By Patty Booth O’Neill
Every season different networks show Christmas specials where happy families get together, drink hot cocoa, sing Christmas carols and gleefully put up a wonderful, spectacular Christmas tree. It’s a heart-warming scene, but I ask, is it true to life?I’m not a Grinch, but I do not like putting up the Christmas tree. I think, with two grandchildren, that I should feel it’s going to be a wonderful, memory-sharing event, but I don’t. Do I feel guilty? No, because a tree in our house does get set up and decorated, just not by me.
When my own kids became of age to be able to appreciate putting their own imagination into decorating our tree, which much to my dismay at that time was fake, it turned into a family fued.
Walt decorated the tree with the aid of a level and a ruler.
In my house growing up there was no such thing as a fake tree. Trimming the tree was my father’s (Thomas Booth) area of expertise. I remember thinking that tinsel should be thrown on the tree in handfuls, like fairy dust. But my father would insist you lay a handful of tinsel over one hand, and apply it one strand at a time with the other. I was too excited to see the end product to be able to do that. My brother Tom, on the other hand, appreciated the artful application of tinsel. Mike and Jeff, my other older brothers, were nowhere to be found.
When we moved to California in the ‘60s, where a fire could start if you hit two stones together, no one had a real tree. They didn’t even sell real trees. Tom was 11 years old, and when he got over the horror of having to put up a fake tree, he was equally mortified and disgusted with the choices we had.
“Look at this, will you. Look at this crap,” he snarled, while we all stood in front of a display of trees at a local department store. (We also couldn’t get over that you could buy a tree at a department store.) The fake trees were beyond our comprehension. “Look at that thing.” He pointed to a tree that was all silver. “And that thing.” It was a tree with big fluffy, white branches.
We either opted for one that looked as close to a real tree as possible, or for the silver one, because it was just so bizarre. ( Just as a side bar, it was in California that I found out there was no Santa Claus. When my brothers told me, I was devastated — I really had no clue. “And since we’re on the subject, there’s no Easter Bunny either,” my brothers told me in the same conversation on our front lawn.
“No! How can that be?”
After two years of the horror of fake trees in California, we moved back to New Jersey. It was then, many years later that produced my most vivid memory of a family Christmas tree.
We lived on Charles Street in North Long Branch. Christmas bulbs were still made out of glass then, and tinsel was basically strips of aluminum foil, not ultra thin, papery silver plastic.
My brother Jeff had a pistol with a spring-loaded barrel. You would click the barrel into place by pushing it on the floor. A BB sized pellet was placed in a little hole on the front of the gun, and when the trigger was pulled, the force of the muzzle releasing would shoot the pellet.
One day Jeff was sitting on the couch across from the tree. He took a piece of tinsel, balled it up into a BB sized pellet and shot a bulb off the tree. It shattered into a hundred pieces, and tinkled to the floor. The hook, with the fragmented top of the ornament still attached, clung to the tree.
“That’s horrible, How can you do that to our beautiful tree. Mom is going to be so mad,” I yelled. I stared at that poor bulb on the tree and the glittery pieces on the floor. “Can I try a shot?”
After a few attempts and adjusting my aim, I finally shot one. No matter who came to the house to visit they had to take a shot. People came over just to shoot at the tree. By Christmas the tree had about three bulbs left on it, but only because we ran out of tinsel.
Not your normal Holiday memories, but those are the images getting a real tree brought back.
My mother (she and my father were separated by then) yelled at first, but gave up and didn’t seem to mind. I think she took a couple of shots herself, when no one was home.
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