Monday, December 03, 2012

Christmas Trees, Past & Present


Last year, MY WIFE bought me a Christmas tree. It is silver and shiny and I love it.

There will be a photo later. In the meantime, here are a few past Christmas trees I've known and loved.




This is not my new shiny silver tree. This is a really old shiny silver tree. It belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa, on my Mother's side, and the first time I saw it, I thought they had both lost their marbles. My eight-year-old brain could not process the idea of a tree that wasn't green, smelling of pine, and otherwise real and traditional. I was a staunchly conservative eight-year-old. Anyway, there it was in their living room, with the only lights on it coming from one of those spinning disks of color (which is not seen in that photo, but here's one, anyway...)




Well, once I got used to my grandparent's weird aluminum tree, it was kind of cool and I looked forward to seeing it each year. Having such a thing in a house full of people who love you - and give you presents - will tend to make you like it more, I think. I've had fond memories of it for many years, but the last remaining vestige of the thing is the photo I showed you. The tree itself is long gone.






The person standing next to this somewhat odd-looking bush is Aunt Pat, my great aunt, sister of my grandfather on my father's side, a.k.a. Aunt Agnes to some others in the family. You may ask why she was Aunt Pat to me and Aunt Agnes to others. It seems that she didn't care for the name Agnes, and had decided that she would prefer Patricia. I never knew she had the name "Agnes" until I was a teenager, so she was apparently successful in convincing me that her name was Pat.

(Aunt Pat had an outstanding physical characteristic that I found utterly fascinating as a child. One of her eyes was a milky sort of light blue, while the other was hazel. This came about via an accident at the eye doctor. He mistakenly put ether into her eye and she was immediately blinded on that side, permanently. To show you the non-litigious nature of things in those days, she did not immediately sue him for everything he owned - which she no doubt would have had a chance at if she had sued - but instead just chalked it up to a human mistake and went on with her life. Can you imagine that happening now? No, neither can I, not even at Christmas.)






This Christmas tree was at my paternal grandparent's apartment in Roslindale. From the curtains, the wallpaper, and the date on the back of the photo, I'd say it was 1961.

One of the things I always liked about the Sullivan side of my family is that they were mostly not sticklers for symmetry. Whatever branches the tree came with would likely remain with the tree for the duration. Also, if a bigger clump of tinsel was on one of the branches than was on any of the others, so what? Live and let live (and if you don't like it, drink until you do) was the motto. Notice the clump of branches hanging over the doorway. Waste not, want not (especially when it comes to the drinks) was another motto.

(I don't want to leave you with the impression that they were a bunch of totally drunken inebriates. They weren't. They were wonderful people whom I dearly loved. Many of them did enjoy their alcoholic beverages, though, and that sort of pleasure does tend to bring out the beauty in sparkly things and perhaps lead to pinning up the trimmings over the door frame. For what it's worth, I think it's a lovely tree, and I'm disgustingly sober at the moment.)





From my childhood in Dorchester comes this photo of the best use for any tree, as a giant toy for a cat to play with. Another shot of the same thing...




I could watch that sort of action for hours at a time when I was a kid. Heck, I'd love it now. I'm still very easily amused.





A tree of more recent vintage, perhaps 1995. You'll notice that I took the classic Sullivan approach to things like trimming off branches and distributing the tinsel evenly.

Actually, I did prune this tree a bit. When I got it home, I discovered that it was too tall for our room. I had to cut about six inches off of the trunk. The problem was, the only tool I had to work with was a coping saw. If you're not familiar with what a coping saw looks like, here's a photo of one.



Notice the very thin blade. A coping saw is used to make intricate cuts in thin pieces of wood. It is not meant to take the place of a rip or crosscut saw, the types usually used to tackle such things as logs, which is basically what I was cutting. Also, a coping saw blade builds up heat very quickly and snaps very easily because of it.

It took me a good 45 minutes and I went through four blades. I think I lost two pounds in sweat and five years off of my life due to the aggravation. My hands were covered in pine resin and as sore as if I were a 112-year-old arthritic. Of course, I could have hopped down to the hardware store and bought a big cheap saw for about ten bucks, saving myself a half-hour, but where's the fun in that?





