Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Too early to tackle the tree?

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Say what you will about people who play Christmas music “too early” or put up their trees and other decorations before Thanksgiving. I’ve probably said something similar, myself, in the past.

But our Christmas tree was up last Sunday, which is early, even for us. Earlier, still, in context to the trees of my youth.

Once upon a time, my sister and I would accompany our parents to a tree farm somewhere outside of Century, Fla. , to walk rows of cedar and pick out a likely candidate. Once we got it chopped down, loaded onto the car, and lugged back home, Dad would trim low branches and prep the base for bringing it indoors.

Invariably, our cat or dog would drink from the water in the base. (These days, we only worry about a cat chewing an electric cord while climbing the metal limbs.) I remember Dad wrapped the lights, and Mom was in charge of icicles. I was in charge of dropping the fragile glass ornaments and then stepping on the slivers. It was a holiday tradition.

Once, I went with my uncle to pick up a pre-cut tree from one of many stores that had them leaning outside the entrance. On the drive home, he saw another store that had nicer trees, and stopped in to swap his out. Still trying to figure out how that worked.

These trees, already well on the way to dying by the time they came in the door, didn’t have a long window for use. At most, with a gas heater running 10 feet away, they’d last about a week. And even then, the last few days before Christmas would require wearing shoes in the living room to avoid getting prickly pine needles in your feet.

My pragmatic Grandma Simmons had an aluminum Christmas tree that she used for — I don’t know — decades? So I didn’t sneer at the advent (see what I did there?) of fake plastic trees some years later; it was just a tree of a different color.

Since establishing our own home(s), we have had several of these artificial firs over the years. We purchased our most recent tree from a friend’s garage sale. It’s about 7 feet tall and has built-in lights.

We put it together last Sunday, in part because we wanted to test the lights, but mostly because it will make our Thanksgiving Day (if we can wait that long) decorating party that much more fun — no wasting valuable decorating time having to lug the box out of the garage and putting it together when we’re ready.

Plus, we get to enjoy the lights a little longer.

Since moving into our current home, we’ve put up two Christmas trees each season. The one downstairs carries our collections of pop culture ornaments, and I have put up Grandma Simmons’ old tree in our bonus room at the top of the stairs, loading it with little handmade ornaments our kids brought home from school over the years.

This year, the upstairs will house our older fake plastic tree (the one that used to stand downstairs). We’ll decorate it with pink ornaments in memory of my sister-in-law, who died Sept. 12 of complications while under treatment for leukemia. My wife picked out the ornaments, and it was her idea to put up the second tree.

Our trees have always held objects of deep emotion and memory, from the faded plastic reindeer that Grandma Simmons gave me as a child (and that my father enjoyed as a child), to the Scarlet O’Hara ornaments we bought for Grandma Massey’s tree (and inherited upon her passing), to the “Joy” ornaments we hang in memory of our child-in-spirit, who died too young.

That’s the importance of these things, after all. Not when they go up or come down, but what you do with them while they’re here. The memories made by the light of the tree, the people recalled, the love never lost.

But then, that’s the important part of anything, isn’t it?

Peace.
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