Friday, December 7, 2018

O Tannenbaum

My friend Charlotte and I have done some memorably dumb things together (like our famous pumpkin pie fights), but right up there at the top has to be the time we went together to get our Christmas trees.

We went to a tree lot in Berkeley and searched for the perfect trees...and we found them.  Tall.  Full. Fragrant.  They would both be the start of the most beautiful tree ever.

We paid for our trees and took them to the car.

And we stood there, two large, full, lush trees in hand standing by Char's small Saab and wondering how we were going to carry them home.  I don't know how we did it, but somehow we got both trees in the car, but I remember the drive home, looking through the tree branches that encircled my head.  I don't know how Char ever drove the car safely.

At some point, Walt and I decided to give the kids the experience of cutting our own Christmas tree and we did that for several years.  They were pretty young the first year we went and someone--probably Paul; it was usually Paul--cried all the way because he was cold and wet and didn't want to be there.

But over the years, they started to enjoy it, and would be able to help with the sawing down of the tree and carrying it to the car.  Then we would sing Christmas songs all the way home, while the car smelled that wonderful Christmas tree smell.

By 1982, we were regularly hosting foreign students and that year we had two expected to be with us for Christmas -- Ndangi from (then) Zaire and Chieko from Japan.  I think they were a little confused by the whole cutting the tree thing, but came to observe these crazy American customs.
Ndangi and Chieko became good friends and for a few years after that, if either of them was in the United States in December, they turned up at our house to celebrate Christmas with us again.  Sadly, I have lost contact with both of them now, though Ndangi (now using his American name of Andre) lives in California, but I don't know how to reach him.  Chieko married and had a couple of kids, and there is no way to trace her because I don't know her married name.

When I was growing up, we always had a big tree and we hauled out the ornaments and trim it.  My mother always put the lights on.  She was very particular about how they went on so we just watched.  Inevitably a string would go out.  In those days if one bulb was dead, none of the other lights would light and I can't tell you how many angry hours over the years my father spent trying to find the offending bulb.

But once the lights were on and lit, then my mother, sister and I did the decorating.  I always got to put on the "face" ornament, my favorite.  It remained my favorite into my adulthood and it finally broke one Christmas when we were decorating with the kids.  I saved the pieces and put it in a craft project, which has now disappeared.  I still miss that silly ornament.  I think it had been my mother's favorite when she was growing up.

Our tree not only had the traditional glass ornaments and the perfectly hung tinsel on the branches, but it also had a little village around the base of it, with Christmas tree lights stuck in the back of each of the houses....and in the middle the manger scene.  My father built the house and we filled it with the characters from the Christmas story. 

I was always kind of jealous of my friend Stephen because he had a toy train that went around his Christmas tree, but we never had a toy train because we were girls (and possibly because my father worked on a train so was not enamored with having one circling his Christmas tree!)

Our Christmas trees, over the years started out with traditional glass ornaments and gradually added home made ornaments or specially bought ornaments (like musical instruments, 49er players, etc.) to befit the interests of the kids.  Now I don't think we have any glass balls left any more and the tree is all "special" ornaments.

The year Paul died might be the last year we had a "real" tree.  I didn't want to put up a tree at all, but everyone convinced me that we should do it.  The day we were to decorate it, most of the members of the band Lawsuit came over to help.  It still makes me emotional to think of how wonderful those guys were making what was going to be a painful experience into something more loving.
The spiced egg nog helped.  :)

For a few years, we only had a centerpiece tree that I put on the dining room table.  With no kids at home, the grandkids not expected to visit, and no plans to entertain, it seemed pointless to have a tree, but the first year that Brianna and Lacie came to our house, I had to have a tree, so bought a teeny artificial tree, barely more than a table decoration itself.

Last year I invested in a larger artificial tree which is just the right size, about 5' tall, with lights already on it, and just the size for the most special of the ornaments...all of which now fit into a shoebox.

If I want the real "tree experience" I can go to Atria, which seems to have a tree in every room, every hall.  It's sad that my mother doesn't read that as "Christmas" and seems mostly unaware of the, but once in a while she comments that one of them is pretty.

Christmas was always such a huge deal as I was growing up, and as our kids were growing up, that I  get a bit wistful when it comes around and it just isn't for us any more, but I see the old traditions playing out for Tom and his kids and know that the torch was passed to the nex generation, and that is nice to realize.

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