This was the year that we used Pointy The Poinsettia as our Christmas tree.

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't re-run that story yet, as is my wont, and instead only gave a link to it here. I hate to break the news this way to those of you who may be fans of Pointy and who hadn't yet heard the news, but Pointy, alas, is no longer with us. He went to poinsettia heaven, a couple of years back, due to a case of root rot. I had been so successful in anthropomorphizing him, even to myself, that I actually cried when I put his remains out for the trash pickup. Anyway, it just seems wrong to re-run the story, with its happy ending, since I know he's gone. What can I say? I'm a sentimental goof. It's still there at the link, though, if you want to read it.

My office manager, Kim, knew how I felt, so she gifted me with the altogether wonderful replacement, Simon Peter Poinsettia...



... who is, I'm happy to report, still living (but will not be the Christmas tree this year since I have a SHINY NEW SILVER TREE, which, yes, sooner or later I'll get to here.)





The Bunch O' Tree (trademark pending) from two years ago. Here are a couple of previous incarnations...






MY WIFE once worked in retail. She had an opportunity to snag five trees of varying heights that had been in window displays. For most of the past ten years, we've used those five trees (or random combinations of them) for our Christmas tree. But now, I've got a SHINY NEW SILVER TREE and I guess it's about time I showed it to you, so here it is!




I'm being deadly serious here. I think my new tree is THE most beautiful Christmas tree ever. Your mileage may vary, and that's allowed. I won't pop a gasket if you believe the best trees are green, smell of pine, shed needles, and present a better place for cats to play. For me, though, this is the one. And, since last year seems to have begun a semi-tradition of having family to our place for Christmas - if a tradition now entering its second year can truly be called a tradition - this tree is the TRADITIONAL tree and MUST make an appearance every year while the tradition continues. And so it shall.


Soon, with more better stuff.

28 comments:

Mariann Simms said...

I so love my aluminum tree...but my kids never allow me to put it up. My son said I could put it up this year...and because of your post here (which I'm going to show, btw)...I will have strength in numbers!

Woohooo! I think they are soooooo extremely festive. I love those things. But mine is a very old one - still in the original box, from the 1950s I'm sure. I don't have the tri-spinny light, tho - I typically just tape lights around the windowsill in back of it to get that twinkle thing going. :)

Michelle H. said...

We only have two Christmas trees this year: a small four-foot tree that if The Overlord grabs, it won't tip over and spill all ornaments and lights as she can drag it a few inches before I yell at her to not touch the tree. We also have a small foot and a half metal tree as a decoration with large fake candy canes and snowflakes. Not sure if we'll have as many as you.

joeh said...

I have gone from the live tree to be planted after Christmas, to the freshly cut at the tree farm tree, to the boy scout cut tree, to the artificial tree that takes 2 hrs to reconstruct every year, to my son's tree in Pa.

Maybe I should try a small alluminium tree.
Loved the "Trees from Christmas past"

Jeni said...

The trees that entered our house here when I was a child, growing up, were just about all sizes and shapes -some very misshapen -because they were hand picked from the woods around and not pruned to become a "Christmas Tree." So trees that have a bit of a strange shape to me are just as beautiful as those that are nicely pruned. Then, as an adult with my kids, we resorted to cheating and buying a fairly symmetrical tree -or at least tried to do that. The last several years, our tree is green but has no needles that shed and no piney scent to it either as it's an artificial tree which is fine by me. I eventually tired of cleaning up pine or hemlock needles for months after Christmas. Plus, if we'd had a real tree I never could have pulled off the stunt of leaving the tree up and completely trimmed too until the following Christmas season. (Saved myself a whole lot of grief, aggravation and time by doing that too, I must add.) This year should be interesting as we once again have a very daring little explorer living with us in the form of Tavie, our little grey kitten, who may just make mincemeat out of our tree and decorations for it too! Say some prayers that she doesn't do too much damage!

SueAnn Lommler said...

I loved our aluminum tree as well. Loved the color wheel!! Yours looks fabulous. Me...I dislike real ones...they shed terribly. And if you have carpet..yikes what a mess!!
Hugs
SueAnn

Buck said...

