For my family, the Christmas tree was something special that was up and appreciated for a good portion of December. Upon leaving the nest just after high school, my second holiday season out of the house included a terrific tree.
I lived with a guy from Rail Road Flat named Chris Fields, and ours was an apartment generally filled with celebrations. Softball victories and losses were regaled, as were Fridays and Saturdays. You get the idea.
One night Chris got home and dragged a far-too-big-for-the-room tree into our fairly small living room. The space was chock full of furniture; single guys will latch onto “free” comfort at almost any turn. There was hardly room for four sets of feet on the floor, let alone 10-feet of branches.
I’ll never forget the glint in Chris’ eyes as he gazed up at the 12-foot-plus high ceiling, which happened to come complete with an old hook deployed for an atrocious lamp hung on a tacky chain.
With the tree cabled to the hook and lights, ornaments and yes, even tinsel, scattered over the tree, I took things to the next level as I duct-taped a slew of presents to the ceiling. It was a scene from Norman Rockwell, albeit a curious one.
I’ll also never forget a few nights later, when a few friends were over. It was something to see people enter the room and sort of acknowledge the tree without really looking at it.
“Oh, my god!” one friend yelped as he stood and he actually focused on the upside-down decoration.
Somewhere in my basement is a Polaroid photo of the tree that’s a trip to look at. When the picture is held by the “thick” bottom of the photo (where the chemicals were stored before the film was exposed), it looks completely normal; that is, until you look closely and notice the tinsel points skyward! Flip the photo over and your brain cannot make sense of the tree. But the presents, and the presence, I must admit, make that a tree for all time in my book.
Of the many images of Christmas past and present, the Christmas tree is one that stands out in my many memories of the season. From seeing the forlorn tree with a solitary ornament hanging from it in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to choosing the trees that have come into my homes to be duly spruced up to glitter with lights and a variety of ornaments, all of these trees have stories to tell.
When I was 8, my mother married my stepfather, who quickly became Dad to me. They both loved Christmas, but choosing the Christmas tree was something they weren’t able to agree on. They both had different visions of the perfect tree. After hours in every tree lot in Fremont that first year, they decided it was a decision making process that they weren’t going to overcome. So the annual selection of the tree became a ritual that my dad and I shared.
He and I went from lot to lot a few weeks before Christmas. Mom’s only request was that we brought home a Noble fir, because she felt they were the best to decorate. Dad and I set off with his vision of a perfectly symmetrical tree dancing in his head as my vision of the Charlie Brown tree danced in mine. It seemed that it was always dark when we went tree shopping, which leant a rather magical feel to the whole thing. Lights shone on all the trees in the lots, and it never failed that Dad wore a beanie to keep his bald head warm.
Stopping at a particularly promising candidate, he would turn it around and I’d tell him yes or no. As we walked through the lots, I would point out my favorite trees and he would laugh before saying there was no way we could bring a tree like that home because it wouldn’t hold all of our ornaments. Then we’d load our perfect tree on the truck, and maybe stop and have a hot chocolate or hot apple cider on the way home.
One year, for some reason, Dad had to have a flocked tree. Remember those? That year we waited while the tree was flocked because none of those already coated with that fluffy white stuff were symmetrical enough for Dad.
Until recently, I’ve always had fresh trees in my house. Before Mom came to live with my son and me, we had wonderful times picking our trees. The funny thing is, my son has an affinity for Charlie Brown trees much like I do. Our trees were never quite perfect, but we made sure they could hold more than one ornament.
One tradition I’ve added to our tree is giving my son an ornament every year. Now that he’s 17, I look back at the “Star Wars,” “Peanuts” and other assorted characters as we take the ornaments from their boxes and it makes me smile to think of his little hands growing each year as he puts his ornaments on the tree.
That’s one of the beautiful things about the Christmas tree; it’s both iconic and it recalls memories that we can all relate to.
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