O’ Tannenbaum

It’s going to have to come down at some point. It just has to.

The Christmas Tree is still sitting prominently in our living room, still covered in ornaments passed down to me from my child hood, garland and white lights that I must confess, I have switched on as I write this. I love the idea of a Christmas Tree and think that they are easily the very best part of the European Christmas tradition.. with some very serious caveats.

In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about “The Tree”. Though it’s undoubtedly the centerpiece of most of my Christmas memories, I always felt a bit uneasy around that bit of forest we had dragged into our home and festooned with lights and baubles.

I have early memories of crunching through thin snow in a vast field of nearly identical little evergreen trees. My parents would walk along looking from left to the right and then to the left again, looking for just the right tree to come home with us and get us in the holiday mood. The big, red bow saw that my father carried both intrigued and spooked me with it’s elongated, almost grotesque teeth. As far as I can recall, this was the only time this particular tool had work to do each year. The curved fangs of the blade would bite into the trunk of the selected conifer, bringing it down with a few good pulls and minimal grunting from under the skirt of low bows as my father lay on the frozen ground, trying to get Mom and me to push the tree one way or another in an effort to keep it from pinching the blade.

Hauled by its trunk, we’d pull it to the car and lash it to the roof, leaving a little stump behind us and a patch of snowless ground. It made me uneasy. It’s not that I didn’t understand that these trees were planted here for the express purpose of cutting for Christmas. It just always struck me as a bit sad to see the hole it left in the otherwise neat rows of green, prickly soldiers who remained.

tree-farm

Then, it was time to head home. This brought on the next problem. When I was little, my job mostly consisted of staying out from underfoot, or at the most, closing the front door after Dad, swearing lightly… or perhaps not so lightly, wrestled the reluctant tree through the entryway. As I got older, my new job was to HELP Dad wrestle the tree in. This sounds like a good idea until you watch the chaos unfold. One of us would get the drippy, pinesap covered end and would be walking backwards. The other would have the highly fragile, infinitely pincushingly, pointy end and would be able to see nothing as they stumbled up the stairs, often times, accidentally causing the trunk end holder to stumble backwards and loose his balance.

Now there were two of us swearing.

Once inside, we needed to get it up and secured. We had one of those ancient pressed metal stands with the four long screws and somehow it was always me who got the under the tree duty. I’d lay on my stomach or side, trying not to notice how heavy my head was getting and how crampy my neck was tighten as many of the bolts as fast as I could while loose needles trickled down my neck. More swearing was often needed at this point.

“A little more to the left”
“No. That’s too much now”
“Come forward now”
“TOO MUCH! Back it up a bit”
“I think it’s still leaning to the left. Don’t you?”

That taken care of, the decorating would begin. This, I enjoyed! Getting out the ornaments was like opening up a treasure chest. I had made some, some came from friends and relatives and others were from my parent’s days predating me. I loved seeing them after a long year in the basement and other than the expected pickings from the tree, I enjoyed putting them up.

The needles were my bane. I lived in a shoe-free house. All footwear came off at the door and I spent most of my time at home in socks. The room our tree was always set up in had a deep pile carpet and the needles just seemed to lie in wait for me to go padding by and yelp as a sap tipped assassin jumped at its chance to strike at its captor. It seemed like no matter how much vacuuming was done, some of these little buggers would make it through and lie low, patiently biding their time. Months later, they still would get me and send me hobbling to the sofa to extract them from the bottom of winter softened souls.

The final piece that didn’t sit well was when we tossed it. You’d think that after all the struggling to get it in and set up and then the indignities of having to pluck it’s quills from the bottom of my feet, that I’d be happy to see it go, but mostly, it made me kind of sad. I’d look out of the window and see it flung on the snow back by the road, waiting for the city to take it away. It was obviously too small to be milled into anything and too green to burn so it was destined to be mulch. It was just going to go to waste.

I hate waste.

One time in particular, I recall looking at an abandoned tree and seeing something glint from within its branched. When I went out to inspect, I found a missed ornament. It was a little golden pear that a friend had given my parents. After that, I was far more vigilant when it came to stripping the tree of its medals prior to being drummed out of the house. I still have the little pear ornament and can see it now glinting in the small white lights on my own tree.

Tonight I’ll take it down and strip my tree of its glory, but I’m not worried about forgetting something buried deep in its braches. I may miss one, naturally, but it will be safe until next year. My tree will fold up like a green, furry umbrella and fit neatly back in its box. It’s a fake. A good fake, to be sure, but fake nonetheless. My Mother still thinks that it’s awful to skip having the real deal, but I’m happy with it. I can leave those little trees out in the field for someone else to pick and since my tree comes apart, I don’t need to stuff it through the door jam as I turn the air blue. The best part is the needles are soft and permanently attached. Little feet in footy pajamas are safe, as are my own.

Interestingly enough, the old, red bowsaw that felled so many Christmas trees hangs in my own basement now. I have to admit. I have no idea the last time I used that thing. If the trees attack though, I’m ready.

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Cardboard Trees and Vampire Memories

With my favorite holiday, Halloween, coming down the pike in a little under two weeks, It’s made me reflect on my Halloween experiences from my youth. I’m a child of the Seventies, which means that I grew up during an interesting cultural transition time. Things will never be the same, naturally, but a lot of what made up the memories of my youth have not merely morphed into something else, but disappeared all together. Some for the better… some, not. The ability to sew, comes to mind.

