Sunday, December 23, 2007

Storytelling - A Family Tradition

As if a lengthy Christmas letter did not sufficiently pack the envelope, about ten years ago I began to add on an original 'Christmas Memory Story.' This is the first of those stories from 1998.

A Christmas Memory

Trees used to be fresher. The pungent aroma of Christmas evergreen could be recognized upon entering the front door. In my girlhood home on 85th Street in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, the tree, always a prickly, short-needled spruce, stood in the living room corner in front of the door to the back porch my father built. He always picked the tree from a local lot or, more likely, a merchant who opportunistically added Christmas trees to his stock of fruits and vegetables displayed on the sidewalk under the elevated train along 86th Street’s commercial zone. He trundled it home in the cold and subjected it to evaluation by my mother who had an eye for empty places which could be hidden against the wall. Another option was Dad’s compensation by cutting off excess low branches and inserting them into holes drilled into the trunk where fillers were needed. A poorly balanced tree would be securely anchored by guy wires fastened to cup hooks hidden in door or window moldings.

My sister and I waited impatiently for Dad to hang stubborn strings of large light bulbs, an endless and vexing process punctuated by frustrated expletives. Finally decorating would be turned over to us except for placing the most dainty and delicate of ornaments at the top of the tree. We learned early on to graduate the weight and size of decorations, always leaving the heaviest and largest for the bottom of a well-decorated tree. From ancient yellowed tissue paper emerged curious ornaments: birds, pelicans and Santas of featherweight glass as fine as ribbon candy along with striped balls with colors resembling Depression era glass juice tumblers. Like icing on a cake, real lead tinsel was judiciously applied strand by strand an inch or so apart along each branch and shoot as ice would naturally coat a tree in the forest.

In the end, the tree was to be surveyed in darkness. We basked in the multi-colored glow of our masterpiece. Only then could we lie down on the floor, scoot along on our behinds to place head and shoulders under the tree and gaze upward through a wonderland of shinning lights, sparkling glass, and shimmering tinsel; a vision only made more glorious by viewing it through gently ‘squinched’ eyes. This kaleidoscopic sight, a surreal painting seen through a fringe of curly eyelashes, had the power to appease the heart of a child yearning for Christmas.

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