Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh Tannenbaum...

What is Christmas without the family tree, right?  Everyone gathers around..."Ooooo's and Ahhh's" as last year's crappy ornaments are unfurled from tissue paper, one by one, as though they are priceless rare artifacts.  Smiling, heads thrown back in laughter, tossing tinsel, loving glances as the children clumsily hang the heaviest ornament on the tree's weakest branch...You get it...All that Norman Rockwell-y stuff.  One thing that did become an annual 'tradition' at my house, so to speak, was watching my parents have their annual Christmas blow out over the tree.  We could pretty much mark it on the calendar..My brother and I stopped making bets on it because it became a sure deal.  

It began with what I'll call my dad's "Tree Lighting Prep".  I'd take in my mother's look of annoyance as she watched my dad meticulously check all the giant blazing hot colored bulbs to ensure all were working.  No trip to the hardware store.... Never mind the light strands were 10 years old and could spark hell's inferno at any moment.  Miniature colored lights that stayed cool?  "Those are crappy.  They aren't even bright!  Just a fad, Trina.  People don't appreciate the traditional stuff..." he'd grumble as he sat hunched over the third of 300 sockets to test.  I'm convinced my dad saw Christmas lights as his electrical engineer "call to duty".  He even had a little leather bound 'meter' with two little prongs you'd place into the socket to test whether it was 'live'.  The little needle on the meter would nervously register as though it feared for its mechanical life as well. If the needle moved to the center of the register?..."Bingo! We've got a live one!"  No movement of the needle meant an afternoon of troubleshooting, rewiring and retesting.  If you were lucky and brave enough to forgo rubber underpants,  he'd even let you test the sockets yourself. "Ensures one bad apple won't blow the whole strand!" he would say proudly.   I always wanted to point out Christmas lights now came in cooler, safer strands (UL tested anyone?) but instead allowed him to bask in his electrical glory.

Quarreling was amplified with the actual purchase of the tree..My dad liked larger, fuller trees...My mother always seemed to be taken with the lot's "runt" tree.  The tiniest, weakest, baldest tree of the bunch.  Almost as though she thought it had feelings, had been neglected and needed a loving home.  Most years, however, Dad won by fiat because none of us kids were in a sympathetic mood towards sapling Christmas trees...Determined to keep mood festive, my parents usually agreed to disagree and would purchase Dad's pick... After a long silent ride home, my brothers, sisters and I knew the fun was just getting started.

Arguing started getting ginned up upon the task of placement in the stand and straightening of the tree.  My dad would lift the tree and ask my mother to slide the tree stand directly below the trunk.  One issue we had with our tree stand was the bolts designed to hold the tree in place always seemed to be too short to reach the center where they could secure the trunk.  Most people would say, "No big deal, go to the hardware store, purchase longer ones."  My dad's solution was, "What do we have here at the house that will suffice"...And this year it was my baby brother's blue wooden building blocks.  He'd place the block in the path of the screw and twist with all his might until the blocks held the trunk.  "See?  Easy!" he'd say standing back reviewing his handiwork.  "It's not going to hold" my mother would quip, tension now beginning to show itself in her tone.  Dad was undeterred, "Don't be ridiculous, it will be fine."  She continued, "But we have antique ornaments.  I don't want to come home to glass all over my carpet.  Get a different tree stand.  We'll decorate the GODDAMN thing tomorrow." "We're finishing this tonight," he said calmly, but the increased redness in his face announced the arrival of his lost patience.  After finagling with the blue blocks and some convincing to my mother the tree wouldn't crash into the center of our house, he moved onto adding lights.

Dad had all the tested, retested, rewired contraband bulbs at the ready.  Though he tested all the lights, he always seemed to forget about the lit angel.  And every year the angel was a burr in his ass.  He'd place the angel at the top of the tree, plug in the first strand of lights and "Voila!" no lit angel.  He'd then have to spend a good hour or so futzing with the angel until he could jerry-rig the thing to hold a light for 2 weeks or so. Then he'd forget about it until the following year when the entire process would repeat itself.  After getting the angel lit, he moved on to placement of the lights...

My mother felt very strongly that she was the expert on where the lights should be hung.  She'd sit on the sofa, wait until my dad covered his hand in sap to clip a bulb to a random branch and would begin her critique.  "I don't like the way that bulb is shining", "That bulb is too close to that branch, you know, the dry one.  Those bulbs are so dangerously hot.  Why are we still using those old things?  The house could burn you know.  Dad would adjust and readjust for a little bit until he'd finally turn to her and say, "You know, you seem to be the expert.  How about you give it a whirl?"  And although this scene replayed itself year after year after year, my mother always seemed surprised when he offered her the lighting reigns.  She'd reply, "I can't do it!  It's too high!  I can't reach up there goddammit!!"  Dad would then respond by throwing down the lights and stomping out of the room.  Like clockwork, Mom would then rise from the sofa, and follow him into the next room where an argument ensued.  They'd get into a shouting match about anything and everything.  My dad's job, why we were STILL living in Colorado (family was in Ohio at the time), why he knowingly wore a dirty shirt to church, dirty dishes left in the sink, he spent too much time in the garage tinkering with cars...you name it, they argued over the subject.  My siblings and I would just sit and laugh to ourselves in the family room.  We expected the entire scenario.  In fact, it became a running joke....

After the big blow out, they'd return to the family room and finally allow the kids to partake in the fun.  Hanging ornaments...I think everyone was just happy the lights were tested, the tree was held straight and the annual argument was over.  Aside from worrying about the occasional antique ornament, this part was cake...Well, throwing tinsel was fun too...Merry Christmas friends...


  1. Same thing at my house and it's still like that, "Sally..NO! Hit the breaks. You're doing it all wrong!"

  2. Zibbs... HAHA! Maybe we weren't as dysfunctional as I thought!

  3. Haha. I just read this again. "Priceless rare artifacts."

    I almost spit my coffee out.

  4. Trina's got some writing chops. I like this. Especially the rubber underpants. What? Did I say that out loud?

  5. Well read Hostess - Thank you for reading...means so much to hear you liked it!

    Zibbs - What's so funny? Hallmark ornaments are a premium now I'm sure...haha....