The House Without a Christmas Tree – Almost!

by | Dec 12, 2014

By Bruce Mastracchio

Author’s Note, 12/12/14: This story was written a few years back, on a dark and windy and snowy night.

I know. I know. I’m a little bit ahead of schedule, but I have been stuck inside all day today, with the exception of some heavy shoveling, and, in fact, have been inside for over a  week with all the snowstorms, we’ve been having.

All the white stuff reminds me of Christmas, and since a few of you have been clamoring for another tale about Picks and me, I decided to do one about our traditions at Christmas.

Many people will never understand about the magic that appeared whenever the Catholic Boy and the Episcopal Kid got together, be it on the streets of Our Town, at Eastham on the Cape, or Provincetown, or Groton, Dartmouth, anywhere that VW bugs roamed and magic and mystery were in the air.

If you keep an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart, and believe, really believe, then all things are possible. Whenever Picks and I got together and holidays were involved, anything was always possible.


I really love holidays. Christmas is a real favorite though Thanksgiving is not far behind. Then there’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day (because of the parades), Halloween, Valentine’s, Labor Day, and St. Joseph’s Day. The only one I don’t celebrate is St. Patrick’s Day – used to, but that’s another story, for another time.

For me, any chance to get together with family, friends and food and I am all for it.

Of course it’s December now, and they’ve been playing Christmas carols since November, which ruins it for me. But, as the appointed day draws closer my spirits start to soar and my body and mind tense in great expectation. Picks and I loved Christmas!

The colors for December are red, green, blue and white.

And then, there’s that feeling. That once-a-year feeling that infects us and affects us all. Like peace handshakes and Sunday smiles, it’s too bad that the feelings don’t last all year long.

But, it does exist for a short time in December, and that’s a start.

Of course, I mentioned food, didn’t I? Food goes right along with December. And Christmas Eve. And Christmas. Food brings thoughts of Aunt Rose and Uncle Ted. They lived for food and family and friends. They never went anywhere and every weekend their house was filled with all kinds of food for whoever dropped by. Especially so at Christmastime.

It was at their house that I had my introduction to things beyond the staples. Their house was a weekly gathering place, but especially during the holiday season. It was a good place to be if you were young, a boy who loved to eat and liked to try new foods.

I had all those qualifications. They had all the Italian foods, drinks, and, for me, all the sweets (I am paying for those now).

There were delicious candies, cream turnovers, macaroons, eclairs, wandies, pizzelles, sfogliatelle, cakes, pies and more. The whole month of anticipation boiled down to that week before Santa came and it was always a special time. A time that sparked my heart, sparked my soul, and still does to this day. It really was. It really has. It was magic time because we made it so.

This story is dedicated to Aunt Rose and Uncle Ted, to Reverend Pickells, to Stanley and Dorothy Czerno, Father Joe, Mrs. Spanger, Mrs. Greene and all those who have been supportive over the years, and to the few of you who still believe in magic moments and keep Christmas in their hearts 365/7/24. Hope you have a Holy, Happy One. In the Spirit . . .

He was the son of the Episcopalian pastor. His friend was a Catholic Boy from “below the hill.” They had started their little traditions quite young and had kept them up through high school and college. They would utilize the whole week before Christmas, first with shopping, then with making gifts, or buying them and then wrapping them in their special way. Sometimes using Christmas wrap, but, more often, seeing as they were both creative, using the Sunday comics, newspapers, old boxes and anything odd they could find to disguise their gifts.

On certain nights they would go caroling, and, finally, decorating the trees at each other’s houses.

On Christmas Eve they would go around to all of the Catholic boy’s relatives (close to 20 houses in all –following up on Christmas Day if they couldn’t make them all), before going to Midnight Mass at their respective churches. The Episcopal Kid up the hill to his father’s church, St. Luke’s, and the Catholic Boy to Our Lady of Mercy on Main Street.

The routine never changed. It was threatened just once. That was the time, because of the times, that there was not going to be a tree at one of the houses for the holiest and most decorated of seasons.

“Look’s like there’s going to be no tree at our house this year,” confessed the Catholic Boy to his Episcopal friend, “money’s low and we really can’t afford one.” This was only a week before Christmas.

“No problem,” said the EK,”we’ll just go up to the woods and cut one down.”

Easier said than done. For, despite searching far and wide and high and low, not one suitable tree could be found. Things looked desperate, and one of the boys’ most precious traditions was in jeopardy. They both thought of stealing one, but nixed that idea fairly quickly. It would not be in the spirit of Christmas they thought, though a little light fingeredness had infected both of them at other times.

They decided to try the woods once more. This time they went west to some rugged country over near Carrs Pond Road. It wasn’t ’til they got there that they found out it was posted. By that time, with the trip and the mission and all, they let go of the idea that what they doing, and what they were going to do, was not quite copacetic.

Their goal was to get a Christmas tree so that one house would not be bare for the Yuletide. They were determined that there would be “no house without a Christmas tree,” not this Christmas. Not ever!

Those were their thoughts as they walked past the signs of  NO TRESPASSING! STATE PROPERTY – KEEP OUT! and waltzed into the woods ’til they found their tree.

It was not the usual Christmas tree. Not a needled pine. It was a blue spruce, beautifully shaped. It was perfect. They looked at one another. They nodded. In unison they said, “This is the one!”  and they cut the tree down.

There was no big adventure to report. They got the tree back to their trusty VW bug. They tied it on and took it to the CB’s home. They stood it in the bay window, which overlooked the street, and decorated it just like they had decorated other trees over the years.

They shopped. They bought presents. They made presents. They went caroling. They decorated each other’s tree and they went on Christmas Eve to their 20 stops, where they enjoyed eggnog and goodies galore. A taste or two at each.

