If there was one thing I was adamant about, it was having a real Christmas tree when I had my own household. Having endured an artificial tree for over half my life, I was eager to return to the sincere and old-timey ambiance of a freshly-cut evergreen.
Our first married Christmas, 1983. No tree. Not even I was ambitious enough to haul a Christmas evergreen up four steep flights of stairs. 1984 found us in the Berkshires with my parents, and in 1985 we moved to Los Angeles. Somehow we managed to swing the airfare to fly home…so again, no tree.
So it was not until 1986 that we could finally deck our own halls. We were only one flight above ground, which was less daunting. We had just returned from our first trans-Atlantic trip (our belated honeymoon in Great Britain) and the funds for frippery were rather low. But I insisted that I’d waited for a real tree since 1971, and I was willing to string it with popcorn and cranberries, if that was all we could afford. So Dennis and I went out in our ’72 Vega wagon to look at trees. Hmmm. A bit more expensive than I’d realized, but we found one we liked. Now to get it home.
It occurs to me that I have written myself to a point where you are anticipating a hilarious story…it’s cruel of me to set you up and then disappointment you, especially at Christmas. But such is life–we have such high expectations, and then they’re dashed.
I was sure that a real tree would restore all the magical lustre of the season for me, even in hot, smoggy, crowded, claustrophobic California. (Did I mention hot?) But after wrestling the tree in and out of a small car, up a narrow flight of stairs, including a sharp turn, sawing the bottom to make it sit level, and then forgetting to water it several times…the bloom was off the rose, as it were. I made crocheted snowflakes that year, and they were the nicest thing about the tree…somewhere I’d gotten some nylon thread, and so they floated on the surface of the branches like suspended animation. I also found some little wooden curlicue ornaments in a gift shop, and they were country-ish and sweet. For the rest, the popcorn refused to be threaded without breaking, and who can afford that many cranberries? One bag made a pitifully short chain. What were our ancestors thinking?
In spite of my disillusionment, which I kept trying to squelch, we had real trees in 1987 and 1988 (the year we were expecting Paul’s imminent arrival). In the fall of 1989 we moved back home to Indiana, and our little family of three could barely afford popcorn, much less a tree. Just before Christmas we found a small one on sale. On Christmas eve, I was putting Paul’s very first presents under the tree, and–shriek of intense pain!–impaled my open eye directly on a needle which felt like the sewing kind rather than the piney ones. Later inspection of the dastardly shrub revealed that it had been spray-painted green by an unscrupulous tree lot. The needles–all equally lethal–fell off and managed to get into every room, including the bathroom, and refused to leave for several months.
“That’s it!” I said. “We’re getting a fake tree.” I hated to admit it, but my mom was right. Old-timey ambiance is over-rated.