Mandy Newham-Cobb illustration
A vine to remember
A fellow I know welcomes the holiday season by decking the halls, and the walls, and a few of the yard’s ornamental bushes with hundreds of lights that won’t come down until Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Chances are that a prime chunk of his living room real estate is still festooned with his Sears model, pre-lit fake tree bedecked with bright lights and shiny ornaments.
While such plastic trees, lighted Santas, and festive snowmen went on display in October, sharing coveted retail space with the grinning zombies and rotting corpses of Halloween, each year my family waits until nearly comatose from the post-Thanksgiving turkey-and-gravy hangover to waddle through an attic full of various Yuletide flotsam and jetsam that has mysteriously metastasized over the ensuing 11 months.
Before the onset of allergies forced us to forgo real Fraser firs, we would venture to the neighborhood tree farm. There, we would wrestle a severed section of pine on top of the Ol’ Family Truckster, secure it in place with a combination of twine, fishing line, frayed rope, duct tape, and bungee cords and hope that, like Mitt Romney’s dog, the tree survives the trip across town. Curse-laden attempts to force the sap-oozing stump into a way-too-small tree stand succeed only after sawing off a good four inches worth of wood at $6 or more per foot. Yet the perfect Christmas tree is just that—until once in the house it reveals a limbless spot the size of a Kia Soul, which even the most humongous kindergartner-created (with love!), construction-paper project cannot hide.
The urge to lug a red cedar, white pine or blue spruce into the home remains strong in American culture. That’s especially true in Western North Carolina, a region hailed by many as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” and that has frequently provided the official White House Christmas tree. This year’s D.C. tree hailed from Jefferson, while the specimen selected for the vice president’s home came from nearby Banner Elk. Even this writer has come to embrace the ritual.
But it wasn’t always so. My first Christmas away from home as a still-wet-behind-the-ears, Joe Rossi wannabe fresh from journalism school, my attitude toward the holidays was a resounding “bah, humbug!” The only decoration in my apartment was a single scraggly bough jammed unceremoniously into a Coors Lite bottle (sadly, that was my brand back then), adorned with a couple selections from the Dollar Tree’s scratch-and-dent bin, and placed beside the electric-baseboard heater in hopes St. Pauli Girl soon would be there. It made the wretched little tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” look like something worthy of the Biltmore House.
Over the years, I’ve warmed to the tree tradition, thanks to marriage to a woman who took it as a personal challenge to convert me to the Martha Stewart-esque joys of holiday decorating and to parenthood, which can make any Grinch’s heart grow three sizes, plus two. Like many families, one of our favorite holiday stories revolves around a tree…(cue heart-warming music now).
It’s a weekend morning, and I’m gulping mug after mug of coffee as we haul a freshly cut tree from a local farm into our house. Finding that a leafless vine has snaked its way through the branches, I remove the unwanted garland of brown and toss it aside. Throughout the tree installation and decoration process, I continue to slug massive amounts of java. This necessitates removing from my system massive amounts of what was once java. Later that morning, I notice a persistent itching in my…uh, south pole region. That’s when I realize the vine I had removed from der tannenbaum wasn’t kudzu or grapevine, but poison ivy. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.
And now, so complete is my spouse’s conversion of me into a full-fledged decorating devotee that, I feel something is missing from our suddenly barren living room. The ornaments and adornments are stuffed in the attic breeding with one another in time for next holiday season, and we’ve long since gone back to work and school, yet I find myself pining away (pun intended) for the warm, fuzzy feelings of Christmases past.
But not so much the itchy, scratchy feelings of that December to remember.