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Christmas Trees I Have Known

The angel before her ascent to the top of the tree.*
There's a tree glowing in a corner of the living room and it's the latest, not necessarily greatest, Christmas tree that I have known. This one came in a box because I live in a city that strictly enforces its garbage laws. In my hometown, tree removal after Christmas becomes a herculean task. One year I sawed apart a tree to carefully bag its remains for disposal. The whole hacksaw job in the living room may have given me new insights for future forays into writing murder mysteries, but I purchased my first artificial tree the following year. I'm now on Artificial Tree #3, having passed the other two along to good homes, and this one is by far the thinnest, easiest-to-unfold, and has its own lights. I would have kept AT#2 but AT#3 was on sale earlier this month at my local hardware store and seemed to need a home. 

But, back in the last century, when trees were trees and the mayor didn't search your recycling bins to make sure you were sorting things properly, my family went on a Christmas tree hunt every year. With half dozen or so tree farms within easy driving distance, and a small pick-up truck, we turned up our noses at Boy Scout tree lots. Instead, we went into the woods. Neat, tame, domesticated forests with rows of fir trees and cocoa stands at the entry, but still woods.

The dog would go off leash and dash after imaginary squirrels, while the family tramped from tree to tree discussing which one was the right one, and eventually tying handkerchiefs or popping mittens on a branch to mark it as a "probable one" as we continued to explore. Sometimes we even found those probable trees again.

What I know about tree physics came from those hikes. That the tree which looks a touch small outdoors will prove to be taller than then ceilings at home. That trimming (along with a certain amount of muttering about "measuring twice, cutting once" from the woodsman) must be done on the porch to whittle your capture to reasonable height and width to jam it through the doors.

But eventually the tree would be inside, leaning slightly to the left or right depending on how tightly we screwed it into the stand. Tinsel would gleam from its branches and decorate the fluggy tail of the dog, who would pick up a bit more glitter with every wag. The cats would contemplate tree climbs and attacks on the lights. Howling and crashes might punctuate subsequent nights.

Then, at some point, I would lay flat on the rug and stare up into the branches, trying to see to the very top. It was my growing tree moment from Nutcracker, when anything could and would happen. When a magic that began in the woods settled into the house. When Christmas was full of dreams tinged with the scent of evergreens.

Today I sit on a couch and I stare up into the branches. Gleaming in the colored lights, there's mementos of trips, ornaments commemorating favorite stories, and a few fragile survivors of those much earlier trees that I have known.

Almost I can see the top of the tree and my angel leaning perilously forward. Almost I can plunge myself backward into faraway dreams scented with evergreen. And this is why, even though AT#3 came out of a box, it is still a Christmas tree as well as the ghost of Christmas trees that I have known and a harbinger of Christmas trees to come.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, many good nights to come.

*The angel began her life as a "Dutch Doll" or "penny wooden" more than 100 years ago. Found in the basement of Pollack's Toy Museum, she was sold to a visiting American family and eventually traveled to the top of my tree. Every year she drops an arm or a leg, but I fit them back in, straighten up her homemade halo, and pull her skirt down to a respectable hemline after she's perched at the top of the tree.


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