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The Trees of Christmas Past
In Connecticut

A nighttime ride down River Road after a Christmas snow -- along the narrow trail with hardly room for our old Buick -- sliding between the drifts on either side -- down the road, slowly, slowly, silently, silently -- to see the tree … a massive blue spruce at the end, on the far side of a pond which reflected the constellation of lights so beautifully that there were in fact two trees rising out of the darkness ….. the magical tree of Marion Telva Jones (celebrated diva of the Metropolitan Opera) ….. We would see the tree in our travels to and from town through the season, but each year that first glimpse of it shimmering in the darkness was breathtaking, and the anticipation of it each time we neared the end of the road was delicious. Eventually, we moved away but I never forgot that glorious tree. And I never met Telva Jones, but she must have been a wonderful person to have looked upon her spruce and envisioned the beautiful image of the Christmas season it could become.

During that time we lived in what had once been a lumber mill along the Silvermine River, and it had a living room which had what we call today a cathedral ceiling -- it wasn’t fancy, though, just high. For some reason, my parents felt a responsibility to put up a tree in proportion to the ceiling, and they always tried to do this on Christmas eve -- after my father got home from the annual party at his New York office in no shape to put up anything! But that’s a story for another time. The important thing is that I personally never knew about the monstrous effort that tree presented until I was much older. All I knew as a child was that sometime in the night Santa came and put up a tree under which were wonderful presents. One year I crept out about four o’clock in the morning to see the tree that Santa had brought. And there it was -- a fourteen foot tower of light, aglow with glass, shining ornaments of every shape and color, rivulets of icicles, garlands of tinsel, up and up and up to the silver steeple at the top. The beauty of it, the fragrance of it, the size of it took my breath away. I’m sure there were other trees, but this was the tree -- the tree that I awakened to discover at just the right childhood moment when I could rejoice in magic, embrace the impossible, and not question the mysterious. Not long afterwards my friend Katey Colborn decided to educate me to the facts of life, announcing importantly “I’m going to tell you about sex”-- which she did -- “and,” she continued, “there’s no Santa Claus!” Well, the sex part seemed to make pretty good sense, but the thing about there being no Santa Claus ….. Come on! that’s ridiculous!

Eventually, there came a time when I acknowledged the magic of my parents in the saga of trees. They really loved Christmas, chaotic as it had a habit of being, and when I was about 17 they decided to have a party on Christmas eve to which they invited (it seemed) everyone in the town. My father spent all day making what he thought was authentic English wassail, which is I think is supposed to be a mixture of ale or wine, crushed apples and sugar, but which in my father’s case was a revolting mixture of bourdon, spices, and tea. What was astonishing to me was that people actually came (even more astonishing they drank the wassail). They came, old and young -- even a drunken Santa -- actually trimmed the tree from decorations around it in boxes, and sang Christmas carols before we all trooped down to church at St. Mathew’s for Christmas eve services. Frank Capra would have loved it!

A couple of Christmases later, a friend came home from Florida and invited me down to his family’s home on Christmas eve to trim their tree. This was really not their tree, but his mother’s tree. …. Rhonda‘s seven foot aluminum tree with blue decorations. For probably two hours we followed vivid instructions from Rhonda concerning the decoration of the tree -- move it here, move it there, put this on, take that off, do this, do that -- she really knew how to evaporate the Christmas spirit! All done at last, she stepped back to admire it and ….. it fell over on her! Yes indeed, it slowly inclined in her direction, and as she stood mesmerized in horror, it kept on tipping, and eventually enveloped her in a pile of foil. She wasn’t hurt, of course, because the tree didn’t weigh anything, but she wasn‘t in a good mood. The rest of us, on the other hand were suddenly in a very good mood, very!

An excellent tree was the one that went up every year in Boston before the annual Christmas party -- always enormous, too big for the elevator and so lugged up the stairs to the sixth floor. It was a very popular party -- people we didn’t know called to say they were friends of friends and asked if they could come. One year a very pregnant woman got stuck in the elevator and had to be rescued by the fire department -- she crawled out of the shaft and went straight to the party! It really was a wonderful occasion and it started a wonderful tradition, and one that continues to this day -- the giving and receiving of ornaments each year which are lovingly put on the tree along with the memories of people loved and times past. I have boxes full!

One of the prettiest trees I’ve ever seen was a long-needle pine in a pale green that very serendipitously matched the carpet in our living room years later. We just loved it ….. and the dog loved it, too. She in fact ate it continually -- became ill -- ate some more, became ill some more, etcetera. We finally spent the season with the dining room chairs ringed around the tree. We never found a prettier tree ….. and the dog never found a more delicious one!

Some trees are special because we put them up with and for special people. The many trees of my Aunt Mary are not particularly memorable for the beauty of the trees, but for her childlike yearning to keep her favorite season alive as long as possible. She wanted to have her tree up immediately after Thanksgiving, and keep it until she absolutely had to declare Christmas over. So, one year my cousin and I took on the putting up the tree project on a warm early December afternoon, but the tree in its freshness defied all attempts to prune down the base so it would fit in the stand. Several tools were eventually lodged in it, and to tell you the truth I can’t remember how we actually got the thing up (or the tools out). What I do remember is being with my cousin who I didn’t (and don’t) get to see often enough and the ridiculousness of the situation (which we found pretty funny).

And my mother, like her sister, loved Christmas too. Every year the last few years of her life I put up a eight-foot-plus tree which dwarfed her living room, but which gave her great happiness. It was always a real tree until the year that it failed to draw in enough water and dried out three weeks before Christmas. It took absolutely hours to do the tree with all its ornaments -- and hours to take it down -- and more hours to put the next one up -- it was a hideous experience! That was the year that we agreed on an artificial replacement. It was pretty good . I enjoyed doing her tree each year, I enjoyed her joy in it, and I felt I wanted to say thank you for the many Christmases when I had given Santa credit for the magic she and my father had authored. After mother died, a young woman claimed her tree for a group home, and I thought the era of the big trees was over. But, then ….. a year or so later, a neighbor and I decided to pool our voluminous collection of ornaments and put up another really big tree. It was magnificent -- the last tree at Agway, which no sane person claimed because it was absolutely enormous … and then we came along!

The Country Woman wishes you a season of joy and renewal, and sweet memories of beautiful trees, always.

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