In her later years, my mother-in-law, Bessie Cook Cline, did not enjoy putting up a Christmas tree. It brought sad memories. Twice, shortly before Christmas, there had been a death in the family. Then, as expected at that time, she had to take the tree down.
The youngest of her children, my husband Joe, was a teenager then, so her children were well past the years when Santa came down the chimney expecting a tree to leave the presents under. But though it made her sad, she continued the ritual of having a Christmas tree.
Christmas trees have always made me happy. When I was a child, we would cut a tree in the pasture — a cedar tree was preferred by my mother. The real work was making it stand up and keep standing for the next two weeks.
The day the tree was cut, carried home and decorated was a countdown toward Santa’s arrival. My mother was strict about when our tree could be put up. It was exactly one week before Christmas Day.
After we children left home, my parents moved into their new house. Pop planted a cedar in the front yard. I did not realize a middle Georgia cedar tree could grow like that one did. It was his pride and joy.
Each December, he would buy additional lights and, ignoring my mom’s rule of years back, long before the week before Christmas the lights of his outdoor tree were on.
When my family and I would arrive late in the afternoon on Christmas Day, the lights on that huge tree shining through the pines were the first things we would see. I knew I was home for Christmas.
With so many happy memories surrounding Christmas trees, it really bothered me that putting up a Christmas tree was a sad reminder for Mama Cline.
Now I do not know where I got the idea to get Mama Cline a silver tinsel tree with a revolving color wheel. All we had to do was put the two pieces of the trunk together and put the trunk in the tree stand. It was easy getting the branches in pre-drilled holes. No ornaments were needed.
After putting together the color wheel, we turned the tree on. After that, we sat and watched as the tree gradually turned from red to blue to yellow to green. My children were mesmerized.
Mama Cline loved it. So did Waleska’s children. Never again did I hear her say she dreaded having a Christmas tree.
Several years ago, I started thinking about that silver tinsel tree and color wheel. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. But as is often the case, after time passes following someone’s death, no one knows what happened to some of their things.
Whenever I was at an antique store or a junk store, I would look around for one of those trees. This summer I found one.
Coming home from Florida, Jennifer Hughes and I stopped in a small Alabama town to stretch our legs. Across the street from where we parked was an antique store.
Immediately I spied a silver tinsel tree complete with a revolving colored wheel. I got so excited I totally forgot to bargain to get the price down.
I was really impressed when the shop owner got out the original packaging. As expected, it had yellowed with age.
I decided that when Christmas grew near I would put the tree in the bedroom where I keep toys for the grandchildren. They would be so excited.
Jennie came over for us to assemble it. It was harder than I remembered. After a while, she did it. The color wheel was easier. Pleased with ourselves, we plugged it in and turned it on.
I admit, I did not remember it looking so tacky.
Things did not go exactly as planned. Balls of fire shot out from the color wheel, under the tree and some rolled across the floor. The wall around the outlet was blackened. Jennie and I moved faster than we knew we could.
Once again, Christmas is here and my tacky, overpriced tinsel tree, the color wheel and the yellowed boxes are in the trash.
But I am not sad. In fact, I am very happy.
After all, it could have burned the house down.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.