Trimming the Trees

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

It is only three days until Thanksgiving. I am sitting in the glorious sunshine on my back screened porch smelling the fragrant cut cedar branches that I brazenly raided from my neighbor’s yard-trash pile earlier. Pollards will scoop up the leavings later today, so I had to act quickly to insure a haul. I so want my home to acquire that old-fashioned scent I remember from my childhood and from the early years of my marriage. Here was my chance.
It has now been many, many years since we have put up anything other than an artificial Christmas tree; years since we have enjoyed the heavenly smell of pine or cedar. Of course those trees also included cupfuls of browning needles that fell and buried themselves in our carpet or stuck to the hardwood floors…and worked their way to the top of the fiber six months later when my summer bare feet would feel the sharp prick of a dry pine or cedar needle. I remember how thrilled I was not to have to deal with “watering” a tree and dragging it out on a sheet after the holidays, still losing tons of those nasty little brown stickers on the journey to the curb.
Actually the last cedar tree we ever brought into our home was over 40 years ago. Encouraged by a friend Bill was working with in Little Mountain, S.C., we all traipsed out to his pasture land to cut our very own tree—like the Ingles in some schmaltzy version of “Little House on the Prairie.” It was tall, bushy, and kinda green. When we screwed it into the little red and green bowl-shaped holder and watered it, the fragrant cedar stood proudly in one corner of our tiny living room on the third floor of our rented apartment—the sliding balcony door (cold and drafty) was to the left and a tiny wood-burning fireplace (blazing away all day) was just across the 8’ expanse that was our ‘living’ area. Within a week after we had carefully and lovingly trimmed the tree with handmade ornaments and shiny red and silver balls, the shedding began!
Throughout the quiet nights, after the sparkling colored lights were unplugged, Bill and I could hear the tinkling sound of dry needles falling against colorfully wrapped packages. We did not believe what we saw after only three days of the nightly serenade—a Charlie Brown tree if there ever was one! The long faces of my two daughters were as sad as that little tree. It sat naked among a circle of gifts for two more days while we discussed a plan. Eventually we hoisted it up and over the balcony—with loud shouts of TIMBER, we watched the unfortunate little tree hit the concrete walk below, bounce once, and lie there among a fresh scattering of brown cedar needles. Tragic.
After that debacle, we headed to Kmart and bought our very first artificial tree. Note: We have owned almost as many of these manufactured plastic products as we did the 15 or so “live” trees we drug into our living rooms long, long ago. Note 2: They were never “live.”
So! Our Christmas decorating problems were over. Right? WRONG! Every year Bill and I have struggled to drag the big box containing our three-piece plastic tree from the attic, struggled to set the sections securely together, and to “fluff” the branches with their 6 or 8 individual stems. Multiply 6 x 90 equals about 540 of those scratchy little buggers I usually have to deal with. Bill just ignores them and starts fighting with the knotted strings of lights that were perfectly wrapped and tied the year before.
Yes. We did buy Pre-Lit Trees. Beautiful idea. Except about year two, when at least half the lights refuse to come on. Bill fights with the carefully glued on light strings and finally just buys a box of 300 and leaves the other burned out mess on the tree. I try to hide the dead bulbs with ornaments when we finally get around to trimming the tree.
And what’s with “Trimming “a tree? I mean, we trim the bushes, I get my hair trimmed, trim my water bill, Bill trims his mustache, you can trim your waistline, your toenails, paper, and fat off a steak. So all those have to do with taking OFF something, but “trimming a tree” means putting things ON. That is just weird.
Anyway, I love, love to decorate our trees. That’s right. One is not enough. We have a slightly bedraggled tree that sits in the corner of the dining area and upon which we bestow our most-loved gifted and handmade ornaments. Those glue and glitter mittens the grandkids made when they were tots. The patchwork hearts my mom sewed when I had “Wits End Antiques” in Sharpsburg back in the late 80’s.And every ugly souvenir ornament from just about everywhere we have ever traveled finds its place upon that tree. I highly recommend it. Bill and I spend hours over lunch talking about each bauble and what it means to us. I shed a few tears, sweet, melancholy tears, and eat my sandwich.
Another tree, a bit more elegant lives in the living room, in a corner by a window, so the lights can be seen from the street. It has white ornaments—hundreds that were made by Bill’s sister when she was working in ceramics and created sweet cherubs, different little angels for each year. Then she switched to beads (clear and pearl) for making icicles; yarn and lace angels grace the branches as well. I love watching people as they catch their breath, sigh and say, “That is so lovely.”
And then we put out the Nativity sets. Five or six. I can’t get enough of those either. I love Christmas. I love the Christmas story. Tell it often.

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