Greek-American Stories: Christmas Decisions

George held an artificial tree, half decorated, that he was asked by his neighbor to dump since they had decided to buy a real tree this year. “My grandkids begged me for a real tree and I said we’d do that this year. They’re just kids. It means a lot to them,” said his neighbor. George, seeing his disabled neighbor in the doorway of his apartment, said he’d take care of it for him and then parked it in the alley of his apartment building where the garbage men will take it away on Monday, pick up day. Heading for the hardware store on the avenue he paused, catching sight of Yiannis just ascending from the subway station. He wondered if he was going Christmas shopping, being that Christmas isn’t until the next week.

“Hey! Yiannis! What’re you doing here? Going Christmas shopping?” Yiannis looked up, surprised at seeing him. “Ah, no! Areti does all the shopping. I was just going to look at the trees there.” He pointed to the corner where a mass of evergreen trees were stacked upright for sale. George knew Yiannis never bought a tree before Christmas. He usually waited until all the sales were over and the remaining trees were either sold at half price or abandoned. His usual philosophy was that the real Christmas for Greeks is in January. He approached him and said, “a real tree is nice, Yiannis, especially now with your grandkids probably expecting a real tree.” Yiannis eyed the list that revealed that the price of trees had risen more than twice what was listed last year. Familiar with his friend’s stringent economic tendencies, he decided to try and assist Yiannis before he hyperventilated. “You, usually, get a tree later, I recall, Yiannis. Why the rush this year?” Yiannis hesitated before responding, wondering if he should reveal his dilemma. Then, he decided to tell his very critical friend.

“It’s the grandkids and Barbara. She said that if we didn’t have a tree before January she wasn’t coming to my house this year. They’d go to the in-law’s house. Areti started crying and I felt I had to do it different this time,” he explained while George eyed the high prices and Yiannis’ sweat on that icy afternoon. He could have decided to step away and make the ol’ codger pay for once. It’s not as if he’s a pauper, after all. In fact, nature couldn’t have created a more tight-fisted human being. He thought about just leaving him to suffer opening that wallet, the one with a zipper and protective fold, and let him pay the piper. But, he became concerned as he watched Yiannis stand there with an expression very similar to a criminal after hearing that he was being sentenced to life without parole on Devils Island. It’s not that Yiannis is a bad guy, not at all. His only big fault is being ridiculously economical. Everyone’s got a fault, George rationalized. His own fault, he’s been told often enough by his wife, is being too outspoken.

They stood there in the late afternoon for a few minutes before Yiannis decided to walk away. “Where are you going? What are you going to do, Yiannis?” Yiannis turned. Shrugging, he said that he’d go home and think about it. George’s expression became one of doubt and concern. “Think about what! Christmas is only a few days away. There’s no time for thinking. Either you buy a tree now or disappoint your family, Yiannis.” Hands thrust deeply into his pockets; Yiannis nodded, slowly, his hands beginning to tremble. “Wait a minute, Yiannis. Let’s go for a walk.”

Together, they walked the four blocks until they came to the apartment building where George lived. He led Yiannis into the alley where he had parked the tree discarded by his neighbor. It was still there, leaning like an abandoned child, half dressed in the finery of the holiday. Yiannis’ eyes opened wide in surprise. He looked up at his friend. “That’s a very nice tree! And…and, the decorations are nice, too. Is that your tree?” Yiannis asked, looking up at his friend. George laughed. “No! It’s yours – if you want it.” Yiannis’ thoughts went wild. Thinking back to the prices expected for a fresh tree, Barbara’s threat, and Areti’s tears, Yiannis’ face reflected a brightness not seen since the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart. Happily, Yiannis shook his friend’s hand and the orphaned tree had found a home for the holidays.



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