Christmas 2010: One of the most shapely trees we’ve ever trimmed It took 15 pictures before I was smart enough to leave the messy kitchen table top out of the picture.
It was December 23, the first day of our children’s Christmas break and while they were still asleep, we, too, had slept late having forgotten to set the alarm after a late night of wrapping gifts. Howdy was racing to catch the first train after his normal one and I was rounding my second sharp turn to the left en route to the kitchen on the double when, something in the far right corner of the dining room seemed wrong somehow. It was the Christmas tree, leaning substantially to the right and occupied in the top branches of the upper (previously left) side, was a cowering kitten, our new, as of about a week ago, cat. Equally new to trees in the house, she looked terrified and was making little sounds of deep distress. Similarly distressed, I let out a piercing shriek for “Howdy!” My shriek sent the cat scrambling toward the tree top making the tree list even more with the upsetting sound of fragile tree ornaments falling to swell the crowd already assembled on the carpet. Howdy, tastefully turned out in black shoes and socks, pastel under shorts and a tee shirt as white as the shaving cream still on much of his face careened into the room, halting just short of me.the tree and the troublemaker. Taking in the scene before him, he grinned broadly. chuckled and then began to shake with laughterd, Stunned at first by his reaction, my lips twitched and I joined him in relieved laughter. Still laughing, he collected the cat who gratefully licked off some shaving cream as he announced, “Forget the train. Let’s eat and then clean up the mess. I wouldn’t have missed that vision for anything!You’re looking fetching,” he added admiring my mismatched socks, sneakers, shocking pink underpants and an inside out sweater of his he had worn the night before, I have no idea when this happened ot who the cat was. It took writing this post to bring back that traumatizing , colorful morning. Only two glass balls were broken.
My earliest memories of Christmas are of Wheeling, WV and nighttime car rides with my parents to view the quite rare illuminated Christmas decorations. Two houses in the more affluent residential neighborhoods had Santa Claus, his sleight and reindeer on their broad porch roofs lit up and spreading breathless joy to one little girl. I remember nothing of our own inside Christmas trees until I was 5 and in Hagerstown, Maryland. Passionate about trains as was my father, I found Santa had brought Daddy and me a neat little wind-up metal train on a circular track, sitting beside the tree . That was the first year I went Christmas shopping for Mother’s gift after dark with Daddy and saw the lights and decorations of downtown. Just remembering the wonder of it makes my heart race a little. At this darkest time of the year, the exuberant cheer of all those lights is both breath taking and cheering. I found it magical, still do.
While we lived in Fairmont, WV, the depression gave way to the war. Mother, perhaps because of Scotch Calvinism in her blood, felt outside trees should not be lit until at least my brother’s birthday, Dec.19, and the inside tree went up on the 23rd or 24th, whichever worked better. Spurr trecs featured colored glass balls of mixed sizes and big (by today’s standards) colored lights. Plus strings of tinsel or scattered silver icicles. (We Marshalls ccame in two types. Those who place shimmering strands of silver one at a time and those who toss whole handfulls carelessly. Anticipating the future, all agreed that knowing one’s future spouse’s icicle placing style was Essential!) Somewhere about my 13th birthday I asked for permission to decorate the tree myself. I planned on moving us into a more stylish, Vogue-ish kind of look. I weeded out the garish colors and did the tree entirely in blue and white and tinsel. When Mother, Daddy and Gram came to admire it, everyone was polite and pseudo enthusiastic, sort of like the tree itself. It was a very disappointing reception and no one disliked “my” tree more than I did. Daddy saw my face. “If you’re not happy with it, Plops, how can we help you fix it?” he asked,”Some red bulbs? Maybe a few green ones?” “No, every color” I said, “everything but orange!” And lo, it was vastly improved. Our first Christmas in Maine, I opted for an all white tree. A fine New England custom, we should try it and honor it. Once was enough. I am addicted to color. I bought a whole string of tiny pink lights a few years ago just so I could steal pink bulbs and introduce one of my favorite colors to what is now truly “My” Tree. A little pink, like a little chocolate, almost always improves things.
We lived on a hill in Irvington, NY and decorated trees on either side of the front porch steps with many colors. We used to leave the outdoor lights up until Easter, lighting them for celebratory occasions, dinner parties or just when we needed the cheer of lights in the chill of winter. When Howdy’s father visited one Easter, he was absolutely appalled by this slovenly, obscene practice and made us spend a lovely afternoon taking them off when we had hoped to light them to guide the Easter bunny to our house. Thereafter, the newly Christened Easter lights went up for Christmas and some years never came down at all. What is it about sons and fathers??
At 90, seeing poorly, gimpy and low on energy, I have just received the most wonderful birthday present. Long on things, I wanted very little. Help is really what makes my heart flutter in joy. So when my children I have come to be a burden to asked if I would like them to buy, put up, light up and decorate a Christmas tree as my birthday present I was thrilled. They found a gorgeous tree, an enchanting 5 year old boy to participate and play loudly (zoom zum) with trucks in the background, and it is pure perfection. I sat and admired their work and especially the clever touch of wiring the lights into an Amazon Echo directed socket. I can say “Alexa, turn on the tree lights!” from my bedroom and see it waiting to greet me, lit up and sparkling.
Alexa played Harry Bellafonte’s Christmas album as the tree came to life and the enchanting five year old and I gorged on Hershey kisses and an Advent calendar with chocolate behind at least nine past-dated doors we could open, It was the mysterious absence of our beloved gold star that crowns our tree every year that started me remembering trees. When we were first married and living in our Vincent Astor rent controlled, 3rd floor walk-up, brownstone apartment on New York’s upper East side ($63.25 a month rent), I bought a tiny tree, a baby about 30 inches high. I decorated it with little red bows and what few ornaments we had that were super small. I had to make a star proportional to the tree’s height for its top. Taking some remarkably sturdy silver wrapping paper, I cut two identical little stars from it, stapled or taped them together and left a hole to slide down on the tree top. Our missing gold star I made for our first real tree in Irvington in1956. This time I used corrugated cardboards from a delivery box, put the bumpy side in, stapled the two stars together and sprayed both sides of the star with gold spray from the hardware store. Humble, amateurish and looking not only homemade but worn, it was an important part of our Christmas for 60 years. It has always seemed to me that a homemade star to top the tree is in keeping with the simplicity of the birth place of the Christ child whose coming we celebrate at Christmasa symbol, for me, anyway, of the simple eart racle for which we celebrate Christmas. I’ve the makings of a new homemade star . Should I try to make it myself now or await the arrival of younger family members r Christmas?
See you soon? Merry Christmas! Don’t forget Santa’s cookies. Howdy thought leaving Santa a shot of Bourbon a nice touch and even a shotmof Grand Marnier in case Mrs. Claus came along for the ride and was cold or tired. We both felt, however, that it would be better not to let the children know about that! p