My favorite time of year was when the ornament box came up from the basement. Our tree was old-school. Soldiers. Mice. Wooden toys. Sleds. Very Nutcracker makes out with Santa’s workshop. My sister Lea and I each had our favorite ornaments, housed in their pockets, wrapped in fine white tissue paper. We didn’t care for the shiny balls or stinging of the lights; we left those tasks to our mother. We favored the more expressive ornaments. Lea liked the small skiers reserved for the top of the tree, while I liked the typewriter ornament best. It looked copper, and I loved to press on it each year and pretend I was typing. When we pulled the crinkled paper from their neat cardboard homes, my mother instructed, “careful girls.” And it was one of the times, even though we were very excited, that we were also very gentle, like holding the class pet for the first time. We forgot each year just how many decorations there were. Ooooh, I forgot about these! “These” were the smaller ornaments my mother instructed us belonged toward the top of the tree, where the branches didn’t need to be weighed down by heavier items. Some were “filler,” reserved for the back of the tree where visitors wouldn’t see them as much. The special ornaments belonged in the front.
As we got older, my mother upgraded the tree to a more Victorian style with silk bows, fine crystal, and white twinkle lights. The tree looked pink. Sometimes she’d complain that it looked too “Linda Trevor.” Linda was her “Miss Garden City” WASPY friend who prohibited her children from watching I Love Lucy and still had the house baby-proofed even though her girls were in fifth grade. So my mother tried to liven it up by stringing cranberry beads ‘round the tree. It didn’t help. It still looked uptight.
When I grew up and out, I struggled with what theme to make my tree. I thought of buying chandelier parts from the 23rd Street flea market and making a chic designer tree, laced with brand name ribbons and vintage bows. Then I thought of doing a nautical theme with seashells, sailboats, and distressed wooden oars. In New York? Wouldn’t work. I could do a candy tree, where I could make cookie ornaments and string Lifesaver candies around the tree, looping candy canes on heavy branches and leaving gumdrop ornaments and sugarplum fairies for the top of the tree. Candy necklaces and enormous candy cocktail rings. I don’t even have a sweet tooth. Then I tried to really zero in on what my interests were, and I was convinced I wanted to do a kitchen-themed tree. I could hang my copper cookie cutters and measuring spoons as ornaments, use bakery twine as tinsel, bundle some cinnamon sticks in kitchen twine, hang some hand-painted teacups, my wire Kitchenaid whisk. What? It could work. But how festive is that? I finally settled on a theme. Something to do with felt animals dressed in Dior. It’s my nod to Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas. I cannot wait to decorate a tree again. This year, though, I’ll be in Florida with my mother, listening to her ask about five or six dozen times, “So, do you like the tree this year? I mean really? Is it too pink?”