‘I love The Tree. As long as somebody else decorates it.’
One of my earliest memories is of checking out the Christmas trees in the front windows of the houses in the small towns we’d pass through on our way to Gramma’s house in Northern Illinois. The radio would be playing Christmas music (‘Little Drummer Boy’ didn’t exist back then, thank god) and Dad would be driving. Usually I’d be the only one awake. Except for Dad, of course, who’d be smoking and sort of shaking his head from time to time to stay alert. Heady times.
I’d gaze at those trees through those windows and imagine the families gathered around them, the kids rattling the presents and trying to guess what was in there. Which I would do myself once we got to Gramma’s house. (You can see me, and my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, in the picture at the top of this post getting caught red-handed doing just that.)
My Aunt Marilyn, who would be home from college and in charge of Gramma and Grampa’s tree, loved decorating. She’d even decorate herself with Santa earrings and reindeer sweaters and such. She’d pick out the biggest tree she could find and go decorating crazy. I remember these lights that looked like candles. Special ornaments with stories attached. And tons of tinsel, which we called ‘icicles’. One year the tree was so big it had to be lopped off at the top to fit into the living room. She told us that tree went on up through the ceiling. And we believed her.
It was pretty sweet having a Christmas tree every year that I didn’t have to lift a finger to adorn. Even after The Dude and I got married, we got away with murder, Christmas-tree-wise. We ‘cheated’ and got those little trees in pots from the corner Fruit Stand Guy. You know, the ones that come already ‘decorated’ with maybe a couple of bows and a little teensy ball or two. After Christmas, we’d plant them. Sometimes we wouldn’t even bother ‘undecorating’ them first. These days, the woods around our house in Amagansett are peppered with now-huge formerly-tiny trees-once-in-pots. Though the little bows and balls are long gone.
Then we had The Child. And that changed everything. We figured if we’d gone to all that trouble to have a small person, we could at least have a properly large Christmas tree. But, darn it, I felt the same way about decorating it as I felt about, say, cleaning closets. Then a Christmas light bulb went off in my noggin.
Hey, I thought. We know people who actually enjoy decorating Christmas trees. And who are really good at it. I’ll entice them over to do our decorating for us. Here was the pitch: you bring an ornament, put it on our tree, and I’ll ply you with champagne. And when the tree’s ‘done’, we’ll sit down to a humongous pot roast dinner.
Well, this ploy worked. And ‘Tree Trim’ was born. We got our tree decorated, our friends got a nice dinner, and everybody got to enjoy a swell party. This mutually-beneficial arrangement worked its magic for many years, as you can see from the festive, merry evidence displayed here:
But alas. Time marched on. The Child stopped believing in Santa (or at least I think so), and, what was the real deal-breaker, got sucked into a college schedule that got her home way too late to squeeze in a pre-Christmas shindig. (I did think about having a Tree Untrimming Party, where we’d sip champagne while dismantling said tree. But that sounded rather Scrooge-like and sad.) So. No more Tree Trim.
I miss having a big ole tree, of course. But I still don’t miss decorating it. In fact, these days, my decorating runs somewhat along these lines:
But someday, like if we ever hear the patter of little GrandFeet, we’ll reinstate Tree Trim. And tell you what: if The Child promises to sport the paper crown that comes inside her Christmas cracker, we might just think about doing it sooner than that.
New York City. December 2015