A huge shock of my late teen years was to make the annual pilgrimage to my grandparents’ West Virginia home to find…an aluminum Christmas tree in the living room. My very bright, stern but rational grandmother had her reasons.
That was a betrayal on numerous levels. Yes, yes, it was her home, but it was also mine. I moved every few years throughout my childhood. A constant was summers and holidays in the eastern panhandle of WV, now known amusingly as the Potomac Highlands.
Among the state’s abundances are mountains and trees, lots of evergreens. In fact, the small house itself sported two gigantic blue spruces that were wee when my grandfather planted them or his three then tiny children. He still decorated them with those old-style big light ropes. Inside we always had a fresh local tree. I remember going with family fried and relative by marriage old Charlie Long to cut a tree from his land. That was back in the days when you changed a pickup truck to four-wheel drive by hitting the hubs into position with a hammer…by cracky. Charlie was older than Granddad but he still liked Christmas trees and was delighted to help me pick, cut and load one.
It turns out Baba, as my older sister had named our grandmother, had been plotting all those years. When the grandkids were in college, the new living room order would take charge.
Note that she had had her way with the heating system a few years before. Her children and then grandchildren had grown to big sizes with a coal furnace. The work fell to her husband, then her son, then to me. Of course, I did not enjoy lugging the gigantic galvanized cans of slag and powder remains to the curb. Likely the trash guys didn’t like their role either. I did like, no love, stoking the furnace. It was a fair dragon, with roaring mouth of flame and heat begging for more food. I was happy to oblige.
When she could Baba badgered her husband into converting to a very tame gas boiler. Boo.
Her underlying motivation though was simple. she never liked the faint smell of the coal heat in the vents. She absolutely hated cleaning off the faint gray smudges above the living room vents that appeared after a month or two of heat.
Honestly, killing the dragon for a few wisps of residue?
It turns out the Christmas tree ran afoul of similar sins. Her children, grandchildren and husband had always provided and mounted the tree. We had climbed into the attic and retrieved the balls, tinsel and lights. We had decorated to the sweet and dreadful strains of Lawrence Welk and other seasonal shows providing carols and show tunes of the season.
Baba, however, was affronted by violations of her space.
Worst was the profusion of needles. On the wooden floor, on the carpet and rugs, in the presents, somehow spreading like hair from some gigantic green cat. There was also the tinsel…Granddad had to have tinsel on the tree. It too seemed to reproduce and leave spoor even beyond what we had purchased and draped.
Apparently in a curtain lecture, she had let her husband know that when we were all in college, there’ d be no more living, shedding trees in her very own living room.
Baba’s folly aside, in our 35 years in Boston, we have had trees. We are down to two of our three sons — one is off on that other coast and a father himself — living with us. We have decorations that go waaaay back. My late mother-in-law Sylvia made us a pottery creche. My late mother for years bought personalized ornaments for her grandsons. Our sons produced their own ornaments at preschool. Friends have brought tree baubles which we hung and maintain.
The tree above from last year is typical of our garish display. It includes numerous strands of NM chili lights too.
One son is off visiting his ridge-runner fiancée this holiday. The first son spent Thanksgiving with us including his wife and toddler. He’ll be with his in-laws for Christmas. Yet the three of us have the non-metallic evergreen yet again. We have made one concession, dialing it down a notch from roughly 8 feet to maybe six and one-half. I’m not sure we can jam all the ornaments and lights on. We shall try.