It all started with the tinsel. Shiny, foil-like strands that looked like silver hair or metallic spaghetti. Grams wanted us to put more of it on the Christmas tree, and even though I kept saying, “I think that’s enough,” she just kept shouting “More! More tinsel!” Court and I were only seven and ten years old, so what could we do? 

Grams was on her third glass of vodka and she always got like this around the holidays. She was drunk during Easter egg dying, plastered at Thanksgiving, and now it was the tinsel. She grabbed it in clumps.

“Here, like this,” she said, dumping it on a branch. We stepped back to survey her work, shielding our eyes from the reflection. 

“I don’t know,” said Court.

“It needs something else!” Grams yelled, which was the opposite of what I was thinking. We had already done the lights, the garland, the ornaments, and of course, the tinsel. But that’s when it happened. Grams crossed the room and hoisted up the television. She stuck it, square and bulging, smack in the center of the tree. 

Court’s mouth dropped open; I covered my eyes. 

“Still needs more,” Grams said, stumbling to the paintings on the wall. She lifted each one off its nail and teetered over to the tree. She shoved one picture towards the tree’s thick center pole. The painting of a bowl of fruit balanced precariously near the top. 

Court and I looked at each other, and that’s when we decided–Grams needed help. We grabbed the porcelain figures out of the curio and chucked them at the tree–each one sticking, embedded in the fake pine. Grams ripped the cabinets off the kitchen walls and stuck them, like velcro, to the tree. The microwave, sconces, cats, string, bottles of hair dye, salmon, clocks, clothes–it all went on. We laughed so hard, I couldn’t catch my breath; Grams twirled Court around and around until she was dizzy and grabbed the tree for support. By the fourth glass of vodka, we were seated on the carpet, out of breath, panting like dogs.    

Grams took another sip and plucked one more strand of tinsel from the box. 

“The last one,” she said, “You two do the honors.”

We put it on the last empty branch, laid it on gingerly like it was the end of something. Then we all crawled under the tree facing upwards to look at the lights tucked in the fronds. Their fuzzy glow rained down halos on us. Grams snored softly next to me and Court as the radio belted out, “O Holy Night, O night divine.”

20 Comments

  1. Bud Smith

    It all started with the tinsel. Shiny, foil-like strands that looked like silver hair or metallic spaghetti. Grams wanted us to put more of it on the Christmas tree, and even though I kept saying, “I think that’s enough,” she just kept shouting “More! More tinsel!” Court and I were only seven and ten years old and she wouldn’t listen.
    Grams was on her third glass of vodka and she always got like this around the holidays. She was drunk during Easter egg dying, plastered at Thanksgiving, and now it was the tinsel. She grabbed it in clumps.
    “Here, like this,” she said, dumping it on a branch. We stepped back to survey her work, shielding our eyes from the reflection.
    “I don’t know,” said Court.
    “It needs something else!” Grams yelled, which was the opposite of what I was thinking. We had already done the lights, the garland, the ornaments, and of course, the tinsel.
    Grams crossed the room and hoisted up the television. She stuck it, square and bulging, smack in the center of the tree. Court’s mouth dropped open; I covered my eyes.
    “Still needs more,” Grams said, stumbling to the paintings on the wall. She lifted each one off its nail and teetered over to the tree. She shoved one picture towards the tree’s thick center pole. The painting of a bowl of fruit balanced precariously near the top.
    Court and I looked at each other, and that’s when we decided–Grams needed help. We grabbed the porcelain figures out of the curio and chucked them at the tree–each one sticking, embedded in the fake pine. Grams ripped the cabinets off the kitchen walls and stuck them, like velcro, to the tree. The microwave, sconces, cats, string, bottles of hair dye, salmon, clocks, clothes–it all went on. We laughed so hard, I couldn’t catch my breath; Grams twirled Court around and around until she was dizzy and grabbed the tree for support. By the fourth glass of vodka, we were seated on the carpet, out of breath, panting like dogs.
    Grams took another sip and plucked one more strand of tinsel from the box.
    “The last one,” she said, “You two do the honors.”
    We put it on the last empty branch, laid it on gingerly like it was the end of something. Then we all crawled under the tree facing upwards to look at the lights tucked in the fronds. Their fuzzy glow rained down halos on us. Grams snored softly next to me and Court as the radio belted out, “O Holy Night, O night divine.”

    Just some little trims like that. Nothing crazy.

    What does it need? Maybe it needs the children to get drunk and then someone to come home and demand answers for what Grams has done and she threatens to put them in the tree and they call the cops and the cops come in to arrest them all but the kids and Grams attack the police and of course stuff them into the tree and then drag the police car with its flashers shining blue and red and they stuff that in the tree too and then they all relax and listen to O Holy Night. The police car could be the angel on top

  2. Amy Barnes

    There is something so touching here. My grandmother put the tree on Christmas Day as part of our gifts and sang O Holy Night in her gravely, smoker’s voice so it brings back memories for me — although she would never slap the TV on the tree — not while her “shows” were on. The holidays are rife with family relationships –the tinsel feels like the perfect way to express all the tangles of drunk relatives and family feuds. Here, you bring in the completely unexpected — the TV on the tree! And then the paintings, etc. etc. This feels real in spite of its fictional tone, like it could happen, laughter in the middle of a mess. I have no idea what this might need — it feels like a great holiday vignette. If it’s CNF, you may be able to submit it with more reflection included.

