Friday, December 23, 2005

in the matter of the tree, part 3

So it’s beautiful. But then, it always is.

1966: I set out in the cold, snow-covered, dismally poor Polish countryside, in search of a tree. I am staying with my grandparents in their village home and I am determined.

I find a small tree, ask a farmer to help me bring it home, where we make paper ornaments, my sister and I, adding them to the dozen glass ones we had kept from years ago. The entire project takes great effort. Most likely, more effort than is expanded by my Polish Christian friends who also have trees that year. For me, the tree has no religious symbolism at all. But it is beautiful and I want my childhood sugarplums even as my (parental-sibling) family is already beginning to unravel – a process that would continue even to this day.

2005: There is a gift under this tree, delivered earlier today by my summer real estate agent. It is somehow fitting that the first gift (one gift) should be from her. A Wisconsin girl, she brought a Wisconsin cheese and a Wisconsin wine. She sat down, looked around and said: this loft fits you. It is how I imagine apartments in Chicago look. A Midwestern girl, she thinks within a Midwestern orbit.

1999: When my daughters go off to college, the tree project is always accomplished on the day after Thanksgiving. They want time with the pine scent, with the colors and lights, with the feeling of sugarplums dancing before them. By Christmas week, when they next see the tree, the branches are turned down, brittle with the weeks of waiting for the daughters to return. I mist the needles with water, I check the base to make sure it is drinking and still it becomes dry, significantly so by Christmas Day.

I was thinking this year that I do not want my limbs to turn down, brittle from sitting quietly and waiting for my daughters to return home for a visit. When they come I should be fresh and peppy, having myself returned from somewhere just in time to greet them.

2005: With each year the daughters take on more of the project. Now, in their adulthood, they do it all. No, wait, we unwrap the toilet paper from each ornament and lay it on the table for them to pick up and place on the tree.

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No one is hungry this year during tee trimming, possibly because it follows dinner. Or is it because so much is different this year?

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I am the only one who has grown used to the loft. I have lived here now for four months. It feels like home. How does it feel to my daughters? Their dad?

When the tree first went up, earlier this week, it offered an intense scent. Unmistakable and pervasive, it alerted you to its presence. By now, the tree has adjusted. You could say it is part of the loft – it no longer feels strange to see it here and the fragrance blends into the smells of cooking and the freshness of its lofty environment.

Maybe this year’s Christmas tree project was the toughest after all. Or maybe what we are trying to do here at the loft as everyone gathers for the holiday is actually quite simple. Maybe the enduring nature of this project, which has survived our reshuffling, their moving out, my moving as well, maybe all this is why our tree this year is especially tall, beautiful.

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