Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New traditions? Oh, Christmas Tree...

Thanksgiving down. Christmas to go. Brandon died 26 weeks ago last Saturday – exactly six months – and tears stream from my eyes off and on as I write. I’ve not exactly been looking forward to the Christmas holydays this year. Celebrations are not high on my list of things to do. I seriously considered forgetting about a Christmas tree this year – or worse, I again considered the purchase of an artificial tree.

Roll back several years to the mid-2000s. I had everything and my adult children were always stymied as to what to get me for Christmas. I really didn’t need or want anything, except for some “dedicated” one-on-one time with each of my adult children. That was until our icky artificial tree, which I’d never liked, reached the stage that it was losing more needles than an authentic “real” Christmas tree.

At an early December family dinner, my husband said he planned to head to the store to buy the newest, best pre-lit tree, but I yelled, “Wait!”  I’d never liked having an artificial tree. I wanted a real tree again, but the physical logistics of lifting, stabilizing on a car roof, dragging it into the house, sawing the bottom before hauling it upright in a stand with water, and later doing it all in reverse when it was time to dismantle the tree were too much for me or for my husband’s joints!

What I wanted for Christmas was help from our in-town adult children to purchase, set up and later dismantle a real Christmas tree. The three in-towners seemed thrilled to have a gift that was fairly easy to implement. They quickly developed a plan for who would help execute each step. For the most part, each followed through.

As the only in-town son, Brandon volunteered for the job of going with me to select a tree, secure it to the roof of his car and then get it set it up in the tree stand. (He also seemed to get roped into tree dismantling and haul out, but no one is sure how or why this double-duty occurred!) Much to our initial surprise, we found our (mine and Brandon’s) favorite tree, the balsam fir, at Lowe’s. Every year thereafter, Lowe’s became our first, best spot for finding trees each of us wanted a reasonable price.  What fun he and I had. Christmas tree shopping became an annual event that we got down to a system with a Brandon-Mom dinner as the tree-finding finale.

Last year (2011) was a bit different. Brandon had just become a dad and he didn’t want to be away from his wife Christina and baby Morgan for too long. He also had evening baby “duty,” since he was more of a night owl (like his mother) and wanted Christina to get some uninterrupted sleep. (She’d nurse the baby and go to bed while he took over baby care until the baby needed to nurse again.) So he proposed a lunchtime date for our (and his) tree-finding expedition. I’m a mother. I’ll take any time my adult children are willing and able to spend with me, so I adapt. In this instance, I felt proud that his wife and baby came first for him, as they should.

Last year (2011) was also different because I could tell Brandon’s chemo treatments were taking a toll. I suggested we find some other Christmas tree-finding/setting-up option, including the possibility of a pre-lit artificial tree. Brandon was adamant. An artificial tree was not an option. (Just as only a fresh turkey would do for Thanksgiving, only a real tree would do for Christmas no matter what the circumstances.) Neither was any option that did not involve our mother-son tree-shopping tradition.

Brandon’s baby sister and newlywed, Carolyn, also joined us last year to pick out a tree for her and husband Kris’s home during her lunch break at work. Because we had it down to a science, we quickly found a perfect tree for each of our three homes before Carolyn had to leave us again to get back to work.

As I was overseeing the tree bundling and checking out at the cash register, Brandon left to move the car closer and get the blanket to pad the roof and the bungee cords to secure the trees to the roof rack out of the cargo area of his SUV. (As I said, we had this down to a system.) While waiting for me, he overheard an exchange between a senior citizen woman and a salesclerk. The woman had found a comfortable, upholstered rocking chair on (really good) sale. She had enough money to buy the chair at the sale price, but she had no car and not enough money to pay the delivery service to move the chair from Lowe’s to her apartment several blocks away.

What did Brandon do? He told the woman he would be happy to place her new chair in the cargo area of his car and then drive her and the new chair to her home. In spite of his physical struggles at this time last year, he lifted the fairly heavy chair, walked it to his car and maneuvered it into the cargo space before I’d even signed in the electronic credit card box. He then lifted each of the three Christmas trees to place them on the roof of the car and secured them, nudging me out of the way each time I offered to help. After he shifted the chair a bit to make room for its owner in the second seat of his car, he drove the several blocks to her house and insisted on carrying the chair up the outside stairs and to and through her front door, again refusing my offers to help and pooh-poohing any suggestion of concern about his health. “I’m fine,” he said, “Quit worrying about me, Mom.” I felt so humbled by his demonstration of caring that afternoon, and I wondered how often he gave of himself in similar ways that no one ever saw or knew about. And I thought again of what he was enduring physically and emotionally – and doing so without complaint.

Back to the present and the Christmas season is upon us. I couldn’t face Christmas tree shopping without Brandon – without the fun of making it a special mother-son event. But I heard his voice saying, “Mom, mom, you can’t go without a tree at Christmas. You have to have a tree – a real Christmas tree.” Oh, Brandon, I don’t think I can do this without you. “Mom, then try something different.” The next day I saw an ad for a Christmas tree farm less than an hour away that offered all trees – no matter the size – for one reasonable price.

I called Brandon’s wife Christina. I didn’t know if she had plans for a tree or whether she’d want to go with me, but after sharing the turkeys’ date with Thanksgiving destiny, I knew I needed to have their daughter Morgan with me when I went to the tree farm.  Fortunately, Christina’s thinking was along similar lines. Although not really in the Christmas spirit to decorate this year, Brandon was giving her similar messages that decorating the house and having a (real) Christmas tree were not options. He considered decorating for this joyous season as de rigueur. Brandon’s sisters Beth (Elizabeth to her friends) and Carolyn also jumped on this tree-finding bandwagon.

Saturday, December 1st was chosen as our “chop a tree” date due to the unseasonably warm and sunny weather forecast and the lack of other commitments for all of us. It also happened to be the 26-week, ½ year anniversary of Brandon’s death. Coincidental?

It definitely set up the possibility of a new tradition! Since my grandchildren/Beth’s children, Konrad and Karenna, were with us, we took two cars. One car got lost (not saying who was in which car) and arrived a bit later.  The three of us, plus two children, who were in the car having no problem finding our destination quickly found trees. Christina started to saw the first of the three trees. Sawing said tree was definitely not as easy as it sounded, but she and Carolyn worked out a new system whereby Christina sawed and Carolyn tugged a bit in the opposite to encourage trunk separation. I took on the difficult task of holding Morgan.

The other carload arrived, tried to text me (but I didn’t hear it) and found a tree on their own. By the time we all met at the bundling barn, Christina had sawed and Carolyn tugged down three trees to their one! Still, we had a good time. We may have started a new tradition, although a different saw is needed if we’re ever to repeat a trip to the tree farm! 
Christina getting ready to saw while Carolyn watches Morgan
Aunt Beth (Elizabeth) and Morgan looking for the perfect tree
Karenna believes she has found that perfect tree
Bundling the perfect tree!
Christina is ready to transport two of the four trees to home(s)
Konrad helping to load the other two trees for transport to home(s)
Thank you, Brandon, for reminding me that Christmas tree shopping is so much more than the tree. I still have so much to learn from you. I still have so much to celebrate, but I need you to continue to remind me.

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