|Atop the tree|
Every year I tell myself that I’ll take down the Christmas tree by Martin Luther King Day. Setting a goal doesn’t mean I succeed; more than once the tree has come down on St. Patrick’s Day, despite the silent disapproval I feel from the cleaning lady (how lazy can she get) and from Dan, the firefighter’s son.
Neither of them understands how I feel about the Christmas tree. It’s a plant, a living thing, and each Christmas I declare that year’s tree the most beautiful I’ve ever had. I water it and become fond of it. Dark January mornings, its red chili pepper lights warm me. In Claverack, where I lived on one floor, the tree glowed next to the desk where I wrote before sunrise.
To discard the tree into the cold seems cruel, to cut its branches off and use them to cover the garden, as I know I should, feels barbaric.
This year, I steeled myself. Although this tree is so special, with its long, soft needles, one of only a half-dozen like this that the tree farm grew, I don’t want to be a sentimental old lady, so on a bright, frigid Sunday, a few hours before the annual Martin Luther King service in Hudson, I got the boxes down from the attic and put on Sting’s If on a Winter’s Night. I would just take the ornaments off; I’d leave the lights on, the tree up for a few days more. I’ve heard Winter’s Night called solemn and gloomy, but it suited me perfectly.
My tree is never taller than I am, so that I can handle it by myself, and I can tell you the provenance of every ornament I put on it. This year I had particular affection for them as I decorated the tree (to Bach’s cheerful Adventskantaten), probably because I’ve been writing this blog, thinking more about Dan. Each ornament carries a memory, and the Christmases I remember are those I spent with Dan.
As New Yorkers, we were automatically considered the itinerant relatives, but we always had our own tree, and I remember one year in particular when a combination of car trouble and bad weather kept us in the city. With our across-the-hall neighbor V. we created a delicious Christmas Eve dinner. Our downstairs neighbor G. joined the three of us for Midnight Mass at the Episcopal church around the corner. The three of them groused about the service, but I loved it, and I still feel that we all loved that serendipitous Christmas.
Dan and I had to make up the time later with family, but family was fun too—watching the younger generation grow, our parents still active, years of cross-country skiing together (that freezing afternoon at Hildene) . . .
No. Joy only, no regret.
If the ornaments make me sad, I should give them away, get new ones.
I won’t do that.
|Bambi stays out all year|
These days I spend Christmas as we did that one happy year in New York—meals with friends, special services at church. What’s missing is Dan; this is becoming tiresome, Sweetie, I said to him in December, not easier but harder each year to make my own Christmas. A. travels at Christmas now, determined not to be home, but I’m not there yet, with still enough here to keep me by my tree.