A Loco Viewpoint

Tree Decorating No Rockwell Painting

Last week we decorated the tree. Not just one day last week but all of last week. One doesn’t want to rush brilliance, of course, although admittedly, it wasn’t exactly a scene that Norman Rockwell would have painted for the cover of Life. Cupcake, you must understand, is particular about her Christmas tree, but then she is particular about every facet of her life. She’s a big fan of order and discipline. How I managed to attract her, I’ll never know being the antithesis of those two qualities. (If ‘disorder’ is the opposite of ‘order’, why isn’t ‘cipline’ the opposite of discipline?)

“The tree has been in the shed for eleven months including through freezing weather,” she decreed. “Therefore, I think it is important that we open the ginormous tree tote and let it breathe for a day.”

I had heard you’re supposed to let wine breathe after opening but I was quite surprised to hear Christmas trees made of coat hanger wire and green plastic needed to be treated similarly. I could not detect an improvement in its delicate bouquet but then, I’m not a connoisseur like Cupcake.

The Christmas lights also needed to breathe for a night, too, although I get that warming the copper wires up before bending them every which way may be a good idea. Once the illuminated strings were defrosted, historically it usually fell on Cupcake’s shoulders to put them on the tree. She really cares if each bulb is clipped onto the boughs and are evenly distributed in both density and colour. It really matters to her that the lights are a subtle mix of the brighter, old-style lights and strings of the dimmer, but cheaper-to-run-though-fairly-unsatisfying, energy efficient, environmentally-sensitive, boring, modern lights.

Unfortunately, Cupcake had plans the evening after both tree and lights had thawed. Rather than wait to decorate until the weekend, it was decided (not by me) that I should take a stab at applying festive lighting to our plastic foliage.

“Don’t do it, Pops,” said my eldest son, Wil, who is wise beyond his tender years. “It’s a trap.”

When I’d finished the lights, I thought they didn’t look too bad… kinda, sorta. I had incorrectly estimated the coverage of the new-fangled strings which made the bottom of the tree thick with soft lights in pastel shades while the upper branches were the scene of sporadic, but brilliant lights sucking up coal-fired power as if they were partying like it was 1999.

“This looks like… it won’t do,” Cupcake said, rather charitably, considering the other things she could have said it looked like.

“I told you so,” snickered Wil. “You should have said you didn’t feel well or something.”

“Well back me up here,” I urged in a hoarse whisper. “Tell her it looks okay to you.”

“I would, Dad,” he said solemnly, “but I don’t feel well.”

“Here, hold this,” Cupcake said, thrusting a string of lights at me, freshly ripped from the tree. She proceeded to denude each plastic bough then painstakingly reapplied each string. She artfully wove the old and the new together; fastening every bulb-clip tightly to the festive Astroturf-covered branches, creating a lovely tableau of cheery hues.

“Did you see how I did that?” Cupcake suddenly quizzed me.

“Sure it looks like a million bucks now, but you had someone hold the strings for you,” I shot back. “I had no help whatsoever.”

“No taste, either, by the look of the job,” harrumphed Cupcake. “Did you not notice you ended up with a male plug at the top where the star has to go? The star has a male plug too.”

“Look,” I said, trying to salvage the evening. “Why don’t we keep going on the tree? I know it’s late but I’d love to see it all decorated, now that the lights are on and looking so lovely.”

Together, we opened the tote containing our precious ornaments. Inside were 35 Christmas’ worth of memories. The special, delicate ones marked, “Baby’s First Christmas” for the years our boys were born were handled with reverence. There were earnestly-manufactured ornaments from kindergarten and the junior grades; a lump of clay, for example, that was supposed to be either a Christmas tree or an angel, (we were never really sure) but we just don’t have the heart to throw it out.

“Look at this one, hon,” I held up a pinecone with two beady, googly eyes glued on it. “This was from when one of the boys was in Beavers. I remember I was the roster parent the night we made them. I ended up sitting on some unused googly eyes which glued themselves to my butt. The kids thought it was hysterically funny.”

As we gently placed each memory on a bough, we would reflect on from whence it had come and what meaning it held. The treasures we put on that tree meant more to us than any gold or silver baubles we could have used instead.

Here, too, were ornaments from all over the world; something Cupcake has requested whenever someone has said, “I’m going to (insert cool vacation/holiday spot here) can I bring you back anything?” Personally, I would prefer something from the duty-free store but the ornaments are nice, too.

As we chatted and reminisced, putting the last of our yester-yules on the branches, the artificial plastic and wire appeared to shed its man-made fakery and become a vibrant symbol of our Christmas spirit that had lain dormant for all these many months.

“It’s beautiful,” Cupcake sighed as she stood close and laid her head on my shoulder as we stood before the tree. I may have been mistaken but just for a moment I’m sure I felt the presence of the spirit of Norman Rockwell watching with a smile.

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