A Story Tree
This is the first Christmas in a long time that I haven’t heard people debating the merits of ‘real’ versus ‘artificial’ trees or vice versa. Why that is, I’m not entirely sure. I have listened to people –– mostly cat owners –– wondering aloud whether to have a tree at all. I’ve also been told about a young mother who has a full-size, fully-decorated tree in every single room –– including her bathrooms. At the end of the season they’ll be carefully wrapped and stored, fully adorned in a room reserved for that purpose, to await December 2014.
In our house there’s just one, full-sized, artificial tree, and as regular readers know, there’s ‘snow’ and a little white fence around the base. We’ve always had an artificial tree. Both Peter and I were accustomed to them growing up, and real trees weren’t allowed in the apartment building where we lived when first married anyway.
In 1984 and 1985, we used the artificial tree my mother was replacing after about two decades of faithful service. It was the kind you put together one colour-coded branch at a time, and had seen better years. But we didn’t have money to buy one of our own, and we loved it.
Then she purchased us a newer model from Sears, the kind that most people had to look closely at before deciding if it was real or not. We used that tree until just a few years ago. Each Christmas when we lifted it out more and more needles lined the bottom of the box and we knew it was only a matter of time before we would stand it up only to find there was no green left at all. So we decided after close to 25 years, that it was time for a replacement.
Our new tree, bought at a local nursery a few years ago, is full and thick, with white lights pre-installed.
When we first married, our two-bedroom, two-storey apartment was furnished with a $30 set of shelves Peter had made from raw pine, a traditional style rocking chair and a box spring and mattress set. The rocking chair and mattress set were gifts from my parents, as was the dining table and chairs that were still on order. As Christmas approached and we had started our new jobs, we were able to buy a couch as part of a deal that gave us a $50 cash rebate to use at what I think of as Walmart’s predecessor –– Woolco. Since we had a tree, but few decorations, we put some of the money to good use buying boxes of glass ornaments. We still have most of those, and the boxes they came in. These joined the small collection of metal bells and balls my parents had given us from their tree –– passed down from generation to generation so to speak –– and the miniature glass bulbs that had adorned the tiny tree Peter had in his apartment while in university. There was our ‘First Christmas Together’ Hallmark keepsake ornament, and my yellow Smurf satin ball from my best friend Hayes.
The year Kenneth started walking we added a series of non-breakable ornaments. We decorated the tree after he was sleeping, putting the new ones near the bottom where he would be able to see them, the glass bulbs higher up and out of his reach. The next morning Peter took him by the hand and they walked to the tree.
“Apple,” Peter said as he pointed to the apples. “Appoll,” Kenneth repeated. Then “train” and “bear” and “drum”.
“Don’t touch,” Peter said.
“No touch,” Kenneth answered.
We spent a fair bit of time that day being taken back to the tree by Kenneth, who would point at each ornament in turn as he said its name, ending always with the instruction: “No touch”. And when visitors arrived, he would lead them to the tree, and wearing a very serious and grown-up expression, repeat the process. In retrospect, we could likely have put the glass ornaments on the bottom that year too. Kenneth was, even before the age of two, a responsible little man.
As the years passed more and more items were added. There were beautiful birds from a home decorating store in St. John’s called Living Rooms and from our friend Jeff Driscoll’s tree. There were small handcrafted wreathes and fans of Christmas fabric from St. Paul’s Elementary School Craft Show. Kenneth was seven or eight years old when we bought them, and they look as brand new now as they did all those years ago. There was a set of unbreakable white balls with beautiful winter scenes on them from our friends Esther and Jeannie (who I’ve mentioned before in a post). There were white Styrofoam snowballs from Parkdale Pharmacy.
Space ships were added when Hallmark began releasing their annual Star Trek ornaments. The Next Generation was hugely popular in our house, and the ornaments became one of Kenneth’s annual gifts. The ships came with light and sound, the latter being activated when the tree lights were turned on. They sat on tree branches as comfortably as did the birds.
When age or clumsy hands inevitably got the better of some of the glass ornaments, we carefully picked out new ones to add to the collection. And when we moved to a new province, an ornament or two was added from that location, like the dangly-legged snowman that I bought when Darlene and I went to Stratford to explore the Christmas shops.
And at the very top there is a glass spire, because that’s the kind of tree-topper Peter remembers from his childhood. A bird that looks very much like a seagull with its wings spread wide, sits on the branch immediately below.
I love the fancy trees I see decorated in the malls, nurseries, hotels, stores and other public places. Their beautiful colour schemes and themes are stunning. But I’ve never, not even for one second, wanted one of those in my home. In my home, I want glass balls and bears, space ships and birds, apples and pine cones, smurfs and drums and spires.
Perhaps it’s because I am a writer that I see the story told by each of the decorations. Perhaps it’s because I am a daughter who lost her father to Alzheimer’s that I treasure every memory that is captured in each shiny bulb, tiny train and starship. I don’t really know.
I just know that from the fence at the bottom, to the spire at the top, our tree is a story tree.
And I love it, and the story it tells.