I love Christmas trees. I love the shape of them, I love the size of them and I really love the smell of them. When I was little, I remember the tree usually went up just a few days before Christmas. There were wonderful old ornaments that, carefully wrapped when they were put away, came out of big boxes brought in from the basement. Our tree was always very traditional. Big, full and filled with decorations and tinsel. Oh, I loved the tinsel. I was inclined to throw huge clumps at the tree which drove my father nuts. He insisted on the “one strand at a time” method which drove me nuts. But at the end of the day, the tree was always perfect to me.
Childhood holiday memories are brought back through old black and white photos my Mom usually took. Visits with Santa were carefully documented and Christmas cards were always prominently displayed. I remember how much fun I had opening the cards as a little girl. They were filled with sparkle and glitter and usually oversized. Everything lead up to the main event. Christmas morning. Wrapping paper flying and gifts galore. I was a very lucky little girl. A Shirley Temple doll and my Jerry Mahoney puppet were two of my very most favorites! Right about the time I had figured out Santa wasn’t the real deal, my brother was becoming aware of the old gent, so there was an extension to my childlike thoughts.
When I was ten we moved to picturesque Locust Valley. Christmas there was dreamily perfect in many ways.
The Fire House was decorated then as it is now and was down the hill and around the corner from our house. That came in especially handy the day my “Hot Comet” caught fire in the driveway, but that’s a story for another day. Unfortunately, sometime during the 1960’s there was a rash of Christmas tree fires on Long Island and that marked the end of “live” trees in many homes, including ours. The trend went toward aluminum but that brought yet another potential disaster.
My mother remained “traditional” and our tree was green, stored in the basement for the annual decking of the halls. It looked pretty much the same when decorated but there was no wonderful smell and my enthusiasm for participating in decorating dwindled.
Well, not completely.
When I hit my teens my parents were very social and I was their “go to babysitter.” I remember being particularly bored by that one weekend night and called upon my neighborhood cohort in crime, Kathleen. She came over and we dragged up the Christmas tree and decorations from the basement and set the tree up in the appropriate spot. My parents returned home that night to a fully decorated tree and I chortled in my room as I listened to my father’s very vocal consternation. It was July.
When I moved to California I missed the feel of Christmas on Long Island as well as the reality of it, so I have no memories of trees on my own until 1977. My Mom had just passed away and my brother, Dad and Great Aunt Alice came to California. Jody, Aunt Alice and I spent Christmas Eve at Disneyland ~ long before it was a popular holiday destination. It was quietly deserted and we returned to have Christmas Eve dinner with my father at the Brown Derby in Hollywood. There is nothing worse than people trying to have a good time when it is just utterly impossible. I had bought a huge tree for my first grown up apartment complete with corduroy couch from Bullocks charged to my very first credit card and my dark wood laminate dining set. I don’t remember much else other than the harsh reality ~ the tree did not make the holiday.
A few years later my father sold our family home. He was re-marrying and moving farther out on the island. I came home for a last visit. He pulled his car into the garage and opened the door to the basement. Proud as punch he pointed to the vast emptiness and said “Completely clean.” My first reaction was one of horror. Where was everything that had resided in that basement? Everything, including the boxes of Christmas ornaments was gone….all gone. “I’m starting a new life, Janney,” was his response to my question. Starting his new life meant throwing out some of the most tangible, wonderful memories of mine. My stomach still aches when I think of that moment. There is nothing more to say about it.
When I returned to the tree decorating tradition in the eighties different years meant different things. Bows, all white lights, even once….gasp, a flocked tree. I began collecting special ornaments, a few each year. I drifted toward the traditional. Christopher Radko and anything old looking I could find. I also drifted back toward the traditional big colored lights. I was never consciously thinking that what I was trying to do was replicate my past.
There was the big tree in Seattle ~ followed by the tree falling on our house and knocking out our power for six days the day after we decorated it ~ in 2006.
It gave new meaning to the phrase “decking the halls.”
There was the tree when we returned to Tarzana only to find my favorite “Christmas Store” was no more ~ a casualty of the recession.
When we moved to San Diego two years ago there really was no place for a big tree so we downsized. As I carefully unpacked the ornaments last year, I realized this little tree would be laden with my very most special ornaments ~ my memories.
I didn’t plan to buy an ornament this year, but found myself in a store I don’t frequent walking down the aisle filled with them. One caught my eye. Big time! A red fox with a fake fur tail. You may know of my special relationship with the fox thanks to my Mom. It has been her way of letting me know she’s still around. So, let’s just say this ornament caught me by surprise….big time. Of course it was the only one of its’ kind. It was there waiting for me. Of course.
I bought it for the bargain price of $3.88 and sat in the car laughing and crying at the same time.
I realized something I’d known all along.
It’s not about the tree or the ornaments.
It’s about the memories.
Happy Birthday Mom ~ 12/14/1920
And Merry Christmas one and all. May your days be merry and bright!