Christmas can be a difficult time for someone who has lost a loved one recently. Like most loved ones, Anne would want me to carry on and enjoy life, especially the holiday season she loved so well. She loved the season because of the good cheer, songs, and especially the decorations, as well as what the holiday meant for her religion and the pursuit of good will and love on our planet.
Christmas: A Tribute to Anne
As I walked to our fireplace in Sedona to light a gas log fire on this blustery day of December 5, 2017, with temp only 51 and sunny skies, I bumped into two metal angels hanging from the mantel. I noticed them, said “angels” to myself, and then said, “Annie was an angel; an angel she was if anyone was.”
So, I decided it would be healing for me and perhaps you, to write about Anne’s and my (secular tagalong) versions of Christmas. Annie did Christmas well, and the main focus was the tree, or trees, to be more specific, as well as other decorations, like the metal angels. She loved her ornaments, lights, garlands, outdoor lights, etc. We discovered large outdoor tree ornaments a few years ago at a friend’s house, and hang several from trees in front of our house. We leave them up for the whole 5 months we are in Sedona. The Christmas trees never come down. It’s such a daunting project to remove all ornaments that we have left the trees up since our time in Piqua, OH.
Back in the day, circa 1980s, when we lived in Atlanta, and the population was a mere 2 million or so, we made a pilgrimage outside the perimeter highway to a tree farm. After cutting a tree, we brought it home, and Anne would decorate it to the nines. She had an awesome collection of ornaments and lights, and now I do. Many are from both our parents’ collections, many Anne made by hand, and many were purchased as the clever ornaments, often hand made, caught our fancy. An occasional retooled ornament would come about if a blown glass ornament fell to the floor and broke. Never one to throw something out, Anne would pick up the pieces and painstakingly, over several days, use Elmer’s glue to reassemble most of the ornament, but leaving an opening, in which she would then construct a small scene inside the ornament.
I learned from Anne’s father Chuck about using multiple containers of water with syphons between them in series, so that a live tree never ran out of water. After a few weeks, when the needles started to fall, it was no longer necessary to fill the containers because the tree had died. Not to let a tree’s expired metabolism ruin our love of a decorated tree, we would make another pilgrimage to the exurbs to cut another tree, and Anne would transfer the lights and ornaments to the newer tree. We usually had a tree up in Atlanta until the end of February or so.
Well, Atlanta grew to be several million people, and the growth of the exurbs pushed the tree farms farther and farther away, like over an hour. So in 1994, our last Christmas in Atlanta, we bought a 9.5-foot artificial tree. Anne had more than enough ornaments to “stock” a larger tree. At first, this was a sell out for a purist like Anne who liked the smell of the cut tree in the house, but it was the right thing to do. Equally important, it solved the problem of having to take down the tree.
The 9.5-foot tree moved with us to Piqua, OH. Because our community college faculty appointments were overwhelmingly for teaching, we were not compelled to remain in Piqua for the summer to advance our research careers. The first few years, Anne dutifully removed all ornaments and lights, and we re-boxed the tree and took it to the attic in May before leaving Piqua for Blue Mountain Lake and/or travel to the North Carolina coast, or out west. We were somewhat well-known in Piqua for our winter and spring Christmas tree. We recall meeting people for the first time at a party, exchanging info about where we lived, and often meeting with the query, “Do you know those people who have their tree up long after Christmas”? Yes, we are those people.
For our last 5 years or so in Piqua, we just left the tree standing, although not lit, when we were away for the summer. When we started spending Christmas in Sedona in 2000, and still had our big tree in Piqua, we made do with smaller trees and humble (for Anne) numbers and quality of ornaments and lights in Sedona.
Our houses in Atlanta and Piqua were built at the turn of the 20th century and had 10-foot ceilings that could accommodate the tall artificial tree. However, our newer house in Sedona, built in 1962 only had 8 foot ceilings. When we started spending the whole winter in Sedona in 2009, including Christmas, it was time to transfer the spectacularly decorated tree operation to Sedona. We sold the taller tree to a coworker at Edison sans ornaments, and started with one humble 7.5-foot artificial tree, plus the smaller ones we had used as “temps.” Anne’s mantra was that one could never have too many trees or too many ornaments, or leave a tree up for too long.
As they stand now, there are 2 heavily ornamented and lit trees in Sedona, one in the living room, the other in the corner of the dining room. There are also a 3-foot tree in the corner of our bedroom decorated with wooden toys and other ornaments, and, in the third bedroom, the top 2/3 of an older artificial tree whose lower limbs collapsed from weight and deterioration of the plastic. None of these are taken down, so they await us/me on arrival in early December, and guests who come during our stay. There are at least a thousand words in this essay, and given that a picture is worth a thousand words, there are pictures of Anne’s Christmas trees accompanying this article.
As the lights on our pre-lit trees failed, it was necessary for Anne to replace a tree last December. I remember her dutifully removing all decorations from one tree and replacing them on the new tree. I was never particularly patient at the sort of tree maintenance Anne welcomed, so I am grateful that she gave me this gift of refurbished trees so that I don’t have to deal with them for a few years.
As a side note and not particularly relevant to us, the US Forest Service in the Flagstaff area allows citizens to cut live trees on a designated patch of Forest Service land each December, with the patch rotated to a different location each year. A bow saw usually hangs from the gate/cattle crossing at the entrance to the tree-cutting area. I find touching this public availability of the trees and the availability of a bow saw for those who forgot one.
Anne had pelts of many animals. Put off by the assembly-line quality of the “Santa” hats available commercially, Anne used a pelt and a rich burgundy fabric to hand sew her own high quality “Mrs. Santa” hat, which always drew comments. This was one of many creative things Anne did that could even have turned into a commercial venture, hand-made “Santa” hats with real fur and unique colored and textured fabric. Alas, the changes in her fingers and manual dexterity, along with her many other ongoing projects in art and theater, precluded pursuing this venture.
I recall a visit in 2002 by good friends Mark and Helene to Sedona at the holiday time. Anne had her quality hand-made hat, I had a somewhat unique commercial version, and we bought hats that we coopted Helene and Mark into wearing. Being Jewish, they were good sports for doing this as we showed them around Sedona, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, etc. I remember Mark grumbling good-naturely and asking if someone commented on the hats, could they stop wearing them.