December 7, 2009

I have this crazy love of Christmas trees.  I love the evergreen smell, untangling lights, pulling ornaments from their wrappings and remembering who made them or gave them to me.  It may be that I’ve never gotten over the wonder of bringing a tree indoors that I felt when I was small, or that the sights and smells of the tree bring back a rush of warm and fuzzy family memories that I know are one of my greatest treasures, but I get a wee bit high from it all, truth be told.

Dad and I used to drive up to the mountains and bring our tree home.  It was fun (and relatively rare) father-daughter time.  One year we brought back five trees (we were hunting them for a couple of neighbors as well), but we hiked quite far back and up to get them, and ended up rolling the trees down steep mountain slopes and then finding places where we could slide down on our butts after them.  It was crazy and cold and some of the best fun I’ve ever had in the snow.

My junior year in college was spent in England, and while staying with a friend’s family in Leeds for Christmas, I was relieved and happy that they hadn’t decorated their tree yet, that I could help.  My friend and his mother watched my enjoyment with some bemusement.  I think to them it was something of a chore, usually, but here was this crazy American who not only couldn’t pronounce her t’s but who couldn’t stop smiling at this tree in its bucket of sand and insisted on decorating to holiday music.  The tree was not the most notable part of that holiday, but it was a good part, a part that helped me feel at home in a strange place.

Then there was the time I helped a dear friend put a tree up in her apartment.  We wanted to give the trunk a fresh cut so it would stay green longer, but by the time we purchased the tree the hardware stores were all closed, and there were no saws or axes to be found.  So we sawed away at that tree with a bread knife (well, it was serrated, at least).  By the time we’d managed to whack a chunck of the tree off, that tree had been named motherf***r and we had laughed ourselves silly.

Last year we put the tree up as an act of defiance, as a way to stave off some of the darkness, as a distraction and an attempt to find solace.  I played holiday music, but had to keep changing it whenever the songs started making me cry. Some day soon we all will be together, if the Fates allow is hard to listen to once you’ve realized that the Fates won’t, in fact, allow.  It was not without some happiness, that Christmas, but the happiness felt stretched thin and sometimes forced.  The best thing about Christmas last year, now that I look back on it, may have been that it wasn’t as bad as we’d feared.

N’s Christmas memories are not my warm Christmas memories, and it means a lot to me that he encourages and even soaks up some of my enthusiasm for the holidays, perhaps especially now that my enthusiasm is tentative and not always apparent.  When he proposed that this past Saturday would be tree day, I had the pleasant shock of realizing I was happy (with something resembling my old Christmas tree-induced happinesses) at the idea of putting up a tree again.  We spent parts of Thursday and Friday digging through our boxes of still-packed CDs, trying to find the holiday music (it was in the bottom of the very last box, of course), and then toured our town’s tree lots Saturday afternoon, finally selecting a lot and then a tree.

Our tree comes from Oregon, about 30 miles out of Portland, we were told.  About 30 miles from where Teddy was born.  It smells like we’ve brought a fir forest into the house, and drinks a lot of water (a good sign in a tree).  I strung it with lights and ornaments, and this year I let myself cry along to the Christmas music.  While hanging up pipe-cleaner candy canes I sobbed along to James Taylor and then I sang along to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” While hanging up ornaments made by my grandmother, I missed my boy like crazy and wished with all my heart that he was here to receive ornaments from his family, that he could be here for this – for the tree, for the lights, for the love that is still and always his.  And while sweeping up needles, I caught my breath and tried to take it all in, that this is my crazy, bittersweet, hopeful life, that every tree from now on will be at least a little bit about Teddy and how I miss him, and that this is okay.



  1. I loved this post. You’re so right-
    “every tree from now on will be at least a little bit about Teddy and how I miss him, and that this is okay.”

    You make me want to throw out my artificial and get a real tree again…

  2. this is beautiful erica. the pain and the joy mixed all together. the memories and the longing for teddy. he will always be apart of every tree and every christmas. wish he were there to get ornaments too.

  3. Also wishing I had a real tree. Your writing is so evocative, I can almost smell Christmas tree.

    I seem to find quite a lot of holiday music has a sad little twist to it now.

    I wish that Teddy was with you and N, enjoying the tree and the lights. But especially all that love. xo

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