Thursday, November 1, 2012

How We Got That Fake Tree, and Other Mysteries of Christmas

The very first fake tree that I ever saw was the one in my grandparents sun room. During the holiday season this room was occupied by the tree; the rest of the year it was my grandmother's sewing room. She had her plants arranged near the windows to catch the ample east light, and her mother's old treadle sewing machine (which at that time still worked). Now this fake tree of my grandparents was not anything that would fool the average bird, much less a kid intent on finding presents under it. It was aluminum. Your basic metallic-colored aluminum. I know there were colored one like pink or blue available, but this was the basic aluminum. Then of course one had to have the electric-powered color wheel that slowly rotated through blue, green, red, and amber to lend some color to this tree. It sufficed, I suppose, for the festivities held every Christmas eve at my grandparents bungalow. The good thing about this tree was that there was plenty of room between branches for large ornaments. The two main events were the dinner – with a large dining table covered in the aromatic dishes – and the opening of presents. Somewhere in between, all of us kids would huddle by the tree counting how many were for us. This seemed to be the main practical application of the ability to count: ascertaining whether you had been gypped in the gift distribution. The funny thing was, now that I look back on it, was this was a house that would have been able to do justice to a grand tree, perhaps a full six or seven-footer. It had high ceilings, dark wood wainscoting. The living room was a modest size but there was a glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Just about any corner could have accommodated the tree. Yet they settled for a dinky aluminum tree. Yeah, well, gramps was a cheapskate anyway. But I digress. It was sometime in the 1980s when tree prices began to rise steeply. Dad was outraged at the idea of forking over what was then a chunk of change for something that was only used for about two weeks. He grumbled but handed over the money. Then one year, probably while simmering over how much he'd been robbed for a mere Christmas tree, he had enough. It was the tree that broke the camel's back. A lovely tree, all in all, but it caused so much aggravation that dad finally decided enough was enough. He arrived home with our purchased tree. Untied it from the trunk of the car. Dragged it to the front door because that was closer to the destination, the front living room. Put the trunk end into the stand and tilted it upright. And it was too tall. Arrgghhh. Took the stand off. Dragged the tree out of the front door, to the side door and down to the basement workshop. The tree cried green needles all the way. There he sawed off a couple inches from the trunk. Reversing the procedure, he dragged the tree out the side door and in the front door again. Back in the stand it went. STILL TOO TALL. Double AARRRGGHHH. Back to the basement shop where it submitted to the saw blade a second time. Once more out the side door, in the front door, and this time the tree was an appropriate height for our modest living room. This was in a December that was unseasonably cold so early in the winter. We had browsed an outdoor tree lot and all of us just wanted to get back indoors. But poor dad was schlepping this tree up and down and in and out of the house, probably cussing under his breath all the time. Decoration progressed without further incident but a sea change had occurred. Never again would our loving father subject himself to this annual ordeal. No matter how we might beg or wheedle, we would never smell the scent of pine unless it came from a spray can, or bottle of Pine Sol. This from a dad who was generous to a fault when it came to indulging his children. He would buy what he could, he would fix anything that we'd broken, but never again buy us a tree. That is, except for the last tree he ever bought. The trusty, perfectly symmetrical six-footer had reasonably lifelike green (vinyl?) needles on heavy twisted-wire branches. Surprisingly, it still shed a few needles in the process of setting up and taking down. But we did not have to water it, and we could have it up as long as we wanted – sometimes, oh gosh, it was as late as January 10 or so when we took it down at last. Or whenever Mom wanted her living room back. The only drawback, really, was that you had to live with this tree year round. It filled a large cardboard box and we had to reserve a spot in the attic or basement to store it in the long months when it was not used. Should have bought the can of pine scent, though.