Thursday, December 16, 2010
Oh Christmas Tree
My mom and dad were great people. They loved each other, me, and Christmas ( I can't even begin to say in which order). However, one thing my Daddy did NOT love was putting up a tree. I was allergic to pine, so we couldn't have real tree. We had a plastic tree, my guess is about eight feet high. I have pictures to prove it was at LEAST two feet taller than Daddy, who was six feet tall. Back then, plastic trees weren't folded in for storage, then folded out to decorate. No, they had to be put in branch by branch by branch. There were little numbers with letters on the stem to let the assembler know which row a particular branch belonged. I swear, I remember branches named "12 F".
The storage box that contained these branches was awkward to get up the stairs from the basement. Daddy was grumpy by the time he carried it to the living room, and that's putting it nicely. Thus would begin my parent's yearly "putting up the tree" fight.
Daddy: Who the HELL put these branches in here like this!
Momma: You take the tree down and put away the branches every year, Frankie, and you know it!
Daddy: HMMPHH!!!! (grumble grumpble grumble).
(Daddy proceeds to put the tree up, starting with the topper)
Daddy: There, that'll do!
Momma: (face crumpling a bit) No it won't, and you know it!
Daddy: (grumple grumble grumble)
(Daddy continues to mumble and grumble for a while, and gets to row 10 B)
Daddy: Who the HELL ever picked out this damn tree anyway!
Momma: Well, don't blame your daughter, she wasn't even born yet.
Daddy: I WASN'T blaming Helen....
Momma: I know, Frankie. Lighten up! It's Christmas!
Daddy: (chewing on a Muriel air tip cigar whilst sitting among piles of large branches). Yeah yeah.... Then I get to carry up the tree ornament boxes, and then all those knickknacks your Mom bought us over the years........... You know she forgot what she's given us and we have 3 pairs of Christmas tree salt shakers from Wieboldt's!
Momma: DON'T start with me, Frank!
Daddy: What, you know it's true! And the ash trays, and the ...
Momma: Just STOP it! I won't discus my mother or her gifts with you when you are like this!
Daddy: Like what?
(And off they are into a full blown argument that meanders into every annoying thing the other did since last Christmas. No, we haven't even begun to untangle the lights yet.)
My Momma, God rest her soul, was usually peaceable for as long as possible. Seriously.
But one year when I was in college, my Mom started her own bad mood. She knew what to expect when Daddy went down for the tree, and she was seething with memories of Christmas tree assemblages past.
Daddy puts on his jacket and heads for the door.
Momma: Where are you going?
Daddy: To the basement...
Momma: You better not be bringing up the tree!
Daddy: Why not!
Momma: I don't even want a tree this year! I don't want any
Daddy: (interrupting her) Really Honey? Do you mean it? (His eyes are shining and he is holding her affectionately at her shoulders)
Momma: (stunned silence)
Daddy: Oh Honey, I'll bring up EVERY one of the decorations your mother gave us! I'll clean them piece by piece, and I'll even help you find a good spot for the duplicates!
Momma: If that's what you'd like!
Daddy: This is the best Christmas gift ever! Where should we put the lights?
That scaled back Christmas was delightful! No harsh words or grumpiness whatsoever: Daddy was soappreciative of not having to work on the branches that nothing else bothered him and Momma was stunned that the first year she pumps herself up for the argument, it deflates before it begins.
In November I injured my foot. I'm barely able to clean house, much less decorate. Bob brought up the tree and a wreath, I put up the Christmas throws my mother made, and that's it. I'm not worrying about Grandma's knickknacks, mom's ornaments, MIL's centerpiece, or decorative gifts I received in past years. I enjoy them most years, but this year, with the tape on my foot, all that running around would not make Christmas more meaningful, but a chore to get through. I may put a Christmassy table cloth on the dining room table, or I may not. Decorating doesn't HAVE to get done to prepare for Christmas. If Jesus comes back and finds my house lit a bit dimmer, I'd be more comfortable with that than for him to find me frazzled and grumbling at those who love me.