Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holidays In the Family That's Left of Center

by Jamie Freveletti

Well, we're well into the holiday season now and if you're like me you're starting to wonder just how you ended up a member of the family that you are. I always think, do other families have these issues? Or is it just mine?

It starts with the Christmas tree. My family is spread out over the country, and I used to grab my husband and kids and drag them to Miami Beach over Christmas. It was a logical idea, because from there we'd continue south to the Caribbean for a week. One year, after landing, I went to my mother's house for a quick reconnaissance to determine what holiday decorations we needed. She had what I fully expected: a fake white Christmas tree.

My mother always had a fake white Christmas tree. I grew up in a middle class suburb of Chicago, where the men were steel workers and bus drivers and the women stayed home and raised a minimum of four children. These families had green trees and you'd best believe those trees were real. They had colored lights and the usual popcorn strands, tinsel, etc. Could we have that? Oh no. My mother was a jazz singer, the only divorced woman on the block, and she was raising her four children with a white Christmas tree with...pink lights and pink ornaments.

I'm not kidding. Our tree was a fake white beast with pink lights and matching ornaments. To this day I can't figure out where she got those rose colored italian lights. We kids just rolled our eyes, because the tree was not our main focus, the gifts were, and we were so used to being different that a white tree with pink bulbs was the least of our worries.

But this latest tree in Miami Beach was so lame that even I couldn't see how I was going to convince my kids that this was actually meant to be a Christmas tree. It didn't even attempt to look real. It was kind of a modern, spindly thing, about four feet high, cut in a perfect cone shape, with a rope around it that glowed white. I suppose the rope was to imitate actual Christmas lights, but who knows who knows what the designers were thinking?

It was as though they'd smoked pot and thought, "whoa, stringing real lights might be a lot of work! Let's just use a glow rope and call it a day."

I called in my husband for a consultation. He's been married for a while now, and so knows enough not to say, "What the hell is wrong with your family?" but instead he just took one look at the tree and said, "Guess we'd better go shopping."

I dare anyone to try to find a Christmas tree in Miami Beach on the day before Christmas Eve. There we were, driving from department store lot to department store lot, coming up empty every time. The kids were in the back playing on their handhelds and every so often glancing up to determine if we were in a Home Depot lot or a Toys R Us, which was what they were pushing for. During this time it occurred to me that my kids might be the same as I was at that age, and the actual shape, configuration, and color of the tree would be unimportant as long as gifts were to be placed under it. I turned to my husband and said, "Let's just buy a fake tree--a green one with the lights attached, and my Mom can use it year after year."

The howls that emitted from the back seat were deafening. Both were so upset, I had to double check that these were the same children who'd been completely uninterested the minute before. I turned to my husband for support.

"Isn't that a good idea? We don't cut a living tree down?"

Surprisingly, he nixed the entire idea.

"I'm not buying a fake Christmas tree. I refuse," he said, sounding a lot like our offspring in the back seat. I sighed and spotted a Kmart in the distance.

"Fine. But I'm losing my faith that we'll ever find a tree."

We pulled up to the Kmart lot, and looked around. There, far in the corner, was a pickup truck with a green tree on the ground next it. We walked up and the Spanish speaking owner indicated with signs--neither my husband nor I could speak Spanish,--that he was down to the last one and he was willing to give it to us for half price. The tree was tightly wrapped with rope (real, not a fake lighted one) and looked pretty sad, lying on the ground. We bought it and the seller threw in a stand, probably in a moment of holiday spirit and because he felt sorry for us and our sad little tree, and off we went.

Once it was unwrapped, watered and the branches fell, the tree was pretty good looking. The kids decorated it and we added some colored lights and tinsel. Christmas was saved. To this day, though, every year, when we go to buy our tree for our own home-we no longer fly down to Miami until after--the kids tell their father, "Remember when you saved us from Mom's idea of buying a fake tree?"

Like mother like daughter.

Happy Holidays!





20 comments:

John said...

Great story, Jamie! I can relate a little; I grew up with real trees, and have always had real trees as an adult and parent, but I have started to have ideas about getting a fake tree. The howls of outrage that have erupted from our daughters (who are now 27 and 23, and will visit home at Christmas), and from my wife, have convinced me that only a real tree will do for the rest of my days. I have to admit, once it is up and decorated, there is no comparison!

John.

Jamie Freveletti said...

It's reassuring to know that when the kids are 27 and 23 they will still be howling about this! I agree there's nothing better, but sometimes I think....
:) Jamie

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