So Dennis went out to K-mart’s after-Christmas sale with a mission: get the cheapest artificial tree available. He came home with a slender tree, under six feet tall, which had set us back a whopping $18. Wonderful! That should get us through a few holiday seasons. We enjoyed filling it was a combination of snowflakes and Sunday school decorations, along with all the ornaments we received as gifts. With colored lights and gold tinsel, it was a lively hodge-podge. Before too many years had passed, its small size meant we had decorations left over when the branches were all filled.
Fast forward ten years. Our tree is getting a little tired. It has lived in four different houses, and it’s looking decidedly puny in our large living room. Meanwhile, we’ve been home to Massachusetts in 1998 (about which, more in a later post) and we’ve seen the family tree again. It’s been 13 years since I’ve been home at Christmas.
“Mom, what happened to the tree??”
“What do you mean?”
“Someone took all the bottom branches!”
“No, it’s always been like that.”
“No way! It looks like an umbrella.” (Maybe this is not the tree I saw last time I was home. I’ve never seen anything so goofy.)
“It will look fine with all the presents under it.”
And with all of us home, it did. In fact the presents for ten people not only filled the extensive space under the tree, but spilled out in a knee-deep pool at least ten feet toward the opposite wall. The next year, however, without my family or my brother David’s, Mom finally decided she was sick of the umbrella tree.
Being a world-class shopper for high value and low price, it took Mom some time to find just the right replacement. But the next year she reported that the new tree was gorgeous, and promised to send pictures. I think she even bought some new (red and gold) ornaments.
In September of 2001, America was jolted out of her complacency and life as we know it changed. In October of 2001, my family was jolted personally. Our beautiful mother, who looked fully ten years younger than her 61 years, who exercised faithfully and glowed with health, was diagnosed with cancer. Life as we knew it would never be the same.
Mom and Dad spent that winter in Florida while she received treatment. I visited them at home in Massachusetts in June. In October they returned to their winter home. Mom left this world on November 11, 2002.
Christmas that year was sober, wistful. I didn’t give much thought to our tree, except to think that it looked more tired than ever. But to my jaundiced eye, everything seemed dull, cataract-cloudy.
In June we made our last trip to the family homestead in Lee, Massachusetts. There we all helped Dad clean out the house and we divided up the things that he didn’t want or need. There in its nearly-new box was the Christmas tree Mom had used once. It was nearly seven feet tall, too big to be of use to my brothers with their smaller homes, so they graciously offered it to me, along with some of the ornaments. Later that summer, Dad and David rented a truck and delivered furniture and boxes to all of us. My new tree went into the basement to await the season.
Our tree, 2008
Every year since 2003 I have enjoyed putting our tree together (even though it has the prickliest artificial needles I’ve ever felt, and I need to wear gloves while putting the lights on). I think of Mom, so carefully selecting this tree, not knowing she was choosing it for me.
In order to honor her (and, OK, to satisfy my own aesthetic sense at last), I decided to switch to all white lights, and to put away the children’s handmade ornaments. Careful shopping of my own netted me some beautiful things…mostly gold, I noticed with amusement. I discarded the old tinsel garland and made huge bows of wired fabric ribbon, and was pleased with the results. I think Mom would approve of our tree, even if it’s not all red and gold. Thinking of her at Christmas, as I look at the lighted tree, gives me one more reason to smile.
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