Something Missing

Yesterday Harry did something for me.  He brought me back something I had lost.  I don’t think I realized it was even gone but I see now it was. For about ten years I have been using a fake tree for Christmas.  Don’t judge!  I had my reasons! It was cost-effective, pre-lit, large and beautiful. People who came to the house never even realized it wasn’t real…it was THAT beautiful.  I had candles, and room scent to make up for the lack of aroma.  It seemed like the perfect practical solution.  So easy!

Back when the kids were little, we used to traipse up and down the tree farms in Washington State to cut  down our tree.  It was an adventure.  We’d run from tree to tree saying, “This one!  No this one is better!” Some years it would be so cold we’d have to wear our gloves and scarves.  One year it poured down rain and we shivered as we pointed.

The higher our ceilings got, the more expensive the tree.  Once the “perfect” tree was chosen, because it had to be PERFECT….there was getting it home, trimming the trunk, carting it in the house, making sure it was straight.  Keeping it alive for weeks and the mess with all the pine needles everywhere.

It wasn’t just the tree either.  I would buy yards and yards of real garland to drape over our mantel.  In Washington it wasn’t that expensive and it made the whole house smell of pine.  Whatever it took to make Christmas magical.

But it was a lot of work and somewhere along the line I opted for easy instead of magic.  Value instead rare.  We stopped trying to make things special.  It seemed like much of it changed when we moved from Washington back to California.  That first year back my ex had a job he hated along with a grueling commute that sucked the life out of him.  We opted for a gardener, a pool guy, a housekeeper, and a fake tree.  Everything was easy.  Too easy.

We used to spend hours caring about our house, trimming, cutting, raking, planting, cleaning, sorting, decorating.  But after we moved, we barely gave our home a second thought.  That was someone else’s job who we paid to care.  We rationalized that it meant our weekends would be free to have fun.  But what we didn’t realize was that it zapped our spirit.  It took away our reason to care.

If you don’t have to take care of something, its easy to take it for granted.  And that became a picture of our lives.  We’d wake up on Saturday with nothing we HAD to do…but we never once took the canoe out on the lake.  We didn’t go to museums, or the beach, or the mountains, all of which are less than 30 minutes away.  We went window shopping mostly to the same mall.  Or we wasted half the day saying, “I don’t know…what do YOU want to do?” We stopped valuing our time.  And we certainly stopped valuing our time together.

But this weekend Harry said, “We’re getting a real tree.  You’re German now – it has to be real.”  Part of the old me didn’t want the hassle but part of the really old me was giddy.  It didn’t work out to bring my son because his car broke down but the three of us – Harry, my daughter, and I did that thing I only faintly remembered doing a lifetime ago.

“What about this one?  Look how full it is?  No that one has a weird top.  What about THIS ONE?  Oh yes, that one is…PERFECT!”

Oh yes…now I remember.  And the smell…so good.

We opted to put our very real Christmas tree in the family room next to the fireplace instead of getting a gigantic tree for the living room where no one sits just because it has taller ceilings (another good call Harry made…He said put the tree in the room where we are.) And it really is perfect.

Harry watched one of his favorite movies while I did most of the decorating.  When I dropped one of the glass ornaments he grabbed my arms and lifted my whole body bare feet and all and got out the vacuum cleaner.  There we were…doing Christmas the way I used to do it.  The hard way.  The better way.  This year…it is OUR tree.  Harry’s mother’s ornaments mingled together with mine, reminding us both of the memories of years gone by.

Yes it was a hassle to light (I used 6 strands on a 7 foot tree).  It was all the things I complained about years before and my back hurt when I was done. But it was gorgeous and totally worth it. 

It’s a picture of the past and of our new life we are beginning.  Lots of different parts meshed together to make something new and  beautiful.  It’s going to be inconvenient.  It’s going to be messy and it’s going to take hard work.  But after a few years we will be able to step back and look at the life we created and see that making things important and caring is really what it’s all about.  If you are able to hang onto that…and not get lost in complacency looking for things to be easy, the life we build will hold it’s value and appreciate instead of depreciate.  And in the end it will all be worth it.

Last night, several times I stopped what I was doing to look at the tree and tears just fell.  It dawned on me only after the tree was in the house that this was different.  Maybe because a real tree was once living – it gave a certain life to the room.  Harry said, “It’s an evergreen, a symbol of life in the dead of winter.  A reason to believe.”  And I kept turning to Harry as the evening went on to kiss and hug him, and say thank you.  Thank you for making it real again for me.

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