I am my mother’s daughter, and at this time of year that means that, after Mate, my latter-day cave man, has hauled home the Christmas tree, I trim it.
To most sane people, of whom I am sure you are one, trimming the tree means draping some lights along the perimeter, slinging on a few ornaments, adding some tinsel to the mix and calling it a day. But you don’t have my mother, or my grandmother, bless her soul, to answer to. And since I do, trimming a tree means taking out my trusty Felco pruners and clipping nature’s creation into something, well, better.
This year, Mate made the mistake of going to the lot in Pacific Palisades to purchase our tree. Pacific Palisades is a land of very large houses and thus, the lot there is the land of very large trees. I swear, the tree he brought home is so big that I actually cringed when I first beheld its hulking presence in our living room. Gabe, one of Youngest’s friends, had a different reaction to its impressive bulk. He took one look at it and said, "That’s a tree you just want to go up to and hug."
I’ll admit I was daunted by the enormity of the trimming task and my reluctance, coupled with my blissful state of denial about all things Christmas, led to a kind of stalemate for a few days. I know I have a choice. I mean, theoretically, I could just forget about the trimming part and move on. Who would know? My mother’s not coming for Christmas. As for my grandmother, see the previous reference to "bless her soul."
I guess some things are just genetic. Like hammertoes or great hair, you get what your forebears have to give you. In this case, I am the proud recipient of a real philosophy of tree trimming. Tree trimming as art, you might say.
Art doesn’t get good until the editing hurts. I like to knock the tree back until it is almost naked, so that it needs the addition of the ornaments to feel dressed. But the line between naked and skeletal is fine and it only takes one unwise cut to cross it. So when I get close to the edge, I always call in the pro.
When Oldest was about three, some demented mother took him on a play date to a fair and actually allowed him to come home with a goldfish in a plastic bag. Now in my books, bringing a live animal into my house that will require ongoing care and feeding and which will, in short order, also require burial WITHOUT ASKING PERMISSION is a very serious offence. That friendship, needless to say, was trimmed.
In any case, I was stuck making a very expensive trip to the pet store with Oldest in tow to buy all the proper accoutrements for said fish. When faced with a wall of neon pink, green and blue gravel choices for the bottom of the bowl, Oldest pointed to the natural colored ones. "Oh," exclaimed the pet store owner, gazing raptly at my three-year-old, "he has classic taste!"
I thought her insane at the time, but the funny thing is, he actually does have classic taste. And so he is always my final call when I am trying to figure out if I have cut enough. And today, after pruning and shaping for over an hour, I was ready for his verdict.
I turned to yell for him and then I remembered, he’s gone. At college. He’s 3000 miles away, grimly writing term papers into the night. He won’t be back until next Friday. How did it happen that just yesterday we were in the pet store picking out rocks and tiny plastic divers and now he is so far away?
Absent my tastemaker, I couldn’t decide if the tree was adequately trimmed. And then I realized the answer was just an email away. All I had to do was send him this…