Sunday, December 13, 2015

The tinsel debacle.

Mom would have approved.
It's a Sunday night in mid-December, which means I should have our Yule tree up by now. But the calendar messed me up this year. I usually wait 'til the weekend after my birthday to put up the tree, which would be this weekend -- but I also needed to bake cookies for gifts for various folks at work, and this was the only weekend for that project before everybody scooted out the door for vacation. Alas, cookies take precedence. And there's one more weekend before Yule for purchasing and decorating the tree.

We used to put up a Christmas tree, but somewhere between the kids leaving for college and me realizing none of us were Christian anymore, I switched to putting up a Yule tree. It looks the same, but it's a little heavier on the non-religious symbols -- birds, pine cones, holly, candles, and so on. You might think you see some ornaments that look like angels, but really, they're goddesses. No, really, they are.

Also, I need to have a real tree every year. Like just about family in the '60s, my mom switched over to an artificial tree as soon as we could afford it. She hated finding dead needles in the carpet in July, I guess, but I always missed the smell of the real thing.

After we got the fake tree, it wasn't long before Mom handed over the majority of the setup task to me. (The tree was women's work; my brother might have participated when he was a kid, but once we switched to a fake tree, my father was never involved.) Assembling the tree itself was okay, I guess, if you didn't mind the branch-A-into-support-A aspect of it. And hanging the ornaments was kind of fun, even if there wasn't much room for creativity. If you have the same tree with the branches in the same places every year, and the breakable ornaments go close to the top, and Angie the Christmas Tree Angel gets pride-of-place near the tippy-top, and all the plastic Santas and snowmen go on the bottom -- well, it gets to be the equivalent of a paint-by-number exercise after a few years.

Mom kept two jobs for herself: the lights and the tinsel. Like everybody else in the '60s, we had light strings with those big, fat C7 bulbs -- the kind that burned hot, so you had to be careful about what you put next to them. The strings were also wired in series, so that if one bulb went out, the whole string went out -- affording endless hours of fun, unscrewing each bulb and screwing in a new one, to find the one that had blown. Rarely did two bulbs blow at the same time, which was a Very Good Thing for obvious reasons. Anyway, I suspect Mom kept the task of putting on the lights to herself because she believed me incapable of evenly distributing them on the tree.

She did let me try the tinsel -- once. For the uninitiated, the kind of tinsel I'm talking about came in long, shiny strands that were draped over each tree branch to mimic icicles. Wikipedia tells me the stuff is properly known as lametta, but we always just called it tinsel. Today, it's is made of either PVC or mylar, but it doesn't drape the same as the old stuff, which was made from metal -- aluminum, or sometimes lead foil, although the lead was phased out in the '70s over concerns it could give kids lead poisoning.

Anyway, as I said, what you're supposed to do is take one strand at a time and drape it artfully over each branch -- maybe three or four strands per branch. It was the last step in decorating the tree, other than setting up the little houses underneath, and it took a massive amount of time. The year she handed me the tinsel boxes, I was determined to find a faster way. It wouldn't make a difference if I put several strands on each branch at once, would it? And who cared if they were kind of squished together?

Mom cared. A lot. I was dressed down and dismissed, and she took off all my wads of tinsel and attempted to straighten the strands and apply them, one at a time, to her own satisfaction. She never let me do the tinsel again, which was fine with me. The whole project was way too fussy for my taste.

Next weekend I'll go out and get a real tree, as I always do. I've switched to LED lights now, after using mini-lights for many years. I still put Angie the *cough*Yule Tree Goddess*cough* near the tippy-top; the glass ornaments go close to the top, and the plastic Santas and snowmen go at the bottom. It will smell terrific, and I'll find needles in the carpet in July. But I will never put tinsel on my tree.

These moments of bloggy lights and tinsel have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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