The sound of the crash brought me to my feet from my desk. I thought of shelving collapsing in the kitchen. But all was well there. Gretchen came from the other side of the house. “The tree,” she said.

The Christmas tree with its 48-year accumulation of ornaments was prostrate on the living room floor, the knitted tiny red mittens, the sparkly star made by a grandchild, the quilted green and red circle made by a friend, the bell from my childhood tree all dangling sideways from the prickly spruce branches. The birch bark angel had a short flight from its treetop perch, coming to rest near a footstool.

We hurried to clean up; we had guests coming for dinner. While I lifted the tree, Gretchen got towels to sop up the water that spilled from the heavy cast iron stand, which had never before failed to keep our trees upright. It was an early gift from Gretchen’s parents who lived where it was manufactured in Brillion, Wis.

I can’t blame the iron works for product failure; The tree with its crooked trunk was to blame, along with the guy who put it up. As I reset it in the stand, I recalled noticing the crooked trunk after we cut it in the pine and spruce grove our friends were thinning on their rural property. Since it was the top 8 1/2 feet of a 30-foot tree, the defect wasn’t apparent when we chose it. Ah well, still very pretty, we decided.

Now it’s looking good again, as pretty as any we’ve had, redecorated and with only a slight lean, this time into the corner where it awaits the arrival of the grandchildren and their parents.

“You handled that pretty well,” Gretchen said as I shook a few needles out of my hair. She noted that there weren’t any bad words uttered.

After some thought, I decided that in a year when we survived a nasty car crash, the crash of a Christmas tree was pretty small potatoes, nothing to get worked up about.

In April, we wound up dangling in our seat belts in eastern Wyoming when our car left the road, flipped and landed on its roof in the ditch. If the roof had collapsed (It didn’t. Thank you, Subaru.) we surely would have died, the EMTs said. Instead, we walked away.

And in a year when good friends have died, we are reminded of the fragility of life and the gift of living each day with the ups and downs days bring.

And in a year when there has been so much hate and meanness in our daily news, there comes the kindness of friends and family, the generosity expressed in so many ways during the holidays, sometimes in unexpected ways.

During our move earlier this year (with lots of help from friends and family), we lost the power cord to our knife sharpener, which came to my attention when Gretchen asked for a sharp knife for Christmas.

I wrote an email to the manufacturer, Smith’s Consumer Products, explained my dilemma and, within a few hours, received the following: “I know how things can get lost in moving. Let me go ahead and send a replacement cord out to you.” How kind.

So we’re grateful for kindnesses, large and small, grateful that most of our tree ornaments survived the crash and, most of all, grateful for another Christmas with friends and family and the prospect of a new year with all the ups and downs it will bring. Kindness, too, we hope.

Dave Skoloda is an award-winning journalist and former owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.

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