The Tree

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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.

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13 thoughts on “The Tree

  1. You are more patient than I. I would have just done it myself when I wanted it done. 😉 It sounds like more is going on than the decorating of the tree here. Watching children grow up and leave must be so hard. Would love to know the deeper level of this: what was it like to watch them pack up their things, what did they take with them? How do know when they are back (you know, those little things like cluttered bathrooms, rising stacks of dishes, etc.)? Just some things to maybe approach in future writing. Thanks for sharing with yeah write!

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    1. The tradition of decorating together is important to me, but it looks like I may have to let that go. You are correct. There is a lot of transition going on with the kids growing up and moving out. I look forward to writing more about it in the near future. Thanks for your comments and feedback.

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  2. We went artificial about 5 years ago, but it had to be sizeable to bear my desired volume of ornaments accumulated over 40+ years. We usually wrestle it up sometime on Christmas Eve, the result of a silent, telepathic battle of wills between me, who wants it up, and my wife, who would rather just let the day go by. I want it up for nostalgic, not religious, reasons, and because it’s just so cheery when I turn it on in the dark mornings and evenings at this latitude (Seattle). This year felt different: our son was not around, perhaps for the first time in his life, and, after helping me assemble the tree, my wife left the hanging of ornaments entirely to me. So, I feel some connection to your mood in your piece. Nice work!

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    1. Aww.. I hope you enjoyed your peaceful holiday and the tree. I can see myself in that aspect someday, though for now it’s a tough transition. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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