Melancholy Holiday

Today, 31 years ago, my Mom died.  This is a picture of her at age 8, with her Uncle George in Ballston Spa, NY.  One of my cousins shared this picture with me about 5 years ago.  I don’t recall ever having seen it before at that time.  My cousin told me that George apparently always had these pants that were too big for him, so the family invariably called him George ‘Baggy Pants‘ Burton.  

Her passing (to me) was one of those things that you’ll remember as long as you live, and of course, the day just happens to be the same one as when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I’m not going to relate the circumstances of her passing, that’s a story left untold.  I remember it vividly, that’s sufficient.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of her growing up and in her teens and twenties.  I do have a few pictures of her and my father, but the majority of the family pictures are with my brother, who, for whatever reason refuses to share them.  (Which admittedly is somewhat weird, since he is in denial about what sort of childhood he had with them and myself)  Consequently, I’m left with my own memories and a few pictures that I’ve had saved, as well as shared photos from my cousins who are still living.

Every year that goes by, I celebrate her birthday on July 14, recall my parents’ wedding anniversary on October 8, and of course mourn the date of her death, November 22.

I miss you every day Mom.  

Twelfth Night

I was talking to one of my co-workers today about some things, and happened to mention that once I got home I would be helping my wife un-trim the Christmas tree and get the ornaments and such put away for the year, in concert with ‘twelfth night’.  He said that he’d never heard of that, and rather than go into the whole Epiphany tale, I just said “you’ve heard of the song, “Twelve Days of Christmas, right?  This is an offshoot of that..”  He agreed in assent that he had (I mean, who hasn’t?) and that he was unaware that anything was attached to that, that had any meaning.  I merely smiled and said that it was a tradition both in my family and my wife’s family, and we’ve been keeping it in our marriage over the last 26 years.

On my way home from work this evening, I noticed a lot more Christmas trees out on people’s curbs than I normally have for the last week or so.  Certainly, the people next door (who rent, FWIW) have always had theirs on the curb the day after the holiday, as if they needed to get the tree down and out of the house just as soon as the presents have been ripped open and (in the kids’ case) played with.  I always thought it an odd thing to destroy the beauty of the holiday by sanitizing your house as soon as possible as if it was a necessity.   All the effort goes into decorating, and as soon as you can, get rid of it all?  Weird.

My wife and I had been discussing for the past several days about how and when to de-trim the tree.  It was already agreed that it needed to be done before tonight, but there’s a process to it all, considering the tree needs to be taken apart, bagged and lugged down to the basement, and the ornaments need to be situated in their respective boxes (although unbeknownst to me, she had purchased a new ornament storage box that needed to be assembled) and then lugged upstairs to the spare bedroom that we use as an ad hoc storage area.

Since she’s retired, she said she would begin doing it today, and then I came home from work I could do all the items that were in the taller range since the tree is 7 feet tall (2.13 m) and she’s at best 5’3″ (1.6 m).  True to her word, once I arrived home she had been working diligently since about 2 pm and had the tree pretty much divested of the majority of its decoration.  She was only missing a couple of balls (that she’d humorously christened ‘Jack’ and ‘Diane’) and needed a place for some of the larger decorations, and thereupon needed the new storage box mentioned above.

I built the box (pretty straightforward, it only needed to have the inserts put in and situated), brought it into the living room and commenced assisting her taking things off the tree, discussing which box then went into and so on.  The stockings were removed from the fireplace mantle, placed into the box they’d come from, and in about 45 minutes the tree was looking pretty bare once more.  The lights are my bailiwick since I’m the tall one and don’t require a ladder to put them on.

We’ve been using egg boxes to wind the lights around, it’s convenient and works well, the light strings don’t get tangled while in storage, and they’re easy to find.  My wife mentioned that perhaps next year we could get some new lights (LED ones?) and use them as they’re a bit more cost-conscious.  I mentioned we have several light sets I purchased a couple of years ago on sale at the local Kmart that were on clearance which we’ve never used.  While I’m fairly certain they’re not LED, they’re a bit newer than the ones we have presently and might be a good upgrade.  Since we used color lights this year instead of the clear ones in years past, she was pleased with the way that it looked, and said that we might do it again this coming year.  We’ll see how it all pans out 11 months from now.

