SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 7, 2013

Column: One last thought on Christmas

Regina Robbins Flynn
The Salem News

---- — It happens every year.

I hate it.

I have to take down the Christmas tree.

I have loved each and every tree, and I am always thankful and grateful that there are people on this Earth who have farms of Christmas trees and that they sell one to me every year. I usually try to find a charitable organization that peddles them — for years, the Salem State hockey team (or was it the soccer team) sold them and I’d always go there, but then they stopped. This year, I gave my money to the Boy Scouts, who handily put the tree on top of my car, and off I drove home, happy to know that I had secured a lovely, full tree.

We put it up in the living room in front of the sliders that go onto the deck, and this way when people drove by the house, they could see the tree full of colored lights and pretty ornaments. I’d walk the dog in the backyard at night and wondered what people thought when they saw our tree.

When I was growing up, my father would wait until Christmas Eve to buy a tree. He always brokered a deal with the poor guy there on the lot on a darkening Christmas Eve afternoon, telling the man that, “you know this just might be your final chance to sell this tree.” My father stood holding the last dregs of the Christmas tree pickings. This drove me nuts.

Earlier in December, I’d note our neighbors with trees already in their living rooms, all decorated, and here my three brothers and I were in our house without anything to look at to remind us that Santa was on his way. It could be November or February for all the lot of us knew. I’d worry that one time we’d go out and there wouldn’t be any trees left at all and that the magical reindeer and their boss would just pass us by.

Finally, the tree guy would relent and let my dad and his four frozen kids have the tree for little money. I suppose this exchange was for my father, part of his very own private Christmas ritual that brought him some amount of cheer, but for me not so much. As well, then we’d get the hapless thing home and in the stand, and we’d have to twirl it around and around to decide which side was the least damaged.

My dad would put the lights on (you have to do this first, as I would remind my daughters in years to come), and then my brothers and I would follow with the tinsel (another thing I hated) because my father would make us put it on piece by piece. “It’s supposed to resemble frozen icicles,” he tried to explain. Yet the second he’d walk into the kitchen for a snack or to talk to my mother, I’d take a fistful of the terrible and tedious stuff and just throw it at the tree, not caring where the phony-looking silvery strands landed.

For a couple of years, he purchased cotton from the pharmacy in town and would carefully place it on the branches to have it resemble snow. This took hours, and as I sat on the stairs watching him, waiting not so patiently with a box of ornaments in my lap, I resolved never to put cotton on any future tree that I might purchase weeks in advance of the holiday in my adult life. Along with the false dazzle of tinsel, I hated this counterfeit snow.

When I had a family of my own, the tree always purchased well in advance of Christmas, every morning as I came down the stairs to start breakfast, I’d first plug in the tree. And I’d step back and smile and revel in the glory of all that green, all the merrily colored lights. I’d come home from teaching and my afternoons of carpooling and the first thing we’d do is plug the tree back in, and it wasn’t until I was about the climb the stairs for bed that I’d turn it off.

So today the tree is at the curb, and I can’t even bear to look at the empty place now in front of the sliders. The ornaments have returned to their tissue-paper homes and placed in storage yet again. The angel made in kindergarten from a clothespin, the wooden sailing ship, the porcelain moon a former boss gave me, the birds, the beaded butterflies given to me by my girls, the fish from an old boyfriend, ah, the memories that each one represents. And when I drive down the block and note the trees on the curb with tinsel, I think to myself, oh, those poor kids.

And again to the tree, and to the growers of such trees, my many, many thanks.

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Regina Robbins Flynn is a Salem resident and former city councilor.