Sunday, January 13, 2013
For years, every December I would think of buying a living tree from some nursery, or just a tinny-tiny little one that could fit on my kitchen table. I remembered the History Channel special that described the winter tree as a pagan ritual, but I also remembered my mother’s threat to me and my sister:
“I hope you know that when I die I’ll be looking down at you from heaven and if you ever have a Christmas tree, I’ll be very disappointed.”
My sister was so small standing behind me. We seemed, the three of us, illuminated by a bright stage lamp used in theater productions.
And each time I thought of getting a tree, as I drove past the lots, I would caution myself. After all, did I really need to spend $20 on a tree?
Today I walked into the lot. Something had come over me, some type of determination that could not be swayed by price, or dire warnings, or the guilt of a thousand generations.
The small lot was rich with the sweet-sour smell of northern fir. Children ran between the rows of towering trees and young couples holding each other close for warmth stood by while their chosen tree was assembled with base and stand.
Looking around I knew that these were common memories for them all- people who had picked and decorated their trees every year, memories that began before they could form words. For the children, they would perpetuate the tradition. One day these children would bring their own children to these lots, and they would watch as they ran and played and hid behind the cut, fragrant giants.
I stood virgin to them all, wondering if they could perhaps sense my alien nature, my shinning brightness that had no precedent.
A big black man with an African accent stood beside me as I pointed to the two foot tree.
“I’ll take that one.”
The narrow trunk ended at a wooden “x” which was nailed into the bottom, allowing the tree to stand upright.
“So I just put this whole thing in a bowl of water?’
He looked at me with a perplexed look. “How are you going to do that?”
I imagined a very large bowl but was unable to bring it out into the open.
“I don’t know,” I said smiling a little nervously, “I’ve never done this before.”
“You never had a Christmas tree before?”
“No,” I said smiling, shaking my head.
“I don believe it. You need a bowl,” he said authoritatively.
He took the tree from my hands and used a hammer to knock off the wooden cross it stood on, then attached a plastic bowl and another wooden “x” below it held together by a single nail.
As I walked out of the lot holding the tree in front of me like a giant gift finally attained, a wide, somewhat guilty smile on my face, a feeling of happiness and a rush of energy overtook me.
I felt as if people could tell. Did they see the obvious clash of symbols with my Semitic nose? I was not supposed to be holding one of these. No matter how much Brandon Tulley tried to persuade our Hebrew school teacher twenty-five years ago, there was no such thing as a Hanukkah bush. I could hear my mother’s warning through the day: "not even dead."
I spent the next few days decorating the tree with small shells and pearls and beads from my collection. A ribbon of bright green sequins wrapped around its trunk. This was the tree I was not born to have, yet it was here, atop my small fridge.