How could my mother do it, do it at Christmas? She hung the stockings, baked the cookies, wrapped the gifts, even placed baby Jesus in the manger. And then, she did it, smack dab in the middle of the living room! She put up a silver aluminum Christmas tree.
I hated that tree. It was not festive, fragrant or full. Worst of all, it was not green!! I was convinced Santa would take one look at it and, fearing high levels of radiation, shoot right back up the chimney. My brother, Joe, hated that tree more.
Since my father’s mechanical ability was limited to changing a burnt out light bulb, the job of assembling the tree fell to my brother. Joe was blessed with a methodical mind and a plethora of patience. On or about December 1, Joe began his work. He opened a large cardboard box and faced 642 individual branches of curled foil that fit into one, and only one, spoke on a spindly trunk. On or about December 24, Joe finished his task.
As he kicked the empty box down the basement steps, my mother hurried into the living room to admire the artificial atrocity. Flanked on either side by Queen Anne wing chairs, the tree dominated the picture window. Joe and I were certain that the FBI, mistaking the silver monstrosity for the Sputnik rocket booster, would ring our doorbell at any moment.
Mom smiled, imagining the neighbors’ “oohs” and “aahs” as they peered in at her “must have” 1950s holiday décor. “Joe, thank you so much, dear. I just, just love it. My friends can’t wait to see it. They’re going up to G. Fox on the 26th to see if they can get a tree like this on sale.” Mom looked at us, hoping against hope we’d agree. “It’s so shiny, almost magical don’t you think, kids?”
I huffed and puffed with the indignation that only a semi-spoiled eight year old could muster. “No, I think it looks awful and ugly,” I said. “You’ve just ruined Christmas! I hate that tree. I hate it, hate it, hate it! Who ever heard of a tin foil tree? Mom, you are a CCD teacher! Do you think Jesus had a silver Christmas tree, huh Mom?”
Joe’s jaw dropped. “You’re a stupid dope. Jesus didn’t have a tree.”
“Ma, he called me a dope – a stupid dope!”
“Joe, please don’t badger the baby. You’re not a dope, honey!”
“Yeah, but you’re stupid! Ha. Ha!”
“And I’m not a baby. I hate Christmas this year. When I grow up and have my own house and my own little girl, I won’t have a stinky silver tree. I’ll have a real tree – a real big, green tree.”
“Oh, kids, kids. Will you please stop bickering?,” said my mother. “It’s Christmastime! The tree is lovely. I really like it. There will be no needles all over the house. We can keep it up so much longer! And I can scent the house with Glade evergreen spray. Daddy likes it, too. Don’t you, honey? Joe, there’s only one thing left to do. We have to plug in the light.”
Maybe the tree wasn’t finished, but Joe was. He was having nothing to do with the rotating color light, that turned the tree from silver to pink to orangey-gold (Was my mother celebrating Halloween?) to ice blue (Hanukah??), to, for one brief shining moment, green!
Joe headed upstairs, suggesting, with a level of sarcasm only a fourteen-year old can muster, “Ma, I think Dad can plug in the light.”
Joe was right. Dad could handle the light. With the talent of a master electrician, he inserted that plug neatly into a socket. Settling back into his Lazy Boy lounger, he took a puff on his cigar. (Mom began to spray the Glade evergreen in earnest now.). “I think it looks nice – damn nice,” he said.
I was wrong. Christmas was not ruined. Mom whipped up her usual array of dozens upon dozens of magic bars, jelly thumbprints, and green, blessedly green, tree-shaped spritz cookies, decorated with red cinnamon candies. She made sure there was a Chatty Cathy for me, a FM radio for Joe, and a box of Tiparillos for Dad under the tree. I must admit, I tolerated that tree more when there were presents beneath it. I didn’t hate it, hate it, hate it. I just hated it!
