The tree sits proudly in the living room, boldly taking up a quarter of the available space. I was so grateful for the boys’ company that I let them choose it, and they chose the biggest one on the lot. With plenty of struggle and laughter, they helped their dad get it on the car, then squeezed it through the door of the house, and here it sits, a visitor enthroned in its stand, accepting its esteemed position in the middle of everything.
For days it sits like this, a needle-feathered forest visitor to the austere geometric world of our house. It’s so tall that I can’t reach the top to start stringing lights, and the previously willing helpers have all disappeared into their caves. I sit on the couch and ponder the sheer size, wondering how to tackle the job ahead of me. The rain is coming down in sheets outside, drenching the ladder that still sits by the house from the day my husband put up the lights. I’d probably hurt myself trying that anyway. I could use a chair, but the angle of the tree makes me wary of falling and taking the tree with me. Finally, my youngest son, blessed with height and long arms, deigns to help. We get the top string of lights up just as the timer beckons us for dinner. I will return later to finish the job by myself.
Again, I sit on the couch and ponder the tree, now adorned with white lights. Boxes of ornaments sit on the sidelines, waiting the arrival of my daughter from college. The tree stands in simple elegance, a stately sentry to the other half of the house.
We have been through many trees over the years. One year long ago we had a live tree. It now graces the bottom of our property, a tall testament to the passing of the years. When it snows, I position my youngest son beside it, documenting the growth of both of them with a photo.
In our family, Christmas tree selection occurs right after Thanksgiving, and decorating it has always been a family affair. This was easier when everyone was home. My eldest is now out of the state, though we did wait for him to arrive last year. He won’t be coming home this year. My daughter just arrived from college, and although we waited for her, we ended up waiting even longer. We couldn’t seem to find the time to decorate.
I seem to sit and ponder the tree a lot.
Finally, through frustrated tears, I announce that I will be decorating this tree, and anyone who wants to is welcome to help, but it is happening now. My middle son, a fresh young adult who recently announced that he wasn’t celebrating the holiday, hugs me and asks me to wait one more day. He is meeting up with friends and will be back the next day to decorate with me. I acquiesce.
The tree twinkles its white lights at me. What does it know of the passing of time? I stare at the three glass ornaments placed on it in frustration. They will sit there for two more days before the box is opened.
In my mind’s eye I see smiling children perched on chairs, leaning precariously toward the tree, ornaments in hand, posing for pictures. I see the carefully packed ornaments coming out one by one and us laughing at the first grade pictures and the glued together popsicle sticks. I see my middle son with an armload of nutcrackers. I picture us sitting cuddled under blankets, sipping hot chocolate from Christmas mugs, admiring our handiwork, music playing in the background. How many Christmases were spent like this?
Even the ornaments are packed with meaning. There is a sushi ornament for the year we discovered sushi and a small wooden ferry from our trip to the San Juan Islands. There are skiing ornaments and music ornaments and photo ornaments. Every year the tree becomes a 3-D album of our life together.
Last year’s plea was to not decorate the tree until they came home. This year I waited. And waited. And waited.
Next year I will pick the tree. It will be short. It will be thin. I will wait, but only for so long, and then I will lovingly pull out the lifetime of ornaments, decorate the tree and remember.