Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Ideals

It had to be Scotch Pine.

No spindly Spruce or Fir for us with their short needles. We always always got a Scotch Pine.

Long needles filled in the space between the branches so you could hardly see through the middle of the tree to the other side. Perfect for poking your hand when reaching to hang an ornament or crawling up under it to give it a drink of water. Those Scotch Pine needles could last well into Spring as we continued to find strays that had been missed by our rocket-shaped Electrolux canister vacuum cleaner.

After Thanksgiving we saw Christmas trees bundled and lined up in front of the 7-11. Tree lots popped up in vacant spaces along the highway. We might visit two or three places but often found ours at Wolfe Nursery. I breathed deeply, taking in as much of the woodsy scent as I could, running up and down the long aisles looking for one that wasn't too tall or too short or too crooked. Eventually, a winner was declared and carefully tied down in the trunk of our car for the trip to its new home.

Everybody had something to do because getting ready for Christmas was a big job. First, the bench had to be moved from its place at the living room's big picture window and put in the kitchen in front of the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. Then Daddy took down his big saw from the garage wall to take a little off the bottom of the tree so it could take in water and stay moist and green until Christmas was over. Getting the tree centered and fastened tightly into its stand was a group effort. Daddy held the trunk while Mother and Debbie told him which way to tilt it, and David and I crawled underneath to tighten the screws that held it in place.

Next, time to untangle the lights. Big red and green bulbs, some with star-shaped plastic reflectors. Our little blue and white record player sat on the bench in the kitchen playing Firestone Christmas records while we decorated the tree. Ornaments were sorted and hooks were ready and waiting. Icicles went on last. They took a long time if you did them properly, adding one at a time instead of throwing them on by handfuls.

White fluffy stuff that looked like sparkly snow was spread out on top of the piano. The nativity set went there when I was little. Later, I helped Mother fold magazines that were spray painted red, and Daddy drew faces for styrofoam heads and those choir dolls sang faithfully from the piano every year. (I still have them.)

Candles were set in their places throughout the house. At each end of the piano, on the coffee table and in each bathroom. Bayberry, cinnamon, sandalwood and sometimes vanilla or pine. When I was old enough, I got to light them. In the middle of the kitchen table, on either side of a little pink poinsettia Christmas tree, Mother put tall white candles that dripped all different colors. I watched them during supper to see which color would drip down next.

The front door got special attention, too. Daddy even changed the porch light to a spotlight to show it off for the neighborhood. One year we wrapped it all in bright red foil paper and made it look like a giant Christmas present. Another year, he made a big sign that said "Merry Christmas from the Dillards".

At some point in the process someone reached deep into the front closet to pull out a stack of the Christmas Ideals magazines that Aunt Fiesty sent every year and put them on the coffee table. I'd read each one and travel to mythical places where Christmas came with snow and children hung their stockings on real fireplaces and got sleds and puppies and kittens on Christmas morning.

Now, we're ready for Santa. Or the relatives, whichever comes first....

My mother, Marah Dillard, with our Scotch Pine tree, Christmas 1972