Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Tannenbaum

Every year I secretly lust for a fake Christmas tree, and I would have bought one years ago if I could convince The Oracle that he'd get sufficient evergreen fragrance from a wreath.

Today’s fake trees are almost like two- or three-part umbrellas. Pre-lit umbrellas to boot. Boom, boom, boom, the tree’s together and you’re ready to decorate. Wowwwww…

When I was a kid, we had a monstrous seven-foot-tall, mega-fake, bottle-brush tree. My mother proudly bought it off the Sears floor (it was displaying ornaments) for something like $25 when I was very, very young. I wonder if it’s possible that we had a fake tree before fake trees were common.

I had a love-hate relationship with that tree. My youngest memories, of course, involve being lifted up by Daddy to put the angel on top (and the angel was later devoured by our puppy in 1971) and goggling at piles of booty beneath it that stretched endlessly across the living room floor. The tree was always tottering on a too-small stand in our living room, ready to topple over at the slightest insult.

Every year my mother oh-so-carefully picked off and preserved every scrap of tinsel from the tree. She believed that saving the tinsel meant that your family would be together every Christmas. I think my mother possessed some scraps of long-since-banned lead tinsel up into the early ‘80s if not longer.

When I hit my teens, it became my job to assemble the tree. What a chore! The easy part was getting the “trunk” and the stand together. The trunk was a two-piece pole, maybe 2” in diameter (if that much) drilled full of holes. The only difficulty here was getting the three pairs of eyes (at least) to agree that it was perfectly perpendicular to the floor.

Our tree had to have each individual branch inserted into the trunk. There were a gazillion branches. What a horrible process. The branches all looked basically the same, like three- or four-pronged bottlebrush forks ranging anywhere from 12 inches to three feet in length. Each size was lamely color coded with a smattering mostly-rubbed-off paint on the bit of the branch that stuck into the trunk.

It went something like this:

Sort branches by color code (and there were always two or three “mystery” branches with no color.)

Arrange them by size (no easy feat when they’ve been bent and squashed like Mr. Bill to fit in one big refrigerator box).

Start filling up tree holes. “At last!” you say. Not so fast. There were two schools of tree-assembly thought: The Top to Bottom fillers and the Bottom to Top. I was a Bottom to Top and bickered with my Top to Bottom sister about the whole process. Truly, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to crawl around on the floor to stuff the last branches into the bottom of the tree when it was so much easier (and much more dangerous) to stand on a kitchen chair to cram the giant bottlebrush cluster into the top of the trunk.

Then there were the trunk holes. After X years on the Sears floor and another fifteen at my mother’s, there were many where the wood split downward at the opening and the branch sagged or fell out completely. Luckily, you had a few choices:

You could bend the branch to compensate.
You could tie the branch to an upper branch to compensate.
You could support the branch by duct taping it to the trunk to compensate.
You could get sick of compensating and drill the stupid trunk holes deeper.

I tried every method. Every one, and I’m amazed I didn’t drill through my blinkin’ hand when I hauled out my stepfather’s drill and increased the depth of every bleepin’ hole. I'm surprised I knew how to properly operate a drill. I don't know if I still do.

The duct tape worked best, by the way. I should’ve known.

Well, finally I’d get all the branches on, look at the naked green-painted wood of the tree trunk and remember that big bag of bottle-brush circles that were supposed to go between the colored sections of branches. Shazbot! If my mother wasn’t watching, I’d slip the circles back into their basement box.

Every year when the tree came down, I painstakingly organized the branches by size and color and wrote a detailed list on which branches/colors went where. It took me several years to get smart and tie the colors together before putting them away. The new list always went into the box with the tree parts, but every year it vaporized into thin air by next December so I’d have to repeat the entire process.

Yet I still cried when my stepfather Dumpster-ed that tree after he sold Mom’s house.

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