Modern holiday conveniences often remind me how much can be lost in translation from one generation to the next. For example, when I was little, we didn't have a Christmas tree in our apartment – we traveled to visit my paternal grandmother in South Carolina, or, a shorter trip, to "the farm," the place where my mother was raised.
In those days,each year we went to the farm, my favorite uncle (the man I always called "Grandpa") told the story of the year his father went out and cut down the perfect tree for the family. "It was a beautiful tree," he said. "You could see it was perfect when he brought it up to the front steps."
In our family, the tree doesn't come into the house or get decorated until Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed. Looking into Grandpa's eyes, you could see the memory of his excitement over that Christmas morning, as he looked across the room, toward the west bay windows where our own modern tree stood.
"We came down that morning," he told us, "to see the fullest, prettiest tree you could ever imagine, all decked out in tinsel and decorations." But there had been a problem: "The tree Pa had picked was more than a foot too tall to fit there in the living room. Any sensible farmer would trim off the bottom of the tree to fit it properly into that space. So what did my pa do? He cut off the top of the tree so it fit exactly to look as though it was growing through the ceiling and up into the upstairs." He decorated accordingly.
From one Christmas to the next, Grandpa would tell us that story, every time fresh as the first time, and we could look into his face to still see the amazement and delight he felt that Christmas morning.
In later years, after Grandpa had sold the farm and gotten into the practice of spending winters on the Gulf Coast, we resorted to picking up trees left curbside in front of the college dormitories. The advantage, there, aside from costing us only the fuel to get there and back, was that the trees usually still had loads of tinsel on them. We hauled them in, loaded them with handmade decorations, and then the magic story got told by somebody in the family, about the one tree Grandpa's pa set up.
Now, I look at my somewhat-more-than-somewhat tacky 4-foot artificial tree with the fiber-optic feeds and lit stars interspersed among the plastic needles, and I imagine it as the top of Grandpa's tree, poking up through the floorboards. It isn't perfect, but, between allergies and other practical considerations, it's not a bad start.