    Love the ending sentences. Such a vivid and oddly comforting image.

    “Their fuzzy glow rained down halos on us. Grams snored softly next to me and Court as the radio belted out, “O Holy Night, O night divine.”

    Have loved reading your posts this weekend! Thank you for sharing.

    • Janelle Greco

      Amy, I think we had the same grandmother, haha. Thank you so much for this and thanks for all of your feedback on each piece. I really appreciate it!

  3. K Chiucarello

    Loved loved the playfulness here and loved how chaotic this Christmas ritual got. I feel like this is goal-worthy in the older years: being totally wasted off of eggnold and scaring the grandchildren senseless. I’m not sure what age the sisters are supposed to be but when I read through there’s such youth that rings throughout them and their relationship (which I’m very drawn to….the sister’s and how they stare in awe of this matriarch figure gone mad).

    I can picture the grandmother crawling into the television and taking the girls with her and decorating a TV within the television, getting so meta that it’s just a black hole of decorations until she and the girls were buried under the decorations. I’m loving all the holiday stories in this workshop (or pieces that mention Christmas) and this is such an excellent way to close out the workshop!

    • Janelle Greco

      Thanks so much, K. I love the meta twist you suggested. Will try that out in another draft! Thank you for all your feedback and for sharing your work this weekend. It was truly wonderful! 🙂

  4. Taylor Grieshober

    Janelle,
    This was such a fun and wacky read. I love the maximalism of this, the grandma who just wants more more more. The image of tinsel–“Shiny, foil-like strands that looked like silver hair or metallic spaghetti” reeled me in immediately. Maybe it’s just because I’m in such a Chistmas-y mood this year, but this had me feeling all warm and fuzzy and tipsy. I wonder what’s underneath this grandma’s obsession with embellishment, making sure that the tree feels just right? Might be fun to blow this up a little bit through a quick flashback or two that could lend some insight into this preoccupation. Thanks for sharing!

    • Janelle Greco

      Thanks so much Taylor!! Your feedback, and of course your amazing writing, has been a real treat this weekend 🙂

  5. Cheryl Pappas

    JANELLE! This is fabulous! You took this on an adventure in this bursting out of the normal in the simple ritual of decorating the tree. And I would love to learn from you how you made the over-drinking-in-front-of-the-kids grandma totally accepted and loved and fun! The whole thing is moving. I love how the kids are joining in on it and making the impossible true (in a way that kids do).

    Thank you for subverting expectations. That is a GIFT.

    And the ending is perfect. Quiet and a lovely comment on forgetting about what the “ideal” Christmas is supposed to look like.

    Just fantastic. I don’t have any suggestions, I’m sorry. I just loved this.

    • Janelle Greco

      Thank you so much Cheryl. That feedback means so much to me. I really appreciate it and I appreciate your wonderful pieces this weekend. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

  6. David O'Connor

    I love Grams! Love how this gets out of control so naturally, a simple and wild progression. I found the pace/pov/voice perfect, wouldn’t change much. What do you think of “More! More Tinsel” as a title, I’d buy it. Great piece.

  7. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Janelle, Mad mad story! The greatest hinge moment, expectation defying moment, was “Court and I looked at each other, and that’s when we decided–Grams needed help.” Follow not, as was in my mind, the children call the cops, call the neighbors, whatever, it was that they picked up the porcelain figures and joined in. Jaw dropping moment, congratulations, and there is a way that makes perfect sense. This was fun to read, but I worried that at some moment that tree was going to catch fire. And what if, after they are under the tree, after the fuzzy glow rained down halos on them, the tree did begin to smoke? So, if you really think it needs more, maybe there, maybe smoking isn’t fire, but the tree comes alive, grabs a cigarette, and smokes. Insanity is not the limit. So, thank you for the read and the imaginative possibilities of this piece.

    • Janelle Greco

      Love your ideas Martha! Thank you so much for your feedback and for your own absolutely breathtaking work this weekend. I appreciate it!

  8. Lisa Moore

    Janelle, this story is hilarious. I was hooked as soon as Gram got ahold the tinsel: “Here, like this,” she said, dumping it on a branch. We stepped back to survey her work, shielding our eyes from the reflection.”

    You have a great eye for detail and as the story progresses, we get more and more of it. This is another piece with a frenetic, cinematic feeling, like a Terry Gilliam Christmas. I really loved it.

    I do like the idea of bringing in a third party if you’re looking to add to it, say the cops or parents or annoyed neighbours to reinforce how insane and unacceptable and fun this scene is to Christmas normies. But it definitely works as-is. And the ending is lovely.

    Thanks for the weekend.

    • Janelle Greco

      Thanks so much Lisa! I’ll play around with this some more, keeping the third party suggestions in mind. Really helpful. Thanks so much for your feedback and your wonderful work this weekend. It’s been a treat 🙂

  9. Neil Clark

    I laughed out loud at the television moment! It really tickled me and it worked because you built up to it so well. I love how, after all that, the last thing to go on the tree is a piece of tinsel. Rounds it off nicely.

    Really fun piece – I wanted to be in that house, chucking stuff on the tree with them. If anything, the only thing it could do with is more booze!

    Another great piece, Janelle – nicely done and thank you for filling me with Christmas cheer!

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