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Do you have an artificial or real Christmas tree?

When I was growing up, we always had cedar trees. They were my mom’s favorite – she would mix Lux flakes to carefully coat the branches, giving the illusion of snow, then wrap the tree in colored lights and add ornaments. The finishing touch? Separating packaged icicles (foil in those days, not the plastic ones we have now) and hanging them one by one on the tree branches.

Daddy always cut our trees and some of my favorite memories were going with him to find the one that was just right. It took a while: had to be tall enough, had to be full, had to be the right shape. I remember one Christmas when the tree we chose wouldn’t fit into the house. Daddy cut the top out of the cedar and used baling wire (after all, duct tape and baling wire can fix anything) to try to give it some shape…and he did! That tree was forevermore known as the Christmas bush! Mother was not happy. Her last real tree was some years later: they were living in Savannah where Daddy was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield. The two of us went off in search of a tree. Daddy may have consumed an adult beverage. Or two. Or three. He chopped down a tree, then decided it was too small, and chopped down another. Mother was not happy when we came home with both, but in true Mother fashion made the best of the situation. She decorated the little tree with salt dough ornaments, the first and only time we made them. The next Christmas she bought an artificial tree.

In the early 1960s my grandmother Nammy, who was always ahead of her time, had an aluminum tree. She decorated it with blue ornaments and my brother Bill and I were fascinated as the shiny tree turned from green to red to blue to yellow and back to green again, thanks to the color wheel sitting nearby. The bows on the presents were anything but traditional – she made neckties from ribbon for the men’s presents and the ones that looked like ribbon candy for the girls. She also bought my siblings and me the same thing, so if we opened one early, we would know what everyone was getting. I remember one Christmas when our present was a purple corduroy robe. My sister Karyn and I snuck the box in the bathroom to carefully open it so we didn’t tear the paper – the robe was wrinkled, so we snuck the iron and ironing board in to press them before we re-wrapped!

I always went for real trees. I would load my kids up in Daddy’s little yellow LUV truck and off to the lot we’d go, belting Christmas carols as loud as we could. Okay, that was me. The two of them would duck down and try not to be seen. The downside to real trees was my kids’ allergies to evergreens. I told them that sinus infections and bloody noses were just a part of the holiday season. My mother finally guilted me into buying an artificial tree when they were teenagers.

Karyn was the champion of tree decorators. My trees were always decorated in a more traditional style while hers were more trendy and glamorous. She took weeks and weeks, hot glue gun in hand, to get hers simply perfect, magazine worthy. It was not unusual for her to start at Halloween, sometimes even earlier. The presents under the tree were wrapped with just as much care and craft. She was an artist and it showed in everything she touched.

I don’t like to decorate Christmas trees. That was my mom’s job. I go overboard with the rest of the house – looks like someone sprayed the place down with the holly-jolly firehose – but

trees? Please don’t make me! When we made this house into our own in 2009, I had a closet built just off the living room to store my fully decorated Christmas tree! Roll it out, plug it in, good to go. I bought a new tree that year and Karyn decorated it, then a bigger tree in 2018 and once again Karyn decorated it for me. She said it was a joint effort, but it was really her

doing – I just put the hooks on the ornaments.

My contribution has been adding four ornaments each year: a Santa, a personalized ornament for each of my granddaughters, and a personalized family ornament with little heads and the year for each of us. Adjusting as our family size has changed was easy – until this year. Karyn died in March and the thought of Christmas without her has been unbearable. I wasn’t going to order a family ornament, just couldn’t do it without her, but at the urging of my daughter-in-law Sabine Pleasure I did. She’s going to turn Karyn’s “head” into an angel.

She's with us still.

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