I don’t remember, when we were young, if we had a real Christmas tree or a fake one. My mother loved the white synthetic tree with multi colored lights we had when it was my first or second holiday season, but that one I only remember from pictures. I do remember, though, the squat little tree (more akin to a bush, really) that was the centerpiece of my first grown up Christmas.
I had flown to Italy a week or two before Christmas to stay in my future house with my then husband. My first night there we opened a bottle of sparkling wine gifted to us by our landlord and nearly froze to death in our marble floored, stucco walled town-home. We bought the tree-bush the next day. Ornaments were scarce, given that my boxes hadn’t been shipped yet, so we hung whatever odd things appealed to us on the tree alongside one or two actual ornaments. The cork from our inaugural bottle of vino, with a needle and thread from a pocket sewing kit looped and stuck squarely into the center, worked perfectly. I still have that cork and I still hang it on my tree.
Our first Christmas in The States we were going to be traveling, or he was going to be out on the ship. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember coming home from work when he’d already gone away. There – on the huge vintage chalkboard that hung over our dining room table – was a bare chalk-sketched Evergreen with written instruction for me to decorate it before he got back. I did just that, drawing in red orbs, gold garland, and a star on top, of course.
I don’t think we had another tree of our own after that.
The next tree I remember, I was 100 months pregnant and I went to ACE Hardware on Merrimon and picked just the one. I loaded it into the back of my SUV and lugged it into my house and set it up myself. My son would be born any time between then and Christmas and I wanted there to be a tree (Christmas nesting was the best nesting). I wanted to sit alone (save for my dogs/constant companions) on those last few quiet evenings and feel him in my belly and watch the lights and the glitter and be comforted by this sweet symbol of “home” and “family” in the midst of forging my own version of both. This is the tree in the background of my son’s first family photos. I remember that tree.
I went back to ACE on Merrimon when my son was just shy of two. He picked the tree, we decorated it together and admired our work afterward and every day, really, until we took it down. The next year it was the same, only this time I did most of the decorating by myself. Something about this year was different and Christmas suddenly felt sad. I found myself thinking “I hope this is the last year we do this alone.”
The next Christmas I drew Charlie a chalkboard tree. He was none the wiser to my previous chalkboard tree. He thought it was as wonderful as I had the first go-round.
This year I put off getting a tree for a few days because I get heavy hearted, remembering. Nearly freezing my first married Christmas. Nesting. Determined that that Christmas two years ago would be our last one with just the two of us. After a few days of putting it off, though, I have a tree up in our living room, from ACE on Merrimon although it’s many miles out of the way now. It’s just a little taller than me and it’s full but compact and proportional. The very tallest center branch, though, is spindly and sticks far above the top tier of evenly spaced fir spokes. I cut off the ties and set it in the stand and gave it some time to settle. Charlie came home from his dad’s and insisted that we start, not with the lights, but with the star. (Why wait?)
When he placed the star on that spindly, tall, tree top it fell so lopsided that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I didn’t fix it, or trim the top so it sits upright and centers itself. I just left it, holding my nearly five year old son, giggling together at the Suess-ian tree top. “I like it!” I said, still laughing. “It’s a shooting star! Look!” he said.
These days of “just the two of us” might have their moments that leave me feeling a bit isolated. Longing may linger a bit more than I’d like. If I don’t avoid it and if I can learn to sit with all of the feelings and heart weight that come with the season I might learn something deeper, something more significant about myself. If I can look at my crooked tree top with it’s shooting star and feel absolute joy in it – a purely “just us two” moment – then I think I’m on the right path. At the very least, this will be a year with a tree I remember.