Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Memories - The Tree

We always had a live green Christmas tree in Los Angeles.  We would go to a Christmas tree lot and select the perfect one, often a fir tree.
Donna & Dick at Christmas Tree lot... we only bought green ones, however. 1951
   I think we usually found a tree lot on Manchester Ave west of Western Ave.  In the 1940s and 1950s the trees would never be perfect, but we thought we’d found a good one, if it had one good side.  Dad would pick up extra branches to do some “repair” when we got home.  Dad would tie the tree to the top of our car and we would ride home feeling very special and happy to have the tree.  Once home Dad would get out his drill and drill strategic holes in the trunk to plug in the extra branches - to fill out the tree and reduce “empty spots.”  

My first Christmas Tree 1945
    Mom would have a place ready for the tree in front of the living room (also known as the “Front Room”) bay window.  Rotating the tree was a work of art, to be sure the best side was facing the living room.  The challenge was to always have the base filled with water so the tree wouldn’t go dry until after the New Year.

     A white sheet was put on the floor and a pretty Christmas skirt would complete the base.  Then the boxes of Christmas trimmings would come down from the attic space.  I liked to go into the “stereo closet” (a closet Dad used for his stereo and electronics equipment), go up a step ladder,  removing the wooden cover and lift up into the attic .  It was fun to see all the things placed here and there in the dark attic.  Since I was little, I was able to get to the boxes and help hand them down.
Glass ball and big screw in light with tinsel icicles

    The lights would have to be tested every year.  They were big screw in bulbs at first, then the smaller push in bulbs in later years.  But the "bubble lights" were the premier lights of the tree, clipped onto the branches just right so they would bubble up inside the glass shaped like a candle.   If one of the tree lights was out, the whole string was out and it was quite a job to test each bulb to make sure it was OK.  That was the slow part of the job.  Then the light strings would be wound around the tree.  Mom would have the keen eye for the placement of the light strings, and the other trimmings as well.  After the lights were on Dad fixed up a light switch to turn on all the strings.  It was fixed to the center trunk of the tree for convenience. But later the switch went to an extension that could be placed on the piano next to the tree.
A bubble light on the tree branch - slightly askew
    The silver or gold garlands were next.  These were of a smaller diameter than are sold today.  They were looped around the tree.

    Then silver tinsel was hung, strand by strand on the branches to look like icicles.  If we were tired at this point, there might be a few tinsel clumps of strands instead of individual shimmering strands.
     Finally the best part was putting the decorations and glass balls on the tree.  That was our job as kids.  Mom would sit in a chair, and from the old May Company cardboard box would unwrap each glass ball, lovingly wrapped in tissue paper the year before.  We used all the same decorations every year, and only rarely got something new.  New ornaments were usually one for my brother, Dick, and one for me.  We coveted our own ornaments every year.  One I liked was an ornament made into a design of beads, with a yellow theme.  Hard to describe.  I’m not sure where it is anymore.
   The last thing was the top ornament, usually a pointy spire top that ended just at the ceiling level.  I don’t think we ever used an angel.
Nice full tree by 1956
   Finally when all was in place, the lights would be switched on and we would all marvel at the sight of our beautiful tree.  Dad always told the story of when he was a boy in Des Moines and they used candles on the tree.  When he and his brother and sister would come downstairs Christmas morning the tree had appeared and the candle lights would be aglow.  They were only allowed to have the candles on a few minutes that morning, as the adults were deathly afraid of fire from rambunctious kids knocking over a candle.  So it was an eventful year, perhaps around 1917 when Dad’s father, Alfred G. Hague, surprised them with a battery box powered set of tree lights.  He was so pleased that the lights could be kept on whenever they wanted, and it would be safe when the kids opened their gifts.  As Dad would tell it, he was always eager to get all the gifts under the tree.  When it seemed all were gone, he rooted around to be sure none were hiding under the tree branches.  While doing this some of the tinsel (made of lead I think) touched the battery box causing a spark and the spark ignited the tree.  So there was their “safe” Christmas tree going up in flames.  Luckily the fire was extinguished before damaging the house, but Dad’s father was quite discouraged with the safety of his tree that year and the new electric lights.
Beautiful glowing lights back in 1950
      The last thing to make our tree complete was when presents would slowly be placed under the tree, every day a few more would magically appear, as someone would have shopped for a gift and get it wrapped in the days before Christmas Eve.

    Through the years I always had a real tree, until I move to Hawai and my daughter married.  Since I was living by myself, I just had a table top tree, or used a little ceramic tree made by my mother that had little plastic beads in it and a light bulb inside to make them glow like lights. (top plastic star on top is broken off!)
 I would spend Christmas at my daughter’s house when she wasn’t living in Germany.  By the year 2001 I figured artificial trees had become good enough to use, so I bought one with lights already on.  My daughter and family came to Hawaii and the tree was beautiful.  A few purchased evergreen boughs helped provide the Christmas tree fragrance.  
      I have a trunk full of Christmas tree ornaments in my attic.  Last year it was up to my grandson to move the Christmas things in and out of the attic.  I lovingly think of the history of each of the ornaments as I, my daughter, or my grandchildren, place them on the tree.  I tell them the story of each special ornament.    I’m going to take digital pictures of the important ornaments so no matter what happens to the precious and fragile glass decorations, the images will always be ready to take me back to happy family memories of my Christmas trees.
Donna, Alisa, Braden, Emily by artificial tree in Hawaii 2011 - no icicles or garlands

1 comment:

Yvonne Demoskoff said...

The trees with all that tinsel must have taken quite a long time to set up, but are very pretty.