|Christmas 1965 or 66. The child in the plaid bathrobe is no ghost, but my little sister who is very much still alive and kicking. |
(Sorry, Sis, it was the best tree picture I could find!)
I'd mentioned in last week's post about family holiday traditions that my mother was a bit on the obsessive side about her Christmas decorations, especially the tree. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the case for the prosecution:
My mother shunned trees from the local tree lots that sprang up in every vacant lot around the end of November. "They were probably cut in August and they'll drop all their needles before Christmas," she'd say. So the morning of the Friday after Thanksgiving, we'd pile into the car and drive for over an hour on narrow, winding roads up into the Santa Cruz mountains to her favorite tree farm. And then the The Traipse would begin.
The possibility that we might not examine every Douglas Fir (the only acceptable type of tree) on the 100+ acre farm was inconceivable to my mother. So we'd go up and down every row in the DF section, usually twice before she'd settle on two or three candidates. These days when you shop for Christmas trees, they've either been bred or trimmed into an almost perfect conical shape. Not so back then. Yet a perfectly shaped, perfectly full tree with no bare patches or brown branches was imperative. Mom wanted the Miss America of trees, a natural beauty and flawless from trunk to tip.
It never seemed to fail that her finalists were always at the opposite far corners of the farm. So back and forth we'd walk while she hemmed and hawed and scrutinized every needle. Sometimes this went on for over an hour. By the time she was ready to annoint the winner, the rest of us had totally lost interest in the process, and were rapidly descending into Cranky Valley. And did I mention it was c o l d out there in the mountains in late November? Finally she'd crown the Fir Queen, and send my father off to fetch a saw and an attendant to help drag the poor, freshly severed tree back to be wrapped up and tied to the top of the car.
For my sister and me, the high point of the day followed: a cup of hot chocolate, and then a visit to Santa's Village for the kiddie rides and to see Santa and carve our names in the "North Pole" ice with burning cold fingers and feed the "reindeer" from small brown paper bags of grain available for purchase for a quarter.
Once home, the tree was leaned up against the house in a bucket of water, where it sat for the next day or two, then was brought inside, set up and decorated. We were never one of those families who waited until Christmas Eve to put up the tree. There was no point in going to all of that trouble if you didn't get at least a month's enjoyment from your labors. First the lights went up. This was Dad's job, with Mom supervising. The lights (the fun, old-fashioned, big-bulbed, energy-sucking, multi-colored ones) had to be evenly spaced and just the right distance from the tips of the branches. This often took hours to achieve.
Then it was time for the ornaments. My sister and I were allowed to help hang some of them, though Mom would usually follow behind us and correct our placement. The smaller ornaments were to be hung nearer the top of the tree, and the bigger ornaments were to go near the bottom, to achieve the necessary balanced and harmonious look. We did have some beautiful antique glass ornaments that I wish I still had. We were a non-tinsel household. Mom had decided at some point that tinsel was declassé, so instead the last thing to go up on the tree were the plastic icicles. I know. Plastic. Icicles. Years later, we discovered that they actually glowed in the dark, which made them seem so much cooler.
Finally the tree was fully decorated. We'd plug in the tree lights, turn off the room lights, put on the Andy Williams Christmas album, and just sit and admire the tree. That was the best part, and the ordeal of getting to that point was quickly forgotten.
(My mother, however, would continue to adjust and arrange the lights and ornaments until January 1, when it was time to take them down.)
Happy Holidays, everyone, however you celebrate them! I wish everyone peace and goodwill. I'll be back with new posts next week.