Quest for the Perfect Tree

Waiting for lights, ornaments, and drape around the bottom.

In that first December of our married life, fifty-four years ago, we bundled up warm and set out on a quest for the perfect Christmas tree. A tree that would become a part of our life story that we were writing together, in one voice. It must be that our “one voice” has diverged over the years because our current memories are quite different. Sometimes I wonder if we lived different lives together – which I guess we did.

I remember the laughter of trudging through the snow in that first season together (or was that a few years later when we had small children?), finding a perfect tree and then seeing a more perfect tree twenty five feet further away – only to discover it had a very crocked trunk. I remember the excitement of finding the most beautiful tree that was just tall enough for the 10-foot ceilings of our apartment, but not too big.

Jim remembers being out in the cold, cutting a good bit off the bottom and trimming away branches. His story includes a way-too-thick trunk needing a lot of whittling to fit in the standard and us heaving and tugging to get the too-big tree through the front door. And his telling includes how long it took as he lifted and shifted and I twisted and tightened to get it perfectly straight in the stand after years of wind and sun sculpting it to nature’s specifications – only to discover as we viewed from another angle that it wasn’t so straight.

I remember the joy and excitement of having that perfect Christmas tree – the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. And I remember how that tree, on Monday morning as I was decorating it, started to fall towards me. And the panic of wondering if I was going to have to stand there and hold that monster of a tree until Jim returned from work after 5:00. I was able to push it back into the corner and I believe we put screws in the wall to tie it in place. But it was a beautiful tree.

There was a challenge and excitement inherent in getting a live Christmas tree because every one was different, due to each one’s unique imperfections. My fondest memories of those childhood and young adult live-tree-Christmases were outings to visit parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends during this season to see their trees. And after echos of “Merry Christmas” and hugs, stomping snow off boots, and shedding coats, scarves, hats and mittens, there were many exclamations of admiration and joy over their tree. And of course it was expected that everyone come to see our tree and for all to agree that it was the most beautiful tree ever.

Our Christmas tree traditions have evolved as our bodies and lifestyles changed. After several years, Jim tired of the cutting and hauling, the sculpting and straightening that went into getting the live tree in place and standing straight, while listening to the Messiah words about “the crooked made straight.”  He also grew to dread dragging the dying tree out of the house leaving puddles of stagnant water and prickly pine needles on the carpet.

I remember when I assembled our first artificial tree, branch by branch as I strung each one with lights. After spending hours putting it up, Jim ascended from the basement and proclaimed how much easier it was putting up the tree that year. I would have given a snarky response if I hadn’t been gazing at our most beautiful tree ever. It was straight and perfectly formed. The branches extended at perfect angles so ornaments hung and nestled in exactly the right place. Visitors had to touch it to believe that it wasn’t a live tree.

We have changed and morphed the artificial trees we have had over the years, especially since chronic pain and aging have limited my energy. Even though I like the benefits of an artificial tree, I am feeling nostalgic for the unique imperfection and beauty of a live tree. I can be fairly certain what my tree will look like each year even though I pick and choose different ornaments for decoration. There is a sense of boredom that comes with the perfection of my artificial trees. But I also bristle at the thought of buying multiple trees to choose among and filling the landfill with artificial trees as I crave new and different. 

I am sitting looking at this year’s tree. It is the same one we had last year, and that one was the same as the year before but without the bottom section, and that one was the same as the five years before but with the pre-strung lights cut off. With all of these modifications it is still a beautiful tree – except for the half string of dark bulbs about two-thirds of the way up.

Aah, the quest and the work continues to have the most beautiful tree ever.  

The Grateful Tree

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I put the decorations on our Christmas tree today. I almost didn’t put the tree up – or more accurately almost took it down before I had all the lights on. Getting the lights on last year was a nightmare, but this year it was only a bad dream. I persevered for a week and think I should write down some notes about how I could make the process easier for next year. JB thinks I’m a perfectionists, but I think I just like things to be really pleasing.

The fun part every year is opening the box of ornaments and unwrapping each one from its tissue. I remember as I re-discover each ornament – for the first time all over again. I forget what ornaments I have but once my memory is jogged I remember the significance it has to the fabric of my life.

This year there was another layer to the process of re-membering, using Parker Palmer’s phrase. The stress of our current political uncertainty has created in me a need to figure out once again who I am and what my life has been about. When the seams of our life feel like they are being ripped apart, maybe we need to pull the parts of ourselves back together – we need to re-member ourselves. I need to remember what I value, to strengthen the seams of my life by remembering.