At 11:45, they went their separate ways. One to the Episcopal church on the hill, the other to the Catholic church on Main Street.

For years after they remembered the fun they used to have at Christmastime. They remembered that one year when one of the houses almost went without a Christmas tree. They both laughed about how they always felt that they believed in Santa Claus, even into their teenage years.

They marveled at what a magical, mystical time it was at Christmas and how they wanted to make sure that their children captured the same feelings that they held so dear.

Then, one winter day just after the Christmas season, one of the boys went out shellfishing.

He never came back.

There would be no more Christmases for him. No more wrapping. No more decorating. No more caroling. No more magical, mystical feelings.

That is something to think about.

The other boy? Well, he is the one typing this story, thinking that in the telling he can bring the other boy back to life. If just for a little while.

He really knows that Christmas has gone the way of the buffalo. At least the Christmas times he knew. Now, it’s like those peace handshakes and Sunday smiles. They really don’t mean anything. More flash than substance and forgotten an hour or so after they are given.

Christmas doesn’t begin to happen the magical week before it comes. Now it starts in October or November and . . .

Thanksgiving? Forget about it! They’ve thrown that holiday aside so that they can start on their money tree.

It would do no good to tell them about red and green. About pine trees and blue spruce. About caroling on Main Street and Marlborough and Rector.

About magic days and mystical nights. About making magic happen because you wanted it to be.

They would never understand!

Remember, Picks? How we believed in Santa Claus? And Love? And Freedom?

How we sang Christmas songs on Christmas Eve and watched the drunks on New Year’s?

All on Main Street of OUR TOWN!

You wouldn’t recognize it now, or, understand it.

Perhaps it’s best you’ve gone ahead.

But, then again, it’s December once more, and somewhere in my heart there’s still a small spot that still harbors the hope that maybe, with a little effort, we can bring the magic back!

Maybe, if we try real hard, we can capture it all once again. Heck, why not? I’ve got my grandkids. They can be elves. We’ll go get hot chocolate and donuts. Don the Santa hats, sing carols and hand deliver the Christmas cards.

Gotta run. There’s so much to do!

There’s shopping. And caroling. And visiting. And eating. I’ve got some disciples and that’s a start. It’s December again! It’s Christmas again! And both are places of the heart!

Hope you have a Merry and Holy One! Heck, hope you have a Magical, Mystical One like the ones Picks and I used to have.

Oh, and while you’re at it, light a candle for the Episcopal Kid. He’ll be up there looking down and smiling and saying “Go for it!” Merry Christmas, Picks!

Addendum, 12/22/22: Christmas just up this week. Been shopping and visiting and sending cards. Presents piled under the tree and I definitely have the Spirit. Thought I’d recycle this old story of Magic and what Christmas was back when Picks and I were weaving our version of Magic, Love and Believing. Tho’ the older boys tried to ruin it for us, we always felt Santa was a Spirit and so we were well into our teens before we semi-let go.But, it never ruined the season for us as we trooped on with belief. Not all the way though. It fuels me to this day. Enjoy the re-read. As I have said, I have read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird” at least 6 times, and get something new out of it every time.


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Laura Sullivan
Laura Sullivan
December 23, 2022 12:00 pm


Thank you so much for re-sharing this wonderful piece, written in your inimitable style, and for the footnote that assures us that Christmas is alive and well in our hearts. We of a Certain Age also hold treasured memories of dear folks, youthful escapades and traditions of times past.

I especially enjoy your remembrances of your buddy, “Picks,” the Episcopal Kid. His dad performed the marriage ceremony for my parents at St. Luke’s back in 1945. I never knew of the heartbreak he endured at the loss of his son until you shared your memories. We’ll know that Picks is smiling down on us at St. Luke’s this Christmas Eve.

Wishing you and yours a Merry and Magical Christmas, and if you ever want to round a group to go caroling around Town, give us a call. We’re in!

ray Giornelli
ray Giornelli
December 23, 2022 1:46 pm

Very moving memory. My memories of the Pickells
family centered around the three Pickels daughters
and how their Mom would invite all the teen age friends
into their home parlor for dancing with tender or no supervision.
When the lights that were dimmed were turned to bright we
knew that it was time to depart! Pick was too young to join us.

December 23, 2022 1:52 pm

Just to add to the Magic and to remind people to keep the Christmas Spirit in their hearts 24/7-365, I sent out Christmas Greetings to my people in July. Then I started this year’s Christmas cards in October, but my supplier let me down and I only had a handful of regular cards.
Seeing as I keep almost everything (everything according to the Capo di tu tu capo) I took the cards I received last year, cut them in half, made post cards out of them and stamped a note “This card recycled with love” on them with a personal salute, and Voila! Christmas Magic appeared. The girls at the USPO love my idea and said they were going to do it also.
So despite being much slower than I’ve ever been, and maneuvering around on wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes, I still managed to get my Christmas shopping done, wrapped some presents in newspaper, comic strips and sports section and send out a few special emails on Christmas. My Grandboys are coming for Christmas and we are going out to The Cape to see The Cabin, Poit’s and maybe P-Town.
What could be better than that?

Mary Welch
Mary Welch
December 23, 2022 2:36 pm

Thank you for sharing this story of magic and memories.
It’s been a long time since you were writing sports for the Pendulum, and I was an ad rep and sometime writer. But I remember those days fondly.
Merry Christmas to you and your family.
Mary Welch

Barbara La
Barbara La
December 24, 2022 4:53 pm

Bruce thank you for sharing this beautiful Christmas Memory. I remember the Pickell’s family so well. Sally and I were in the class of 1947. She was so beautiful no wonder all the boys ogled her and her sisters. Blessings to you and yours this Christmas Season.


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