Grandma's Christmas Tree

If I stare at the picture long enough, I can feel the draft from the windows behind the plastic covered couch, see the family portrait sitting on the TV set, and smell the turkey in the oven. Christmas Day at Grandma’s in the 1960s.

We would meet after mass and crowd into Grandma’s small house on Kirton Avenue. The tree was always the center of discussion. It was aluminum - you could see right through it. A pitifully under-decorated tree hung with the few ornaments that survived our youth. 

When we decorated the trees in our youth, the first thing we did was to lay out the strings of temperamental lights. The 12 bulbs never all lit, so each had to be tested. And after all 12 were turned or replaced, a miracle happened! The string of lights twinkled blue, red, yellow, white and green. 

But Grandma’s tree was different. All you had to do was plug in the disco-type rotating lamp, the aluminum tree came alive with at least six different colors.

One year, my Dad decided to pick up the Christmas tree and teach us how to save money at the same time. It was probably around December 23. He walked up to Lorain Street and got the bar stool nearest the window in Garry Owens Irish Pub at West 111 Street and Lorain, which was conveniently located across the street from a tree lot. His plan was to wait until the lot was nearly sold out so that he could get a tree really cheap.

Time must have slipped away from him. When he realized that the tree lot was closing, he ran across the street to begin bargaining. He knew the value of a dollar after living through the Depression and he spent his money wisely.

Dinner was over when he got back to our house on West 112 Street and did he have a surprise for us. Not one tree, but two! They were almost bare sticks with a few branches. The tree lot owner wanted to go home so he gave my Dad a real deal. Both trees for the price of one! My Dad thought that once they were tied together and decorated, no one would know the difference.

Given a wife and four daughters crying and objecting, he caved in. The trees never left the back porch. The next day my mother, brother Jack and sister Coletta went to a different lot and got a beautiful tree. Dad never said a word about his bargain, and he never went tree shopping again.

Generally, everyone used a small tin red-and-green tree stand sold at the dime store. The trees never fit into them. These stands were always too narrow for the tree, no matter how much shaving and trimming was done. Thus, the tree was never secure or straight up, so many people tied the tree to a curtain rod or just nailed a heavy string of twine to the wall.

Tinsel was the finishing touch of tree trimming. There are two types of tinsel hangers: the drapers and the tossers. My sister Coletta and I were drapers who carefully put each strand of tinsel lovingly on the branches. My brother Jack and my sister Eleanor were tossers. They would take delight in balling up a batch of tinsel and firing it at the tree, ruining the effect of our neat draping. This always erupted into a fight.

By Christmas morning, however, the tree always looked beautiful despite all the problems. As for Grandma’s plain and simple aluminum tree, I’m sure you can understand why we always loved it.

Peggy Calvey Patton

Peggy Calvey Patton is a free lance writer. She lives in West Park.

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Volume 2, Issue 6, Posted 3:44 PM, 12.10.2014