Every Christmas season for my entire childhood, there was a white ceramic Christmas tree given pride of place in my grandparent’s front widow. When I say I remember it, what I mean is if I sit here and close my eyes, I can see it plain as day sitting atop the console record player and flanked, most years, by electric candles (with orange bulbs) and a panoply of Christmas-themed ceramic figurines.
In my mind there’s no more iconic symbol of Christmas in the back half of the 20th century than these plug-in trees. As it turns out, while I’ve always had this memory of the holidays, I’ve now also reached the age where I’m low key obsessed with recapturing those objects from my youth that trigger the most powerfully positive memories.
I’d like to say I scoured the planet to acquire exactly the version of the tree that I remember – the vintage, not tampered with, undamaged, tree of my memory. Actually, I did scour the planet. And I did find the exact tree that I remember. As much of a premium as I place on authenticity, though, I balked at the $400 + shipping securing that particular bit of my childhood would have required. I’ll keep looking, of course, and now that I’m on the hunt, it’ll turn up at an estate sale or flea market somewhere once I start going to those again.
In the meantime, since it’s the day after Thanksgiving (and for the record, that’s the only acceptable day to light up the Christmas decorations), I’ll be making due with a modern, and slightly larger, version of my white tree of memory.
My grandparents were products of living through a Depression and a couple of world wars in the heart of what was then Appalachian coal country. They picked of some quirky habits that I always attributed to being young during those times.
The minor eccentricity I remember clearly was my grandmother’s insistence on using a tea bag well past the point where it would just barely turn a cup of hot water vaguely tea-colored. Another was the jar of soap slivers that would eventually be re-pressed into a “new” multi-hued bar of soap. Waste not, want not, I suppose.
In the basement, though, through the door that separate the finished part from the rest, in the far corner was a room that wasn’t quite cold enough to be a fruit cellar and not quite finished enough to be a walk-in closet. That room was where the canned goods were stockpiled. If it was a food product they put in a can any time between 1965-1990, I have to believe you could find it in there. As late as the early 1990s, I’m absolutely sure I saw cans come out of that room with “best by” dates in the early 70s. No one ever died of food poisoning from a home cooked meal there, so I don’t suppose any of it was the worse for wear.
Having come of age myself in the halcyon days of Regan-era plenty, as a kid I never quite understood the virtue of having a room full of canned goods. After living through the dawn of the Great Plague, though, I feel like I’m starting to understand the undeniable beauty of having large stacks of things that could become unexpectedly scarce.
And now that it’s coming back in stock, it’s why over the last few weeks I’ve been making sure I’ll never again be caught with less than 100 rolls of two-ply Charmin.
As if I needed any more proof that my inner child is a slightly eccentric 75-year-old man.