I've never enjoyed decorating Xmas trees. I didn't enjoy it as a child and I don't enjoy it as a grown man. Don't get me wrong, I love the way a well-decorated tree looks...I just don't want to do it. It's one of those rituals that seems like a misspent use of time. You put up the tree, drag out the boxes of ornaments, run up the electric bill for a while, then take it back down again. I don't get it...but I'm glad most people do.
Today would have been our mom's birthday. She would have been 78. She had a twin sister, who has also since passed. While I can picture my aunt at 78, I just cannot picture our mother at that age. She died when she was 43, so I even though I watched her twin sister live into her 70s, I just can't see my mother like that.
Our mom was a hoot! She had a great sense of humor and was blessed with many creative talents; painting, sculpture, music, decorating...you name it, she was great at it! She really excelled at Xmas!
We grew up in what most would call a comfortable, white collar neighborhood. We really didn't want for the creature comforts. As I've grown older, I respect my parents much more because of that. They both came from poor families. At a time when moms didn't work, both of my grandmothers did. Our parents instilled in us the fact that one has to work for what they want in life.
OK...mom was pretty good at spoiling us when she wanted to. And she was great at doing that at Xmas.
With our mom's birthday so close to Xmas, I seem to recall that she would usually wait for her birthday to decorate the tree. Always a real one, never an artificial tree, That seemed important to her. We usually went to Di Gregory's to get the tree. Once or twice I remember us going to a tree farm. That seemed like a waste of a day to me. Sure, it was nice to see all of the Xmas trees and future Xmas trees...but it entailed a drive out to the boonies, a place I've never felt comfortable, and dealing with flannel-clad guys who chewed tobacco, spit a lot, and had an odd smell about them. We used to spend a lot of time on our Aunt Grace's farm...so it wasn't the smell of hard work and farming...maybe it was the smell of cheap bourbon. I can't say for sure...but I digress.
The tree would usually sit out on our back patio for what, to me, seemed like months. In actuality, it was probably a few days. Inevitably, we would wake one morning to see the tree, in the tree stand, naked and waiting to be decorated. Us kids would help a bit...but really, we were pretty lazy. Mom didn't seem to mind. As long as we were there. In no time at all, she would have that tree looking like something out of the Sears catalogue!
Seeing the tree lit up in the day time was nice, but I thought it looked best at night, with all of the other lights out. Just the soft glow of the fairy lights warming the house with their sparkling effulgence always looked so, well...for lack of a better word...pretty! But that was nothing compared to Xmas morning.
Mom would go all out and tastefully decorate the whole house. Decorations on the doors and windows, and of course the banister. We didn't have a fireplace, so our stockings were hung on the banister with care....you know the rest.
Xmas morning meant getting up early, after maybe 7 minutes of sleep (Hey! Did you hear something on the roof????). The first sight we saw were those stockings, stuffed to the point of looking ready to burst, hanging on the banister. It was TOY TIME!!!!!!!! We would grab those stockings and race to the family room where our eyes would behold the most magical sight of all: Mom's tree and all of the presents...wrapped in tin foil!
OK, you might think that sounds weird. Sure, we could have easily afforded fancy wrapping paper...but our mother was not only creative, she was pragmatic. The twinkle of the Xmas tree lights would radiate and bounce off of those mountains of presents. As I think back, it didn't matter was those gifts were...my memory is always of how it looked. A glowing Xmas wonderland!
Like I said, our Mom had a pragmatic approach to Xmas morning, as well as her creative and sometimes spoiling nature. With 4 kids, her, dad, our grandmother and 2 great aunties, as well as the dogs, that tin foil was much more easily smooshed into balls and pitched into the Xmas morning garbage bag. Regular wrapping paper would've filled up twice as many bags! See! Our Mom was a genius. Not only was it a beautiful sight on Xmas morning, it was also easy to get rid of!
After all of the presents were opened, and we kids would be playing with our toys, Mom would get to take it easy and have a smoke while dad and our grandmother would usually make Xmas breakfast. Gram usually had made a few loaves of banana nut bread and dad would make bacon and eggs...the only time I ever recall him making eggs! (one of the downsides to having a cardiologist father...eggs were EVIL! I've eaten them maybe 3 times in my life. They have no flavor to me.) Dad would make his fancy eggs...cooking them in the oven in a muffin tin. Looked spiffy and all...but as a kid, I never ate. I hated most food. I liked the banana nut bread and the Xmas cookies...but other than that, all I wanted was peanut butter and mashed potatoes. (Needless to say, my palette has expanded greatly...but I still love peanut butter and mashed potatoes)
Usually while all of this was going on, a neighbor kid, Bruce Greenhouse (who was Jewish) would stop by and want to play. He was a tad hyper...but a good kid. Dad would grumble and Mom would politely explain that we were having our Xmas and send him home. Year after year this scenario played out. Every year Dad would grumble (something he has down to an art form) and every year Mom would be sweet as pie to Bruce...sometimes sending him off with some cookies for his family or one of the multitudinous loaves of nut bread. Mom was truly the Queen of Xmas!
Like I said, I still hate decorating the tree...but I always have one. Always an artificial one. (Mom would've hated that!) The last few years, the young'un and I have used my grandmother's old ceramic table top tree, as we live with a cat. Cats + Xmas trees = inevitable crash/mess. I don't have that to do.
It's Mom's (and Aunt Nancy's) birthday. You know what? I might just pull out the old artificial tree and put it up and decorate it...in honor of their memory. If only I can find a way to keep the cat off of it.....
|Our Mom, dolled up for Xmas...sometime in the 1960s|