We have Tree.
I have gone back and forth with the Yule tree dilemma. Buy a sustainably harvested tree? Buy a tree that you can plant? A (apologies to Martha Stewart for my cheeky usage of the following term) faux bois, aka fake tree?
I don’t know about you, but trees are loaded for me. I have memories. My late Grandma Marie’s very cute, 2-foot fakey, that sat perched atop her heavily consoled color television (you know, decorative carving, lots of wood polish residue, tweed-covered speaker screens), Christmas cards strung around it via string stapled to the ceiling molding (and I could do a whole ‘nother post about holiday greeting cards). All those awful stories about peoples’ houses burning down because they chopped up the tree and put it in the fireplace. The tree at Rockefeller Center. The time my mom and stepdad decided to buy the cheapest tree in the lot, and got one that looked as sparse as Charlie Brown’s–worse, in my teen perspective, than no tree at all. The tree I bought next to Tompkins Square Park when I was 27, and walked home with it lashed to my vintage yellow Schwinn bike that had a name (Heloise). Peter and I carried it up 3 flights of stairs and decorated it with my costume jewelry, as I, so recently a solitary urban chick, had no ornaments. The first tree I got as a mother…Honorée was four months old and my brother and I drove to a big box store and got two–one for my mom and him, and one for my house. Everyone stared at us–I think they seriously thought that WE were the family unit–a teen boy, a pushing-thirty woman, an infant, in a beater car, buying two trees…the judgment vibes were thick, or so I imagined, postpartum and identity-wobbly.
A few years ago, my dad visited Santa Fe, when I was still married, and Peter and I were having some seriously snipey moments. “I think it’s hard to decorate a tree sometimes because we remember those who used to be with us, and now aren’t,” my dad said. Including love, I think, looking back. It was excruciatingly hard to decorate the tree after the love was gone. Not that I put my finger on it at the time, or could bear to.
But wait! There were good tree memories, too. They’re in my head somewhere. The time when I was four and there was a bicycle under the tree–my first two-wheeler, a Radio Flyer, which I told people actually did fly when I rode it. The tree that had a Cabbage Patch Doll under it, when I thought my folks would think I was too old for one, but I still wanted one anyway. Good memories are a bit harder to hold on to than bad ones, criticism burns deeper than praise, you know how it goes. I read that it’s an evolutionary brain thing: it’s more important to our survival to remember threats than neutral to good things.
Two years in a row, I’ve bought a plantable tree, and both trees have died on me before I got around to planting them. Hello, guilt! Call it too long frozen ground, not being in a place where I could commit to literally putting down roots, an intermittently green thumb.
This year, I bought a 7.5 foot fake tree, pre-lit, with pine cones on it. I will have it until it fails (and I can’t really imagine that happening). That’s the kind of tree I can commit to. Portable, re-usable, in perpetuity. We got it on the spur of the moment, and the kids and I decorated it on the fly. I didn’t have to fuss with balancing the lights perfectly (I can be a bit psycho about that), because someone else did it for me. Nathaniel donned the Santa hat, and we danced to Burl Ives Christmas songs while placing sentimentally precious ornaments on the branches. I lifted Honorée up, my arms around her coltish calves, and she, wobbly, proud and intrepid, placed the angel on the topmost branch. It was not solemn, nor was it entirely irreverent. It was doing the thing without it having quotes around it. A relief. Afterwards, they went to bed and I sat in the darkness, staring at the totem.
It is a “good” holiday memory Christmas tree year, but this is one thing I realized: every year, no matter the circumstances or the emotional tenor, I have been unable to do anything but succumb to that moment, that spell, when the tree is up, glowing, festooned, and I feel soothed, satisfied and enchanted.
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