Brenda and I have been together for 20 Christmases. For all but one of them (a no-tree year when we were moving), I have done my husbandly job of rassling the fresh-killed tree into and out of the car, waltzing the thing into the house like it was some giant, cruel eye-gouging doll, then hitting my big crescendo by putting on the lights. (The lights are my job because they involve electricity, which can mean sparks.) Our trees have always been multicolored things, with some big lights, some little lights, some bubble lights, some goofy lights, and a mix of old and new ornaments in many styles, including a tube from one of my old guitar amps. We are not theme-tree people.
When I was a kid, we always took our spent tree out to the swampy part of our backyard on New Year’s Eve and set it on fire. I’m here to tell you that a flaming Christmas tree is just like a giant blowtorchit burns so fast it whooshes, like a jet taking off. Add to this the fact that I am genetically programmed to expect the smallest foul-up to mushroom into a history-making cataclysm, and stringing the Christmas tree lights becomes, in my mind, something that requires advanced technical know-how and the touch of a microsurgeon.
I started surrendering my light turf, though, in 1984, when we lived in New York. We had bought a fourth-floor co-op, and I wasn’t the least bit attached to the building (couldn’t really call it a house). In fact, I was not attached to anything in New York, except for Brenda. I was truly homesick, and besides the real physical ache to get back to the land of the free iced tea refill, I had a strong urge to burn some bridges. So, when Brenda said, “OK, put the lights on the tree,” I said, “Nah. Let’s put on some real enough candles. Light ’em up. Celebrate big time.” I begged fate, but fate was busy that Christmastime in New York, and it ignored me. This loosened me up a little bit and made me depart from my rigid ways. So I quit my job, and we headed back to Nashville.
Around Christmastime ’87, we started talking about wanting a baby. We waffled, we fretted, we considered, we decided not to decide. But on Jan. 5, 1988, somewhere around 4 a.m., Brenda sat straight up in the bed and said, “I’m quitting the management job, and I want to have a baby.” I said fine. Christmas ’88, we posed baby daughter Jess under the in-laws’ tree in South Carolina.
In December ’93, I had what I thought was bronchitis, but it turned out to be pneumonia. Still, I went to the backyard, cut down a spruce tree and fought it into the house. Then Brenda got a sinus infection. That tree never really got decorated; Brenda just put on the ornaments that people gave us as gifts. Last year, all three of us had ugly colds in December. When we started thinking about it, we realized that Brenda, Jess and I all got wheezy about the time the tree came in, and we all got well as soon as the tree went out. A neighbor told me, “Y’know, a whole lot of people are allergic to Christmas trees.”
So, Brenda, being a health-care professional, said we had to do what we swore we’d never do and get a fake tree. Now, a fake tree is hardware, and that’s my department. But I didn’t have time to go shopping. My only input on this tree deal was when I told Brenda, “You know that tree the Grinch has that he just folds up like an umbrella and slams into his sack? I want one of those.”
So Brenda went to the fake-tree store and learned all about hook trees and hinge trees, plastic trees and silk trees. (Which contain no silk. Ain’t that America?) Turns out the Grinch-umbrella hinge trees look too fake even for a fake tree. So, in our living room, there now stands a silk hook tree. Fire-resistant, hypo-allergenic, so real it sheds from its color-coded branches. Right now, Brenda’s got the fake fireplace going, the Roches’ Christmas CD playing, and she’s stringing up the lights, all by herself.
Looks like I’m down to assembling the toys.
Walter Jowers can be reached at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com