Pagan Tree in a Jewish Home

This week, I opened my juried intensive poetry workshop – scheduled for 2020 June 15-19.  Manuscripts started to come in immediately. I’ll collect them for a while and read them in batches. 

Sunday morning we went to Bayberry nursery and bought a bushy balsam.  I’ll add a poem below that’s an partial explanation.  I never had a tree as an adult until my mother died.  She had only a few things to leave me: my own books back [my father had no interest and never read anything I wrote], a jade necklace, a few pieces of costume jewelry, the shawls I bought her at her request that she never wore, and a box of preWorld War II Christmas ornaments.  She loved anything brightly colored  gaudy, shiny – anything to brighten her difficult days.  My parents always had a tree, even though on tight years it meant going out very late on Christmas Eve and helping ourselves to one left in a lot that had been selling them.

When Woody and I returned from Florida with my mother’s ashes [my father had her cremated because he didn’t want to pay for the plot any longer], we chopped down a small bushy pitch pine on our land and decorated it with the box of ornaments we’d carried back and some of my necklaces.  We cut down a tree for years along the old railroad tracks where they got bushy until Woody was elected a selectman.   He felt if we got caught, it would look bad, so we started buying a tree.  I have always insisted on balsam because of the scent it exudes. The cats love the tree, especially the two youngest, Willow and Schwartzie.  Schwartzie slept under it last night.  The first few days after Woody sets it up, we leave it bare so that they get used to it and don’t try to climb it.  Then the lights go on.  Then over the next several days, we trim it – what a strange phrase for decorating –trim.  Here’s the poem I mentioned, part of it anyhow.

The rabbi’s granddaughter and the Christmas tree

Mother, the rabbi’s granddaughter, wanted Christmas.

It was not Jesus she hankered for, not carols

or masses or mangers.  She wanted the bright

lights of  trees glittering and she wanted presents.

She loved light.  All through the brownout

of the war, she waited.  When peace came,

father drove the old Hudson past trim

big brick houses, colonials, ranches

in neat rows on streets so unlike our own

they might have been toy houses in store

windows downtown.  She wanted to see colored

bulbs blinking, she wanted to glide

a connoisseur of the gaudy, awarding prizes….

After I left home, I never put up a tree

until she was dying.  Then she gave me

a box of flimsy glass ornaments half

a century old.  Use them, she said,

be observant but set up a tree.

I want to see the lights.  As I go into

darkness, I don’t want a stone.  Only

red, gold and blue shining for me.

The entire poem is in THE ART OF BLESSING THE DAY, paperback from Knopf

I especially like animal, bird and plant ornaments, but we also have some beautiful regular ornaments.  Cats, birds, grapes, eggplant, apple, cucumbers, camels, walrus, lion, tiger, polar bear, horses, sea creatures, garlic, pea pod, cow, pig, zebra, buffalo, bee, dolphins, leopard, snail – you get the idea. It’s as gaudy a tree as you can imagine – the opposite of Martha Stewart. People give us ornaments and sometimes on the 26th, I buy some on sale, though not in recent years as we have enough.  Thursday we finished working on the tree except for fiddling around occasionally, moving ornaments to a better place.

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