One of my favorite family traditions took place every year, right about this time. I would have gotten into my Mom’s powder blue, 1971 Pontiac, and we would have driven to the mill store to pick out a pattern and fabric. It was time to get the costume all worked out. The two of us would find a seat in the little alcove filled with monstrously thick books and then pour over them, looking for just the right one for Trick or Treating. The only real limiting factor was that, living in northern New England, I had to be able to fit a winter parka underneath it.

Eventually, I’d pick the design and then the two of us would set off and search the piles of colorful fabric bolts, looking for the best matches. Purchases in hand, we’d go home and start putting it together. I say “we”, but in truth, it was mostly Mom who did the work. That’s not to say I wouldn’t help if I could, but like most children who offer to “help” Mom or Dad, I tended to make things go slower, rather then faster. My end of the project usually involved standing on a stool and worrying about being stuck with straight pins.

Every year, my mother would create some amazing costume out of nothing but some bundles of cloth, a tissue paper pattern and her Singer, electric sewing machine. Over the years, I had been successfully been kitted out as a ghost, a mouse, a vampire (at least twice), a shark, the Headless Horseman and no doubt a few others that escape me, but those are the fabric based costumes that I can recall.

A few costumes however, required more than ability with sewing. It required cardboard.

The first of these rigid costumes that I remember was the year I went as Pac Man. That wasn’t too hard to work out. Two large pieces of heavy yellow card stock cut into circles, minus a wedge for the mouth and attach it all at the edge. Holes for arms and a few to spy out of and there you go! Hardly the most involved costume, but hey, we’re talking Pac Man during the early eighties, here! I thought it was awesome and I was not alone.

The next idea was a lot harder and drew heavily on her bulletin board construction skills. Luckily, as a Junior High teacher, she had a lot to draw upon.

I wanted to be a tree.

A TREE! Where did I come up with these ideas? A lot of rolled cardboard, construction paper and Sharpie markers later, I was the spitting image of a maple tree in full foliage. That is, as long as all the maple trees you had seen were about five feet tall and made of cardboard and construction paper. I remember walking down the road at a tight legged shuffle, dropping leaves as I went and trying to spot them through the slot I peeked out of and skooching down to pick up my wayward, leafy appendages. Now I knew how a tree must feel as they shed their hard made mantle each autumn.

Eventually, of course, I stopped going out Trick or Treating and moved my efforts to scaring the beegeebees out of the kids who came to our house, begging for candy. Nothing too over the top… but fun. Then, like life does, things got busy and with a move to an apartment with my then girlfriend/now wife, we simply didn’t get Trick or Treaters or didn’t participate. After a few years and a succession of moves, we wound up on our little island where Halloween is once again something to revel in. All my creative costume juices, having long since dried up and turned to powder, were reconstituted by the flood of scary fun and enjoyment that is the norm out here. I was back in the scary business!

The first year, I simply dressed up as a Mad Scientist. White lab coat, spiky hair wig, goggles and high black gloves completed the look. It was believable and easy to assemble. I took on the roll with great enjoyment and did my best to scare kids a bit. Times have changed since the 70’s though, and kids simply don’t spook as easily. Next year, I’d do better. Much better. I was into this now.

The next year I threw my self into this project. With the materials and equipment at hand, I set aside the time to craft a huge skull… thing. Made out of clay, I patterned the basic shape on a horse’s skull. With the addition of sharp, tyrannosaur-like teeth and a more menacing brow, no lower jaw and a black robe that draped over the entire shebang and I had created a large and freaky looking monster wraith. I named him Tony.

I put the robed skull on two hinged, five-foot poles, one pole in front and the other in the back of the skull. What this meant was that Tony, when worn by me, could be moved like he was on a long neck. Held straight up, I was easily nine feet tall. If I wanted to go get close to someone, all that was needed was to swing Tony forward and I could be in your face in a split second. Add some glowing eyes and I had an instant kid magnet and/or repeller.

As I wandered around the neighborhood, I noticed that I was almost irresistible specifically to young boys. They were terrified of the giant monster but couldn’t resist getting a closer look. At one point, a nine-year-old pirate decided that he needed to exhibit his bravado to me and the others in the area. As I floated along down the road, he followed at what he thought was a safe distance calling, “I’m not afraid of you! You can’t scare me!”

In one fluid motion, I swung the head around and down to within a few inches of the pirate and scraped my vocal cords to emit the best, “Depth of Hell” sound I could muster. It was hard to see out from behind the black cloth that covered me but I could just make out his ragged pirate butt as he ran in full-screaming flight, down the street. On the sidewalk, now standing alone, was his father. For a brief second, I thought I was going to be in deep trouble. Then, with both hands cupped around his mouth, the man yelled to his fleeing son, “Run, Forrest! Run!” Hey, we live on an island. How far can he go?

This year, it’s Short Stacks turn to go out and collect candy. It’s his first real Halloween experience. We didn’t know if he would quite understand the idea behind a costume, but we asked him for his pick. With out hesitation, he made his pick. We’ve asked him several other times, just to be sure. He is.

He wants to be a dump truck.

It seems that so far as costume ideas go, the apple does not fall to far from the cardboard tree. At least the dump trucks don’t. Dear Lord. I better not bring up the idea of a Dump truck Tree. He’d want that instead. Now where’s my utility knife and duct tape?

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