Putting the ornaments on the tree this year (and making sense of it through my writing) is helping me do this. Each ornament represents a piece of the story of who I am. I have three ball ornaments that belonged to grandparents – and this year they are front and center. My grandparents were the foundation of who I am. They nurtured me strong.

I have hand-made ornaments from a neighbor who was my children’s second mother and my own hand-made ornaments demonstrating my creative side. I have German stars that I learned to make in high school, and I feel gratitude for all the teachers I’ve had that taught and molded me. They were guiding stars, although not all German.

I have some ornaments made by my sister, Peg – one being a crocheted angel. How appropriate. I don’t have any ornament from my other sister, who passed away. Linda made beautiful greeting cards, however, and I kept all that she sent. One of them now has a place on the tree along with Peg’s ornaments. Both sisters were very important to my life story in very different ways – both are cherished.

I don’t have an ornament from my parents’ tree but I made that okay – I have created my own treasured memory ornaments. My father’s favorite ornaments were artificial birds that clip on the tree’s branch. I bought a red cardinal, his favorite, and also a dove. I did feel some sadness because I have no ornament from my mother, but then I unwrapped a bell dated 1986. I don’t remember how I came to possess it but my mother collected bells and this is now her bell. It hangs below the dove, maybe representative of the peace and love that we shared after I came to terms with past transgressions.

As I was going through Linda’s home-made cards, I found a very special one, signed Mom & Dad. A two-fer. As I am writing this, I looked over at it and smiled big with tears in my eyes. I am very thankful for all my parents gave me, both genetically and through their caring. I am especially grateful for God’s saving grace that made it possible for me to appreciate their gifts of love. I miss Mom, Dad and Linda very much.

I made ornaments, 37 years ago, with my children’s pictures in them and once again I gave them a prominent place on the tree. The last ornaments I placed on the tree were ones my children made in their early elementary school years. I have a precious collection so I have to decide which ones to use each year. Seeing them floods me with beautiful memories of all those Christmases as they grew and matured – as they grew and matured me. All the excitement. And that special moment when I opened the treasure that each had made for us, as they expectantly waited for our squeals of joy and praises. My heart swells with gratitude for all they gave us on Christmas past with the precious ornaments that still grace our tree, but also the 364 days in between when they helped me grow up.

In more recent years, we have made room on our tree for ornaments made by grandchildren. I am saddened that I don’t have one from my second grandson, so maybe I’ll have to tell him that my tree has a big empty spot that he needs to fill. Ahhh, but I remember that I’ve added a daughter and two more grandchildren through my son’s second marriage. How grateful I am that our hearts can enlarge to take in new family because they, too, are helping me write my life story. And soon we will hopefully make room on our tree for ornaments made by great-grandchildren Caden and Eevee.

Many ornament on my tree were bought on my many trips. This year they have special meaning besides the memories of the foreign lands they came from. This year I am grateful for the growth that took place as I learned about new cultures and met people who have different world views than I do. These experiences have enriched my life, but more importantly have made me a better person. I am more of who I am because of who I met and what I learned. This year our Christmas celebration will include a mother and daughter I met when visiting my daughter in Kyrgyzstan. I have several wool ornaments that remind me of the time I spent with them in their home.

Yes, this year I have a grateful tree. I have ornaments that remind me of people who healed me, who shaped me, who brought joy to my life. Each ornament has special significance for who I am, for who I have become. Each ornament represents a special person or event in my life, a special thread in the fabric of my person.

For each I am grateful. Thank you.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

What I love about living in the north are the changing seasons that are so dramatic. In Michigan, nature is a “drama queen”. In southern Florida there is some change in the weather, including hotter weather and more rain in the summer, that results in different flowers blooming. But everything continues to be green. People say the heat is pretty dramatic in the summer and of course there are hurricanes – but not dramatic changes in how things look.

What did mark some changing of the seasons from fall to winter was decorations going up. This is in front of Palm Cottage, recorded with by the National Historic Society as the oldest house in Naples, Florida. The beach is just one block beyond here.

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If you are viewing this in December, you have to admit that the WordPress snow is quite impressive falling over the palms.

To see more posts and participate in this challenge, go to:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/weekly-photo-challenge-changing-seasons/