don't get too excited. I picked yours out for you this year," I said.
"I picked some out for you too but you'd better not open them in front of your parents," Ryan shot back at me.
"Ryan!!!" I exclaimed.
"I'm just kidding," he replied, hands up in the air.
"Ryan. What am I going to do with you?"
"You could start out by kissing me," he said.
I reached up and gave him a big kiss.
"Ahem," said my dad, as we quickly broke apart. "I heard you were here Ryan and wanted to welcome you." He reached out and shook Ryan's hand very formally.
"It's good to see you sir. I'm looking forward to chopping the tree down today and all the other festivities," said Ryan, a bit nervous. He was always a bit nervous around my dad even though they got along pretty well once they had warmed up to each other.
"I'm sure you are," said Dad. "I'm sure you are." Dad folded his arms across his chest. "Well, we have to be leaving around 1:00 so what do you have planned in the meantime?"
"I need to get checked into my condo, sir. Jessie was going to come along with me and we would be back in time go for the tree," said Ryan.
"Jessie, isn't he staying in the condo's right near downtown?"
"Good because Grandma needs to go get something at one of the little shops underneath the condos. Would you mind taking her?" asked Dad.
"No problem Dad. Can you tell her we will be leaving in five minutes?" I asked.
He nodded and turned and left the room.
"I know your dad likes me but sometimes I worry he doesn't," said Ryan after the door had closed.
"He thinks you're great. He just thinks I'm still 16 and need a chaperone. We'll take Grandma and help her get what she needs. You can get checked in and everyone will be happy. We'll get alone time later tonight, hopefully," I replied and gave him another little kiss before heading upstairs to get my things
Check back tomorrow to read all about the Christmas Eve festivities, including chopping down the Christmas tree that Jessie and her Dad found the day before they actually chopped it down!