Lakewood Life A Half-Century Ago...The Christmas Tree
Well, there it was...the Christmas tree...
Going through the attic is an interesting and sometimes bittersweet experience that always seems to come down to the eternal question these days...clean out or keep? In this case, the old Christmas tree was over there in the corner, laying sideways in its box, or rather, what was left of that old box after fifty or so years of coming down from the attic, and getting hiked back up there, all over again.
Sure, at first, our family had wonderful real trees, but all too often, by the time we took a tree out of the house after Christmas, most of that tree's needles were left in the living room! Adding to that were my allergies. If I was within a county mile of pine trees and particularly, wood burning fireplaces, I would end up wheezing for days.
For the above reasons, we bought a supposedly "easy-to-assemble" artificial tree, where the branches went into pre-drilled holes; so that it was impossible to make a mistake. Impossible, that is, except for me. That first year, I must have neglected to notice that each group of branches came in their own bag. See, I never was one for following directions. When I built my plastic model kits back then, the directions always made a great table covering, although I always wondered how I ended up with so many extra parts. How could you read those directions anyway, much less turn the page, if they were under your partially assembled model car? Same thing with the tree, so I ignored the directions, tore open the bags, and dumped all the branches into a nice pile. After all, I thought, the big branches went on the bottom and the little ones went on top. This tree assembly thing had to be a no-brainer.
Well, it seemed that way until I finished the tree and it looked more like a profile of Marilyn Monroe than a Christmas tree. It just seemed that there were never enough of the right-sized holes in the right places, so out came the electric drill, and I made more holes! When I finished it the second time around, I had plenty of branches on the bottom and plenty on the top, but very few in the middle. What happened? Off they came again and of course, by now, I was getting tired and losing all my patience and my dog needed to go out. The third time had to be a charm, right? So with all due diligence, I put all the branches back on and this time, it seemed more or less right...except that I now had the "Leaning Tower of Pine Tree" in front of me, and of course, that was the exact moment that my dear late mom and dad came in to inspect and critique my efforts. Thus began the annual ritual of branch-switching and fifty-year annual debates as to whether or not the tree looked good from all sides...or not. You can probably guess how all that went down, and then of course, the moment that you moved the tree over to the spot where it was going to go, there were always more adjustments, more drilling, more opinions, and so on...
And then, there were those lights... Back then, if one, JUST one light in a string went bad, the whole string was dead. You then had to inspect every little bulb, carefully twisting and turning them (and hoping they did not break in your fingers!), checking all the filaments, and all the while, making sure that your dog is not chewing on anything inappropriate. (like Great-Great-Grandmother's Christmas ornaments!)
It seemed like every year, that there was stress, disagreement, and discouraging conversations regarding that tree. I now know what I did not back then, in my know-it-all youth, that my parents were forcing me through the torture of setting up that tree every year for my own benefit, much more so than theirs. Sure, better, newer, simpler, trees became available, but the parents obviously were watching their limited funds, so as to provide a wonderful life for me in other ways. There were, after all, no other kids in the family, so everything revolved around me, for better or worse, and that included my taking care of the tree set-up. Tradition, they called it. Later on in life, much later, that old tree stayed in the attic, and a smaller one came along, as the material flotsam and jetsam accumulated over a lifetime piled into our living room; to the point that eventually-- there was little room there for people, much less a bedraggled old Tannenbaum.
And now, the family has dwindled down to me; just me...and Christmas Past, that is, and this is my first Christmas that way. All the old struggles, discussions, debates, and disruptions concerning that tree, or any other subject, for that matter, are now all gone like the melancholy fall winds that recently left town for our even more melancholy winter winds. Don't get me wrong, our family had many wonderful loving times together, but tree trimming was generally not one of them. With time and experience however, comes insight, perhaps some wisdom, and naturally, 20/20 hindsight. I was, for example, at a friend's home recently, and I observed a highly negative holiday family dynamic transpire between a parent and a child. The child said some really derogatory things that they would probably never say to one of their friends, if indeed, they have any friends at all who would put up with their saucy attitude.
Granted, we've all said judgmental things to our parents. That's just what kids do. The thing is, when our parents are dead and gone, unfortunately, that's the stuff we sometimes remember. Even if we kids were wonderful to our parents 99% of the time, it's that negative one percent of stuff that we will remember doing or saying that can keep coming into our minds, and for that, we will have no one left to blame or accuse, except ourselves.
The old tree remained in its box this year, and before long, it may join countless others like it on the tree lawn of life. There are some things that we should hold onto in life I suppose, and other things that we need to let go of. Besides, if some tree lawn picker comes along, who knows? I may have the opportunity to buy it back later at the flea market next summer, should I change my mind about all of this...or whether I decide to get rid of it at all.
In the meantime, if your own parents are still around...take a moment, or maybe more than a moment, to call, or visit them. Let them know, while you can, that you care, and tell them that you love them. Fortunately, those were among the last conversations that I was able to have with both of my parents. Make peace with your parents. It will mean the world to them now, and to you...later.