Some of this post has a ring of familiarity. ;-)

Your new tree is quite festive. I think the modern silver trees are MUCH better than the old aluminum ones, with which my parents had a short-lived fling. They did their aluminum tree up in a monochromatic scheme... all blue glass ornaments in various sizes. That was a one-year only endeavor; we went back to live dead trees the following year.

And then there's this... When I got it home, I discovered that it was too tall for our room. I had to cut about six inches off of the trunk.

We went out and cut our own tree on US Forest Service land when I lived in Oregon (mainly coz we were CHEAP: two bucks for a permit). One year my boss went along with us and INSISTED on cutting down this absolutely humongous tree, against his wife's, his son's, and other interested parties' protestations. So we get the thing back to his house and he cut MORE than a foot off the bottom, a little more (and MORE) off the top, and the thing STILL wouldn't go...

In the meantime his wife had made a quick surreptitious trip to the local Boy Scouts tree lot and returned with a suitable tree. That fit. The remaining middle third of the humongous tree was turned into decoration, similar to your pic of the doorway stuff. My boss made me SWEAR to never tell a soul about that, under pain o' death or worse. He was an ossifer and me a sergeant, so I complied. But I never let HIM forget that.

Craig said...

(*sigh*)

You're my friend, Suldog, so I'll mostly stifle my thoughts on the, uh. . . the. . . aluminum 'trees', nor the. . . (please, God, give me strength). . . (*cough*cheesy*cough*) color wheels. . . If they put you in the proper seasonally-festive mood (altho God knows how they possibly could. . .) (shut UP, Craig; you promised to be good!) (I know I did, but. . . good lord. . .) (You can do this. . .) ( *sigh* you're right. . .), then God bless you. . .

Truthfully, though, I can't exactly lay claim to the moral high ground here; when Jen and I were first married, we were at my parents' one Christmas, and happened to catch one of the after-sales and bought a little fake tree (a GREEN one), that we used for ten years or so. Then, when I was reunited with my birth-mother, she mail-ordered us a real tree for a few years (I didn't even know it was possible to mail-order a tree; taking delivery of the 7-foot-long box was a unique experience, lemme tellya). And that made me realize how much I missed that resinous pine-y smell, even at the cost of shedding needles. So we've had a real tree ever since.

Here in Michigan, Christmas-tree farming is actually a fairly big business. When I go out on my bike rides through the surrounding countryside, I'll ride past several farms, with acres and acres of neat, linear rows of conical evergreens, at graduated stages of maturity, from this year's new seedlings, which won't be harvested for a few years yet, up to some truly impressive 12-15-footers. The 80-footers that end up on capital and city-hall lawns are grown farther north (I happened to see one of those being transported on the freeway once, with the trunk tied to a pickup-truck's bed, and a little axle tied maybe 20 feet or so from the top. . .)

Tabor said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Now I really do have to get my husband off the couch to drag up our artificial tree...it is the 3rd of December already!

Daryl said...

you know what i love about the photo of the new tree? i can spot the card i made on the door there behind it .. new card in the works ...

haphazardlife said...

Love the silver tree. And the bunch of trees. I need a bunch of silver trees. That would be mega cool.

Uncle Skip, said...

I have know particular preference for either real or... not real trees [guess I blew that one, huh?].
We've had both.
We used to travel into the woods with friends and family to cut a live one. That was as much about the day outdoors as anything else.
Recently we've gone for trees from a corner lot. I would go to the High School FFA lot for a tree, but they cut theirs so early the things dry out even when the base is kept watered.
All of the paraphernalia came down from the attic yesterday. We may be kinda busy decorating. I'm not in the loop yet.

Uncle Skip, said...

Oh, yeah. Your new tree looks just fine.

Jackie said...

Love this post! Love Christmas...and trees!!
Is that a mail slot in the door behind the tree?
I've only seen those on television. Does your postman(woman) use it? So interesting...
Hugs,
J.

Jackie said...

P.S....and is that Fred Rogers' photo on your mantle? Love that!!!

OldAFSarge said...

