When I was growing up, my father owned a Christmas tree farm. Decembers were stressful. A lot of people think that pastors and rabbis work only on Sundays and my dad only the week before Christmas. Actually, my dad got only two months off: February and March.
In January, he put on his accountant‘s hat. In April, when the northern Michigan snow finally melted, my father donned boots to clear fields and plant. In June, Dad tagged trees perfect enough to be sold that year.
Most farmers plant a crop in May and harvest it a few months later, but a fir or a pine takes at least a dozen years to mature. That tree must be trimmed and nurtured yearly. I’ve done that exhausting, hot, buggy work.
In October, Dad solidified orders and checked his arsenal of chainsaws. Starting in November, Dad kept longer hours than the sun. We often ate at nine or ten at night. Mom saw more of Johnny Carson than she did of Dad. We children saw him less.
Meeting the Christmas budget was challenging. December meant expenditures in payroll and trucking; nothing came in, not even a tree, to my mother’s dismay. The shoemakers children go without shoes, she used to lament. The tree that ended up in our living room was a retail reject–too ugly to be sold.
When Dad finally carted home our tree, the real stress began. Mom began by counting the holes in the tree. When she reached three, my two brothers and I dived for cover into our bedrooms. Then my parents, girded with martinis, tackled the fat blue lights, the only decorations they could afford their first married Christmas.
Mom insisted that every light be precisely placed. No holes, no gaps, no bunching. With increasing do-overs, my parents’ voices crescendoed, climaxing in argument. We children often finished the tree the following day–without adult supervision.
When I married, I chose to make Christmas happy. The first year, I refused to even have tree lights. The second year, I relented. Once my husband got the lights up, we finished the tree together without arguing. Every year.
My brother Mark loved those blue Christmas lights. When Mom sold the big house to move to Florida, Mark claimed the blue lights. I told his soon-to-be former wife why I was relieved he did.
“Now I get it,“ Deb said. “Every year, Mark made me hang the lights. I could never get it right. I hated putting up the tree.“
I felt a secret tinge of satisfaction, convinced that I had made the right decision for my traditions.
After my divorce, for years, I put up my own tree lights. A poor economy has delivered in-home help: my handsome son David. This year, when he finished stringing the lights, I put on the Raffi Christmas album to hang our treasured ornaments.
When we finally got around to turning on the lights a couple of evening later, we were surprised to find a two-toned tree: white over rainbow. How did we manage to end up with three odd boxes of lights? I hadn’t the energy to remove the ornaments just to restring matching lights.
It’s a unique tree. My parents, I imagine, are smiling down, saying that no Christmas tree, is perfect. This year’s glitch, I hear them remind me, is next year’s Christmas memory.
— Wendy Risk, SaintPetersBlog correspondent. You may reach Wendy at email@example.com.