Holiday Digest: A Not-So-Traditional Tree Tradition Takes Root


By Jheri St. James

When you’re a single mom, events are always kind of unfolding, and Christmas comes at a time when warmer clothing is needed, doctor bills sometimes arise and holidays require more money spent on gifts, decorations and food. La-la-las become ka-ka-kachings… 

My goal in the 1970s was to stay home with my younger daughter rather than pay someone else and be away in some office all day. I decided to start my own secretarial service and began by running an ad in the Pennysaver – although I had no typewriter. I figured I’d rent one if I got any bites. I did get a bite—a beef newsletter written by a man who had a Selectric I could use. I was a vegetarian, so it was Divine Order, if not necessarily within my principles. This was in a three-bedroom house on Brooks Street for $275 a month, which seemed like a lot. And so it began.

In another small apartment on noisy Coast Highway above a bikini shop—this time a studio with two futon platforms joining in a corner—we both slept in the living room. This place was really cute, though, with 10-foot ceilings, old-fashioned woodwork and cupboards in the tiny kitchen. Clients dropped money thru the bathroom window after picking up their work from a box on the front door. Sometimes it fell in the toilet if the lid was up.

At Christmas, we snuck down the stairs late at night to the patio below, borrowed one of the potted evergreen plants, brought it upstairs and decorated it. When Christmas was over, we’d sneak it back to its allotted place. Nobody ever noticed.

Later, we lived in a somewhat larger small space, now on Ocean Avenue, with the luxury of one bedroom where the little princess slept, sharing the closet with Mom, who slept on a fold-out futon in the living room. Most floor space was covered with table, chairs, desk for work, dresser and futon. There was really no room for a Christmas tree on the floor, so we hung it upside down from the ceiling! Worked out great, looked super and we decorated the space in a happy way without taking over the area needed to walk to the bathroom.

When the princess was beginning adolescence and going to school with children who went to France for Christmas and got thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from Santa Deep Pockets, I had a lot of work one year (time having proven the wisdom of working at home) but I missed the Christmas tree lot closing time. Whoa! No tree! Needless to say, it was not a merry Christmas Eve at our house on Ocean Avenue that year. We both were bummed and the princess was tan-trum trum truming it all over the two rooms. 

The next morning arrived, Christmas Day, sadness still tangible. The room looked so empty! Princess went into the shower as I suffered motherly holiday guilt. Then, a knock on the door! My neighbor stood there and said, “Hi, I just got a call and need to travel and don’t want to leave my Christmas tree in the apartment. Would you please take it for me?” By the time the princess came out of the shower, a fully-decorated tree was standing in the living room! 

Thank you, Santa! A true Christmas miracle!      

Jheri St. James is Jheri Secretary Notary-to-Go!, a belly dance and yoga instructor through the Laguna Beach Rec Department. She is celebrating 50 years as a working resident in Laguna Beach.

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