Great post Suldog. Seems to me that a lot of us New Englanders have very similar historical (and hysterical) Christmas stories. Real versus artificial, green versus aluminum. I swear some of your photos could've come from one of my family's photo albums of Christmas Past!

Suldog said...

A few quick comments/answers...

BUCK said, "Some of this post has a ring of familiarity. ;-)"

I answer - Much of this MONTH will have a ring of familiarity. I tend to re-post stuff for almost the entire month of December. There may be an original or two, but mostly old favorites will be on the menu.

DARYL spotted her card (from last year) on the door. I hope some others of you did, too! And I hope the same folks - if not more - will help to fill out the door this year, thanks!

JACKIE wonders about our mail slot. Yes, it is one. I find it so surprising that you've never seen one in real life. They are as common as dirt in New England. The postman does use it, for the most part. And, yes, that IS an autographed photo from Mister Rogers on the mantle. Good eye!

Karen said...

It's beautiful!

messymimi said...

Benny Grunch has a song called, "I Could See the Aluminum Tree Through the Picture Window," that i think you would enjoy.

Karen's right, it is beautiful.

Barbara Shallue said...

I think silver trees are beautiful as long as they aren't in my livingroom. I think I told you before we had a silver tree when I was growing up (because real ones landed me in the ER with asthma) and I hated it. But sentimentalist that I am, I sure wish I had it now - or at least a photo of it!

lime said...

now you just need the multicolored rotating light to bounce off it! i'm kind of partial to your grove of 5 trees but i am glad you got your silver tree and it makes you so happy. as i type there is a naked tree in my living room. mr. lime and my daughter got it yesterday while i was gone. she was so excited because i told her she could pick it out this year and then my husband spent 2 minutes at the tree farm and announced this was the one they were getting. she was non-plussed. once i haul the decorations out i will let her decorate the thing if it makes her happy.

Kat said...

I like the 5 trees best, but I certainly will not tell you that a Christmas tree has to be a certain color, green or otherwise. That's racist. Or arborist. Or something.
Either way, I like your tree. :)

Chris@Knucklehead! said...

That "silver tree with the rotating colored lights" thing must've been popular back in the day, because my Grandma had the exact same thing going on. Unusual, but it was a tradition.

CLR said...

I love this post! What a great collection of trees over the years. I remember the silver trees with the colored light discs - I think my grandmother had one. However, I am completely fond of the tinsel. I adore tinsel! Such good memories of helping my Granny put the tinsel on her fresh cedars that we could go cut out in the Texas forests beside her house. This post brought back fond memories so thank you!

Ami said...

The tree IS beautiful... but I am feeling very inadequate right about now... not only do we have NO tree up, we have no gifts. And probably won't, we're too broke. I will give a bit of cash to my children of course, and something special to my hubby... but he doesn't like it wrapped. :)

I enjoyed your trip down memory lane, as I always do. :)

Hilary said...

I like any tree that's decorated with love.. from the elaborate to the Charlie Brown types. I'm certain there's no shortage of love in your silvery tree. Besides, I like shiny things. Need a cat?

silly rabbit said...

Ha! I think that the most wonderful or beautiful tree is the one that speaks to your heart.

I can't tell you how many trees in our home were felled by cats climbing them in a crazed moment of excitement. It got so bad that we began to tie the tree top to a hook in the ceiling. Of course we lost quite a few glass balls, but what the heck. It was funny to see how much that startled the cats.

Matt Conlon said...

You know, all my life I have never actually seen a different-than-green tree in person, save for at the store. I think it could very well be something that someone can do some amazing things with, aesthetically speaking... Still though, we go green...

I think it's funny that you name your plants, I do too. I had a ficus named Jerry, and an aloe plant named Floyd back in high school. They too went the way of the... dead plants...

I tried to save them, but couldn't get to the root of the problem. I guess it was their time to leaf.

Murr Brewster said...

You reminded me of how sad I thought old people's trees were. You know, when you go to the great-aunt's place or the old lady down the street and the place smells like medicine and pee and there's a pot of coffee on you can read the paper through and there's hard candies in a bowl, and the tree is a couple feet tall and sits on a table.

And now I can just settle for watching a Christmas tree on television.