My most vivid memories of Christmas include my Mother. She always made it a very special time for us. To us she was Christmas. When we lost her when I was 12 each one of us took that part of her and hung on to it in our own way. My sister Pat is the over the top Christmas Queen in our family. For me, two things bring me right back to my childhood Christmases. First, the song “Silver Bells” brings me to my Mother’s side, and I can hear her singing it or humming. The other, is the Christmas tree…the very real Christmas tree.
We always had a real tree growing up. In my early teens I had to fight for it. My Dad had started to introduce the idea of an artificial tree. When I was 15 I lost that fight. I was devastated and stayed in the basement. Now, at that time I had a group of friends that hung out in my basement all the time. We did everything together and were pretty much inseparable. My friend Jimmy, who I have always called JQ, knew how upset I was. We were close and he just “got” what it meant to me. JQ walked to the closest place he could find a tree. It was in the lot of a local Church. Did I mention we were 15? We didn’t have our drivers licenses yet, so JQ dragged that tree all the way back to my basement. When he showed up with it one half was pretty much worn off, but, it was the most beautiful tree in the world as far as I was concerned. That night all the gang came over. Everyone brought leftover lights from their homes and stuff to make ornaments with. We spent the night making some pretty funny looking ornaments and stringing popcorn for the tree. It was a wonderful tree and I still have some of the ornaments.
JQ is one of those special friends that become a part of you and your life and you always have a connection with. He is like that for many people. It is his nature. In later years when I was ill and on my own, JQ would again show up on my doorstep with a Christmas tree (this time he drove it there so it had all its branches in tact) with his two beautiful little girls in tow. It was wonderful. Watching him set it up and the little ones helping him make it come alive. Over the next several years that became almost a tradition. JQ and his daughters would bring me my Christmas tree and decorate it. I have pictures of them with the finished tree every year that shows them growing up. I do hope JQ knows how much it meant to me that he helped keep my Christmas alive.
When Paul and I celebrated our first Christmas he knew the score right from the beginning. He had heard many times how JQ had saved Christmas. A tough act to follow, but, My Paul stepped up to the plate. He would scour the lots and always bring home the best tree for us each year. Until…
Yes, until, the year he was travelling through Texas and New Mexico with his daughter just before Christmas. He was on the phone every day promising he would be home in time to get me my tree. A funny thing happened that year. For some reason there was a shortage of Christmas trees in the US and Canadian trees were being shipped at a premium stateside. Newspapers and newscasters started talking about how hard it was to find a tree now. I started to worry, and told him he was going to have a hard time finding a tree. “Don’t worry. I always find you the perfect tree, I won’t let you down”. I’m sure he thought I was making it up until he arrived home shortly before Christmas and saw the headlines. Paul, being Paul, was sure he could still find me one. He searched and searched and phoned to tell me about his lack of progress. He decided he would have to bite the bullet and buy an artificial tree. He had no idea at the time the run there was on artificial trees because of the lack of real ones and he was starting to sweat. He knew no matter what he did he couldn’t win at this point. I remember it clearly, like it was yesterday. I had been in the edit suite all day finishing up Christmas promos.
Paul: I’m really sorry, but I can’t find a real Christmas tree.
Me: Did you think I was making it up? I tried to tell you.
Paul: So I went looking for an artificial tree.
Me: (eyes welling up) I don’t want an artificial tree.
Paul: Well there weren’t any left anywhere. But, I found this small tree at Canadian Tire. It was the last one. It is really pretty. It’s fiber optic.
Lots of silence…
Me: You bought me a fiber optic Christmas tree? (Crying ensued)
Paul: But it’s really pretty
Me: (suck it up he feels bad enough) OK, well at least I can put my ornaments on it.
Paul: (poor bastard) Ummm, no you can’t, you can’t put ornaments on a fiber optic tree.
Me: (more crying) OK, well at least I can put the angel Lorne (my boss) gave me for Christmas on it.
Paul: (poor, poor bastard) Well, actually you can’t. You can’t put anything on it. It is fiber optic.
Me: (a lot more crying).
Paul: (poor, poor, poor bastard)
The rest of the day I sniveled through and blubbered my way home, threatening to report him to JQ for anti Christmas activity.
When I arrived home he had set it up quite lovely. He stood beside it meekly, waiting. I cried. “That’s not a tree, that’s a psychedelic bush! That’s Ralph.” Note: I have this habit of naming things. And Ralph was the worse name I could think of. (That was before I had met my brother-in-law Ralph, who I like a lot, so sorry Ralph.)
People came and went over the Holiday season. They would come in and admire Ralph. Paul would smile triumphantly and I would explain that although it was a pretty thing, it was in no way a Christmas tree.
The Holidays ended and Paul went off on business again. Ralph remained in my living room. I put the rest of the decorations away, but this was Paul’s creature and he was to deal with it. I started reading this book called “White Christmas” by Jody Rosen . It was the story of how Irving Berlin penned the now famous & traditional song we all know and love. It tells the tale of the Russian-Jewish immigrant who wrote America’s yuletide ballad that would become the world’s all-time top-selling and most widely recorded song. Somehow, it struck a chord with me that if Irving Berlin could come to mean so much to those of us who loved Christmas, then so could Ralph. By the time My Paul returned home Ralph had become Irving and we had bonded.
Somehow, out of stubbornness by both of us, Irving stayed up all year long. On principle, I was still not putting him away. The truth is I didn’t want to tell Paul that Irving had become my confident and I talked to him all the time. The following year, Irving was a welcome member of our celebrations, and he was finally put away after the season. Irving continues to celebrate every Christmas season with us, but…
he is still not a real Christmas Tree.
Merry Christmas Everyone,