Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 1999

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS / L’Observateur / December 18, 1999

Christmas excitement at our house shifts to high gear as soon as the last load of Thanksgiving dinner dishes hits the rinse cycle. My daughter’s eyesdance with excitement as she asks when we can get the Christmas tree.

We stave her off as long as we can, but there is usually a tree in this house by the first week in December. The process of getting a tree iscompletely different from my own recollections of the Christmas Tree search.

Our entire brood would descend upon a tree place. Trudging through theslush, we would follow my mother like ducklings from tree to tree as she bargained with the poor salesman as if it was some sort of Mexican bazaar.

She could do this because we usually didn’t buy a tree until Dec. 23. Thetree places, at this point, were anxious to get rid of any tree, although probably not as much as they wanted to get rid of my mother.

My husband has his own Nightmare Before Christmas. It involves the treeand the tree stand. He remembers the torture his father and later heendured at the hands of his mother who insisted, about a hundred times, that the tree was not straight. This year our tree has a definite list to theright, but I simply haven’t the heart to make a grown man cry at Christmas.

While Dad is outside flexing his physical and psychological muscles on the tree and stand, I’m working up the nerve to tackle the Christmas box, which is the weight of more than a dozen elves and is perched high in the very back of a closet.

The excited children watch as mom makes like Gumby, stretching herself better than any rack could do it. We all hope there is no avalanche, andthey wisely move out of the way as the box comes down with a loud thud.

Thankfully, Mom is not under it.

Dad comes grumbling in, muttering something about his mother, but he is nevertheless victorious. The tree has succumbed; it is obediently wearingits stand as he drags it, shedding through the house, to it’s rightful spot.

The box is open, the Christmas music is blaring, the dog is rooting for the tastiest ornaments.

We unearth the large, gnarled ball of Christmas lights, and Dad gets nostalgic as he recalls the tree of his youth, loaded with tacky bubble lights. I had never even seen these lights until our first Christmastogether, when he sadly confided that they were no longer made. I fakedsympathy the best I could.

Comforted by the belief that those lights would fade to extinction, I began to entertain images of a “classy” tree like the ones in magazines, with the twinkling white lights. Then one day a few years ago my husband blew intothe house, grinning from ear to ear, announcing that he had found bubble lights! THEY WERE BEING MANUFACTURED AGAIN! He looked like a boy of 7 as he stood there holding a lifetime supply of bubble lights. My visions of the “magazine tree” with delicate twinklingwhite lights faded quickly, which is as it should be. Our Christmas treehas become a family history, with schoolmade ornaments and gift ornaments of special meaning. We seem to have amassed quite a collectionof these treasures, which Mom places on the tree, since the kids quit as soon as they’ve gone through the box.

The decorating process is not complete until someone places Dad’s special ornament in the tree, but out of sight. This heirloom is ancient, tarnished,metallic off-blue plastic and resembles a spaceship from an intergalactic horror film. It was on his tree 40 years ago, and he wants to pass it on toour kids.

It is finished, and I have to admit I love it. It is his tree, my tree, our tree.The fluffy tail of our large pooch sends all low-hung ornaments flying across the room, and I realize it is even his tree, too.

As I stand there admiring it, Christmas music blaring in the background, I still don’t understand why everyone drinks eggnog for this event, but I do know why they spike it.

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