Yesterday Don and I headed over to the Christmas tree lot at our local Home Depot. Over the past few years, to Don’s relief, tree shopping has become much simpler. I used to be a perfectionist about finding The Best Christmas Tree Ever. This meant driving from lot to lot all over town, Don pulling tree after tree out from heaping pile after heaping pile, rotating tree after tree round and round for my inspection until finally, just as he and our four kids were ready to toss me out onto the nearest boulevard, I’d tilt my head, nod and say “Ok, let’s take it.”
I inherited my stubborn perfectionist streak from Dad. He was a creative, inventive, detail-oriented person. I am, too. He fretted about minutiae others barely noticed. I, too, fret over tiny things; different things than Dad did, perhaps, but the tendency’s in my DNA just as it must’ve been in his.
Today’s the first Anniversary of his passing. I miss him more than ever. I want to tell him about all these terrific companies I keep discovering that are determined to keep manufacturing here. I want to tell him I’ve finally read the two papers he wrote, as he’d asked me to do so many years ago, wanting my writer-input. Sorry it took me so long, Dad. I was waiting for the perfect time.
Dad, too, had certain standards for our family’s Christmas tree. In old photos–before there were nine of us kids–a lovely noble fir stands in the background, elegant and stately, tinsel dripping just so from its thick, needled-packed branches. Fast forward a few years and the cookie-cutter-like, triangular-shaped Douglas fir tree Dad lugged home must’ve been a hassle: one more thing to do before Christmas; a big ol’ mess to clean up after.
Then one day in the 1960s, Dad arrived home from Sears with the tree of his dreams. It was 8-feet tall and made of aluminum. “Wait’ll you kids see this,” he said that day, setting a large heavy cardboard box on our family room’s olive green carpet. “This thing’s so well made. It’ll last forever. We’ll never have to vacuum up needles again. And look at this box. Isn’t it something?” The engineer in him adored that box. There were dozens of slots of graduated heights; each slot contained a silver bottle-brush-like branch. One slot held the center trunk / pole. Holes for the corresponding tree branches dotted the pole. “This is gonna be somethin’. And just wait’ll I get the flood light hooked up.”
Dad’s upper lip perspired as he assembled his prized tree. The flood light shone onto a slowly rotating color wheel; the aluminum tree turned red, green, blue, and yellow all night long. And dad was right. The darn thing lasted for.ev.er.
Eventually, after we kids had grown up and left home, he and Mom returned to buying a real Christmas tree. “I love that pine scent,” Dad would say, taking a sip of wine, his grandkids and great grandkids all around him. “There’s just nothin’ better, is there, kids?”
The sun dipped into the horizon as Don and I arrived at Home Depot’s Christmas tree lot. With the box cutter he’d brought, Don sliced through the twine wrapped around three different 8-foot Noble firs. They’d been trucked down to the Bay Area from forests in Oregon. Don stood each tree up; I fluffed out the branches. “I kinda like this,” Don said going back to the first one, his breath visible puffs of white in the cold night air. A little blonde girl, maybe 10, who had tagged along with us as her Mom and Dad looked at the trees we rejected, chimed in. “It’s so beautiful! Are you going to take it home? I think you should.” We agreed.
When it comes to Christmas trees, to each his own. Dad went through his aluminum tree phase, and most of my friends enjoy the ease and beauty of pre-lit, artificial trees. I like the rituals around a live tree: going to the lot, visiting and laughing with other families, getting the tree home, unsure how it will look once it’s unfurled and standing there in our living room corner. And oh, that heavenly God-given fragrance. It can’t be duplicated. To me, it’s what Christmas should smell like (just as Thanksgiving should smell like a turkey roasting in the oven). Dad’s right. “There’s nothin’ better.”
But for those who want to purchase artificial trees, a couple of companies make them here in the U.S.A. The cost is similar to the Made in China trees sold at Costco and elsewhere. One big difference: the U.S.A.-made artificial trees are not pre-lit, since all lights are now Made in China (grrrr).
In researching artificial Christmas trees today, I spoke with Deborah Leydig, the energetic, friendly owner of Norton’s U.S.A. in Barrington, Illinois. Each and every product her store sells is Made in the U.S.A., including the gorgeous artificial Christmas trees (which are manufactured in New York). In a couple of days the trees (priced from $150 to $350) will be available online as well. For a 15 percent discount on all merchandise, put “AmericanChristmas”(one word) in the Promo Code at check out. The offer’s good through December 23.
Another source for Made in the U.S.A. artificial trees is uschristmastree.com. Prices range from $29.99 to $699.99. I’ve contacted this company via email but haven’t heard back. Their trees look realistic /nice online, but unfortunately there’s no phone number listed.
Are there Christmas trees in heaven? The needles on the branches perpetually fresh? Does that pine fragrance drift from cloud to cloud, to the invisible place where my Dad now lives?