At any rate, the tree is down, stowed away and the ornaments are back upstairs slumbering until Christmas 2020.  I do lament over the fact that I don’t have a lot of the ornaments that I grew up with, but I think they got tossed in the great move of 1992, and for that, I’m truly sorry.  In the future, perhaps I can move on from that debacle.  Still trying.

Twelfth Night is accomplished.  On to the doldrums of January.  Hurrah?

Nostalgia

On this last day of 2019, my thoughts are on the past.  Of nostalgia, of things I haven’t seen for many years and think of again.  This often happens to me the older I get, but last night I was looking on eBay for a tree topper, something to put on the top of the Christmas tree, since ours, while very festooned with ornaments and lights, is definitely missing something at the very top.

When I was young, living in the Hudson Valley, we got a real tree every November on the day after Thanksgiving.  My Dad would pile myself and my brother into the 1970 Oldsmobile station wagon (a yesteryear SUV) for the trip out to the Christmas tree farm in Milan.  Once there, we would park the car and take the purple handled crosscut saw up the hill into the trees to find the right one for us.  As I recall, it needed to be a Douglas Fir, as the needles on that particular type of tree would best accommodate our ornaments and it would be a good looking specimen situated in our family room in front of the bay window.  My Dad, standing six feet three inches, was able to easily measure using his height and his arm to get a feel for how high each choice might be since we had seven-foot ceilings in the house.  Too, we had to accommodate the height of the tree stand it was going to be sitting in, I have to admit Dad thought of everything in that regard.

My brother was always less interested in the nuts and bolts of the operation than I was, so I tended to stick closer to Dad while he was measuring and thinking.  John would wander off, talk to his friends from school whose families were also there doing the same thing, but I would have the saw, and Dad would be measuring and we’d converse about which tree was better, was it good to have one that was ‘perfectly conical’ or could we get away with one that was a little less so, so that it had character.

Once it had been decided which one, Dad would cut the tree himself in the early years, using myself or John to hold the tree steady as he cut.  As we got older, he would allow one of us to use the saw, after being sure we were of the understanding of how the saw best be used, safety and all of that.  Dad was a stickler for that sort of thing, definitely ahead of his time.  I expect that was because he grew up on a farm, and had seen more than his share of accidents when it came to carelessness, so he wanted to be certain his boys made it to adulthood with all ten fingers and toes.  I always marveled about how heavy the tree was after it had been felled, dragging it down the hill and back towards the car.  Dad would pay the manager of the tree farm (in the early years it was $10-15, in later years before we stopped going it was about $25 per tree.  The tree farm is still in operation today and they’re charging $75 for the same trees, mostly because of people from all around the area, sometimes as far away as NYC and CT desire natural trees for their Christmases) and would spread out the canvas drop cloth, rolling the tree in it for the trip home.

After that, he would lift the tree up, and with my and John’s help, we’d manage to get it into the station wagon, though with the treetop sticking out the window in the back of the vehicle, rather than trying to stuff the entire six and a half foot tree inside.  Usually, it would be a fairly cold ride home, with the tree base sticking pretty close to the front seats, and either John or I sitting in the back holding onto the tree so it wouldn’t slide one way or the other and bang into Dad as he was driving.

Once we got home, Mom would have a pot of hot water ready for the tree, as well as hot cocoa (with marshmallows!) made on the stove for all of us to have.  Dad would go down to the basement, (or send me down) to get the red and green tree stand so that he could settle it on the base and using a mallet, pound the stand onto the base of the tree.  At that point, the tree and stand would be lugged into the backyard, then to the screened porch to be muscled through the door and set up to wait a couple of weeks until the time came for it to be brought into the house and be decorated.  The hot water was poured into the tree stand, to infuse the tree and assist it in continuing to ‘live’, otherwise, the tree would begin to die in earnest, the needles would turn brown fairly quickly and we’d have a dead tree by Christmas.

Getting back to the tree topper I had been searching for, over the last couple of years I’ve been looking on places like Etsy and eBay for one similar.  A couple of times I’ve found one, but never ‘pulled the trigger’ in getting it.  Every year my wife and I tell one another that we’re going to get one for the next year, but we never do.  This year, I got a Lenox snowflake ornament for one of her presents, and we put that at the top of the tree in place of that something else that’s always missing.   Perhaps this year I’ll take the plunge and get something to ‘finish the tree’.  Perhaps.

Anyway, this is the last post of 2019.  Tomorrow starts another year.  I wonder what that year will bring?