Since her baby days, my daughter, Catherine, and I have delighted in a real green, real big tree – smack dab in the middle of the family room. My husband has been OK with the fact that the tree has been real and green. The fact that it must be BIG has been a bit, well, problematic.
“Jeff,” I said, “I saw in the Yankee Flyer that’s there’s a place in New Hartford where we can cut down our own tree. And after we cut it down, they give you a nice cup of hot chocolate, with marshmallows!”
“Well, you know,” he replied, “they’re selling trees, already cut, outside Stop and Shop and they look pretty good. But, yeah, I guess, if you want to…” Jeff knew better than to deny me a Norman Rockwell moment.
We headed up to New Hartford with our eighteen month old Catherine, bundled up like a pink Michelin man. Half way up the hill, I spotted a perfectly shaped six foot green Douglas fir which Jeff, the former Eagle Scout, cut down with his trusty hand saw.
“Dada, I so cold. I so tired,” said Catherine.
“Jeff, it’s kind of icy. I’m not sure I can make it down this hill,” I added.
Jeff’s survival badge came in handy. He cradled Catherine in one arm, linked my arm under his other, and dragged the tree (and the hand saw) behind him as we crept down the slippery slope. For the next few years, Jeff went to Stop and Shop for a tree, a big tree.
Big became a relative term when we moved into a house with nine foot ceilings. Catherine was now a pre-teen, uninterested in family excursions to the tree farm. But, she remained adamant about a real tree, a tree that almost touched the ceiling. With the level of indignation that only a semi-spoiled twelve year old can muster, she pleaded. “Ma, Daddy will screw it up. You gotta go with him to buy the tree, a big tree.”
We bought a big tree, in fact, a tree on steroids, so tall and so wide that Jeff could not haul it into the house without the help of his friend, Steve, an amateur bodybuilder.
“Hey, Steve we just bought the tree. Do you think you could drop in this afternoon?”
“Jeff, I’ve got the second Saturday in December circled on my calendar. I skip the gym when it’s tree day! Who needs to lift weights when we’re gonna set up that baby?”
What Steve didn’t plan on was an emergency call on the third Wednesday in December. “Steve, are you busy? Could you stop over? That damn tree fell over. It crashed onto the coffee table.” There they were, the Eagle Scout and the Terminator, gently lifting the tree, ornaments intact, off the miraculously unscathed table. They stuffed it into the corner of the family room, wrapping a rope around its trunk and hitching the rope to a nail in the wall.
“Well, I think your tree is pretty secure now, Jeff. It would take a major shift in the tectonic plates to topple this big boy over!” Jeff muttered under his breath, vowing that this year marked the end of the enormous evergreen.
Not so. Another year. Another big tree. Another precarious passage on Route 44, praying that the tree would not plummet from the roof of the car. Another call to Steve. Year after year after year.
That is, until this past year. I just couldn’t do it! I couldn’t do it at Christmas. I couldn’t hang the stockings, bake the cookies, and contend with that monster of a tree!
“Jeff, how much longer do you think we will live in this house?”
“Well, I don’t know maybe six, seven years”
Ah, perfect answer. I had discovered a life-like artificial (excuse the oxymoron), green to be sure, tree in a catalog. It was eight and half feet high, boasting over 3000 lit branches, all pre-attached (Note to Joe: Who’s the stupid dope now?) to the trunk. It would more than pay for itself in six or seven years. I presented my proposal to Jeff.
“Yeah, we can think about it. But, why don’t we take a ride up 44? Here’s the thing, the night Catherine comes home from college and sees an artificial tree, I will not be home. And my cell phone is going to be turned off. I don’t want to hear about it!”
We drove up 44. A behemoth balsam was soon bolted to the roof of our car. After I speed dialed Steve, I texted my daughter.
“We got the tree.”
“Is it good? I hope it’s good.”
“Is it big? I hope it’s big!”
“Yep. FYI, we thought about getting a fake one.”
“Are you serious???”