A tale of Christmas Trees past
Each year for the past six, following Thanksgiving, my grandson Lauren and I haul out the box with my aluminum tree. At age eight, he’s old enough to put it all together — ‘it” being shorter than he is, which is to say, somewhere just shy of 4 feet plus a few inches.
On go the ornaments gathered over the years, including one with his name engraved, and yes, he yearly admires the little Green Bay Packer doo-dad, a nutcracker in miniature. When all is complete, the project is placed atop a red chest and everything that didn’t make it to the sparkling branches is arranged under the tree and set just so on a gauzy red scarf dotted with gold.
The final touch is the placing of a splendid book, Season’s Gleamings: The Art Of The Aluminum Christmas Tree. Within the baby pink and greenish-turquoise cover, a tale unfolds about how it came to be in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Born in 1958, it was the baby of one Richard Thomsen, the retired chief engineer on Aluminum Specialty’s Evergleam tree project. Near where my own aluminum tree sits, is a photograph of Mr. Thomsen and his prototype tree.
My earliest memories of Christmas trees date back to World War II and my dad’s first holiday at our Iowa home, after five years serving as a medic in the frozen Aleutian Islands. My hometown was small, so if you didn’t go into the woods to chop your own tree, those with the means could select from an assortment of the real McCoys, trucked in from who-knows-where. Yes, the glorious trees were dead, but they were genuine. In this faded photograph from 1944, prior to dad’s return, we wait and wait and wait.
And while we waited, we made our own ornaments from red and green construction paper strips, looping them into rings and stringing them together with the aid of globs of white paste, which we (sometimes) were given to licking off our fingers. Strings of popcorn and red and green lights were a far cry from the other trees in my life, those slick decorator models, though I think I recall a tree two decades down the line that was embellished with homemade cookies.
As a young wife and mother, I lived in many places: Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit. No matter where we were, we always had a tree, and as the years rolled by, the ornaments made by my kids (from salt and flour or Play-Doh) accumulated. It was a big tragedy when one, or perhaps two, would crash to the floor and shatter beyond repair.
And even though my current aluminum tree was purchased in a vintage shop, and was packed in an “original” box, I suspect it was chopped from the top of a much larger aluminum tree. The tripod stand and the wooden dowels are authentic enough, but somehow my tree seems (like me) to be yearning for the rest of itself.
Back there, while waiting for dad during an Iowa Christmas buried in heaps of red and green loops for stringing, is perhaps the part I left behind forever.