Sunday, December 15, 2013

We Three Trees

Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you. I'm a tree nut. Not a professional arborist or even an amateur hugger. My love for trees is confined to one particular season and one particular tree: Christmas.

My first tree, aside from the gorgeous ones my mother and father always had when we were growing up, was tiny. And when I say tiny, I mean maybe 18-inches high, in a foil wrapped pot. It had a half-dozen lights, little red and gold gifts, and one wooden ornament, a rocking horse with the year 1984 delicately painted on its base. My then boyfriend's mother bought it for our shoebox of an apartment in the East Village. (In hindsight, I don't think it was technically a tree. I think it was a baby arborvitae, a fairly resilient shrub, eight of which now line my driveway.)

At any rate, this whet my appetite for bigger and better Christmas trees. The next year, I was living (alone) in a single, grand-scaled room on Beacon Hill. My kitchen was an alcove, my bathroom not much bigger, but I had 14-foot ceilings. Despite a lack of ornaments (I owned just the single one mentioned above), I bought an enormous evergreen and bribed some work friends to help me drag it up the hill to my apartment. I then started my tree-trimming party tradition. "Bring or make an ornament" the invitations read. Some people went all out with heirloom quality baubles. Others engineered odd configurations of matchbook covers, ribbons, seashells, and photos. One particularly artsy coworker made a ball out of wire and dangled a deer thigh bone from it. Sounds kind of gross, but it was actually handsome and dramatic. 

I kept and treasured everything.

Years went by; I acquired a much better boyfriend (who became my husband), a starter house, a puppy, a baby, and the larger home we have now. The annual tree-trimming party continued. In fact, in the past 28 years, we've cancelled only once because I was in the hospital with the world's most tenacious intestinal infection. Eventually, we had a second tree, then a third, then four of them. Eventually, we stopped asking for ornaments and partnered instead with a local toys for tots drive.

Did you stop reading when I mentioned four trees? I wouldn't blame you. I agree, it sounds like a lot. But, we live in a rambling antique house. The rest of the year, it's heavy on the shabby and less so on the chic. But, at Christmas, it is something out of a storybook or at the very least an issue of Victoria magazine. With decades of ornaments, we're able to create themes. The living room tree which sits in a bay window, pays homage to our coastal town with ships, shells, fish, and mermaids. The tree in our guest room is the most feminine, displaying angels, antique dolls, and garlands of blown glass pearls. Our dining room tree is predominantly red with an eclectic collection of Santas, Day of the Dead skulls, vintage toys, and dachshunds.

And then, there's my daughter's tree. We started with something fairly modest (she was only a year old when we moved here). It was covered in twinkling colored lights and teddy bears. A couple of years later, she requested a full-sized tree, pointing out that her room has the highest ceiling in the house (it was originally a separate building, brought to the site and added on at the turn of the last century as an artist's loft; she has an open ceiling with exposed beams). As her passions evolved, the tree eventually became home to a collection of fairies and then — of course — horses. We probably own every horse ornament ever made.

This time, as the holiday drew near, my daughter announced that she did not want a tree. No way. No how. "How about just a little one?" I cajoled. No.

As corny as it sounds, her decision broke my heart. Not literally in two, but it took a sizable chip off of it. I've always tried to create holiday traditions that she'll remember. Like our yearly trip to The Nutcracker with her grandmother, our "Christmas Eve Gift" contest, our annual party, and our multiple trees.

It's her room, she insists. It's her life. 

I try to act like it's no big deal. I must confess, I'm not very good at it. But, we move forward. We choose three trees; we put up three trees; we trim three trees. We are living in a time of rapid change around here. We are all (certainly my husband and I, but also my daughter) on a roller coaster countdown to the day she leaves for college. I know I let these small decisions she makes carry more weight than they should. I'm working on it.

What's the worst that can happen? She'll stand by the 'no tree for me' edict for the next two Christmases. Then she'll be off somewhere. Christmas will have new and precious meaning as I count the days until her holiday vacation from college.

And, there's a very good chance she'll come home to find a tree in her room.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

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