When I was a little girl we had, as my dad referred to it, a plastic Christmas. He was referring to our artificial Christmas tree. Although I have gained a deep appreciation of the idea of a pop-out-pre-lit-perfectly-shaped-non-shedding tree, I didn’t appreciate it at the time. The compromise was that mom had her perfect tree at our ‘city house’ and we got to get a REAL tree for our lake house.
Getting a tree for the lake house wasn’t a quick trip to the Christmas tree farm. It was much more special then that. My sister and I would go with my dad into the woods surrounding our house. It seemed like we hiked for miles into the deep, dark woods in search of our perfect tree. I doubt we hiked long and I know we weren’t deep in a dense forrest but it felt that way then. It seemed special- my dad and me.
We would find a tree and my dad would yield his axe and take it down for us. We’d drag it home to proudly proclaim it Christmas. One year the tree was so big that it bent under our 9 foot ceilings. It was almost as wide as it was tall! I have vague memories of trying to make a pop-corn garland or a berry garland that year though I couldn’t swear that it actually happened. Dad would take us out again to scout out mistletoe from the same trees where he found us muscadines in the summer. Good memories.
This year my grandmother told my dad that she remembered how much we liked Christmas tree hunting. She’s 99 with a zillion grand and great grand children. Having her think of me and to remember our special outings was touching. She offered up a fir tree from her yard for us. I was thrilled. Elated. I told my children about my Christmas tree memories and delighted at the thought of re-creating my memories with them.
Just like years ago, my dad cut down the tree. I wasn’t with him and we didn’t hike to get it though he did bring it to me. Mom offered to make another trip with an extra artificial tree she had. I declined. The fact that Nanny remembered me and my childhood love of Christmas trees was special and I was going to take that tree. Period. I wasn’t home the night my parents brought it to our house. I worked well past 9pm the nights following. Tonight the family got tired of waiting on me and put THE tree up. I couldn’t wait to get home. Late, as I am every night these days, I walked in the door and …..
It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.
Chairs had been pushed aside to make room. And it needed room…lots and lots of room. Our light strands barely made difference. Tall, scraggly branches stood out like a bad case of bed head. I could see the beige wall THROUGH the tree. The bottom had some…lushness is way too generous a word but using it might make this thing sound more appealing. Seriously, there were a few branches along the bottom and a spindly branch on top. In between…well…not so much. There is a gap between the bottom of the tree and the top of the tree that would house a small child. I pasted a smile on my face and made my way over. I thought I sounded chipper when I said, “maybe we should turn it so the best side is facing out.” Hubby didn’t sound so chipper as he responded, “That IS the best side.” Alrighty then.
Determined I sent the boy upstairs for the ornaments and said it would look better decorated. Nobody looked convinced. “Really mom?” Kinsley said. I re-told my story of getting a tree with my dad…OUCH…and told her how sweet….OWWW….it was that Nanny thought of us…AGH. Over groans I proclaimed that this was going to be a Christmas tree we always remembered. Colton laughed and made some comment about remembering this one alright that didn’t sound as positive as I would have liked. “Can’t wait to try and get a star on this THING,” he said. Something in my face made him stop talking. I can’t imagine what.
Phil set down the box of ornaments that Colton couldn’t find in either trip upstairs down on the coffee table…not as softly as I would have liked. I was frantically shoving noodles into my mouth since I hadn’t eaten in 8 hours. We weren’t off to a very good start until Sadie took out the ornaments one by one. Her glee was EXACTLY what I thought it would be. She looked at each one lovingly before placing it on the table and moving to the next. For the glass train she made train sounds. “A Tu-Tu!” made her smile. Her eyes danced at the silver, sparkly ones. She recognized letters on the personalized ones and proudly read the names to us…of course she learned the alphabet by associating her classmates names to letters so her reading went something like this, “One for Lute,” on those that read Libby. “One for Kate and Katie (kinsley’s) and one for Bubba.”
“Make the tree beautiful!” I said. I settled back in the chair and imagined me watching my lovely, well behaved children artistically create Christmas magic while I watched. The only thing missing was chestnuts on an open fire. Kinsley lovingly sorted through the ornaments before settling on her first favorite ornament and helped Sadie find one. She picked up her little sister and held her up to put on the very first Christmas ornament. The sound of music played in my mind…I literally envisioned pretty brown paper packages tied up with pretty string under our tree. It didn’t seem so homely until “OWWWWWW!!!!!” Sadie jerked back her hand, “dat hurts!” she whimpered. Kinsley offered to show her how but she too cried out. Ornaments crashed to the floor. Colton scoffed at them and picked up his first choice. He yelped as he tried to slide his ornament down a branch. My Christmas fantasy came to a screeching halt. “This isn’t working!” from Kinsley. “I no do dat,” from Sadie and Colton, “even if I could get it on there isn’t a branch that’s strong enough to hold it.” Soon all 3 of them were bickering, whining and rubbing their hands and arms.
Lead by example right? I found a pretty bobble and made my way to the tree. “You just have to slide it further down the branch,” I said and proceeded to try and illustrate. It felt like a thousand needles jabbing into my hand. I wanted to cry out in pain but instead said, through clenched teeth, “…it’s going to be so pretty once we finish.” I didn’t way, “If I can stand the pain of getting another ornament on the tree.”
The tradition started as my picture-perfect Christmas vignette. It was rapidly becoming a Christmas nightmare. Within minutes Colton had given up, Phil disappeared, Sadie wouldn’t tough the branches and Kinsley’s OCD and bossiness had her assigning branches to individuals and putting all HER ornaments on HER branch–IN GLOVES–fleece camouflage mittens to protect herself from the needles. My voice might have been a little shrill as I said, “I used to go with MY dad, YOUR grandpa to get a TREE like THIS and THIS means A LOT TO ME.” Wordlessly Kinsley reached out with gloved hands and hung an ornament on the tree.
In the end the ugly little tree is adorned. It was painful -literally and figuratively. Ornaments are clustered together with absolutely no balance or style. We don’t own anything big enough to hide the hole in the center. Frail limbs bend almost double from the weight of a single ornament and the lights barely create a twinkle. It sticks out way farther then it should. There is no star on top because no one wants to brave life and limb to put one up there. It’s homely and ugly and atrocious and….
I love it.
Looking at it reminds me of walks with my dad. Seeing it makes me feel good because Nanny thought of me. The wreath made of macaroni from 2nd grade, the cardboard gingerbread man with pinto bean eyes and the tin foil house look perfect and beautiful. Ballerina shoes look just find next to an Orca whale ornament. This Christmas tree is odd and it’s quirky and uglier then home-made sin but it’s perfect. It’s exactly what a Christmas tree should be…it’s visual reminder of who I was and who I am now. It represents old memories. It holds trinkets from recent memories. It’s a visual story board of my life.